Famed for their sweet and intricate fruity flavors, Riesling and Moscato wines are often recommended as the ideal wines for anyone new to this alcoholic beverage. But are these two types of wine similar, or are they miles apart in terms of taste?
So what’s the difference between Riesling and Moscato? Both are sweeter wines that are famous for their fruity, aromatic flavor notes. Riesling tends to taste more full-bodied, whereas Moscato is lighter and sweeter. Both are commonly sold as white wine, but also found in other varieties.
Keep reading if you’re intrigued to learn more about these often underrated wines. We’ll look into how they compare in terms of flavor, aroma, strengths, and what food each wine pairs well with.
Even if you’re not a fan of sweeter wines we guarantee that you’ll be tempted to give them a try!
What Is Riesling?
Riesling is a type of wine that originated in Germany nearly 600 years ago. In fact, we can be more specific than that – Riesling has a date of birth, March 13th 1435, and its birthday is celebrated each year!
This date marks the first time the sale of Riesling grape vines was documented, and Riesling enthusiasts will raise a glass to celebrate this time-honored drink.
However, Riesling is enjoyed all year round, not just on its anniversary.
This wine is made from grapes grown on Riesling grape vines, which thrive in cooler climates like Germany, Washington State, and New York.
Riesling is most famed for its sweetness, but this can vary according to the wine-making technique used and the climate in which the grape is grown.
Sweet Riesling is by far the most common type of this wine, but you will also come across off-dry, dry, and sparking Rieslings. In Germany, sparkling Riesling is normally labeled as ‘Sekt’.
What Is Moscato?
Riesling might be able to boast that it has a birthday, but that is nothing when you learn about the history of Moscato!
Moscato is made from Muscat grapes, which can be traced back to the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks. It is thought that they could be even older than this and were the first wine and table grapes cultivated by humans.
So while the lovely Muscat grape doesn’t have a birthday, it can claim to be the oldest type of grape still in production.
There are many different varieties of Muscat grape, and the one used to make Moscato is primarily Muscat Blanc.
However, these are often blended with other types of Muscat grape to make different types of Moscato.
As with Riesling, Moscato wines are made in several different styles, consisting of a blend of different Muscat grape varieties.
The most common variety is sweet white Moscato, but you may also come across a sweet red Moscato, slightly fizzy Pink Moscato, and sparkling Moscato more commonly known as Asti Spumante.
Moscato sweet wine is one of the most commonly available dessert wines!
So now that we know some of the history of both Riesling and Moscato, as well as that there are different varieties, let’s compare some of their differences!
In terms of flavor, Riesling and Moscato have many similarities, but there are some key differences. Both have a striking fruity flavor, but this is more intense in Moscato.
The differences in flavor are not only due to the grape varieties used, but also down to the strength, acidity, and sweetness of each type of wine. These factors all affect the way wine tastes when we drink it.
The main flavor notes of Riesling wines include pineapple, apple, apricot, and pear. It is often also possible to detect notes of citrus fruits and honey.
Wine enthusiasm will often describe Riesling as a more ‘grown-up’ type of wine, enjoyed for its complex flavors and aromas.
Riesling is richer and more intense than Moscato and is a good choice for people who have become accustomed to drinking sweet wines but want to start taking the step toward drier wines.
In contrast, the fruity flavor of Moscato wines tends to be light with peach and citrus notes. Many people can also say they detect hints of honey and other tropical fruits.
Moscato has a very fresh and light flavor and is often regarded as the ideal choice for a first-time wine drinker.
The great thing about Moscato is that whether it is sweet or dry, it will still taste light and fresh. It will never have that strong, overpowering flavor that often puts people off when they try wine for the first time.
Moscato is a great choice to help your palate adapt to the flavor of wine before going on to trying more complex varieties.
In very simple terms, Riesling is likened to drinking fresh homemade lemonade, whereas Moscato is more similar to peach juice.
Dry Or Sweet?
It will depend on the type of Riesling or Moscato wine that you buy, but both are usually regarded as sweet wines. They are considered to be two of the best introductions to sweet wines that you could select!
Both of these wines have a light flavor that is low in tannins. This means they don’t have the dry mouth feel that often puts off many first-time wine drinkers.
Both Riesling and Moscato are designed for a refreshing, easy drinking experience, with a hint of sweetness. Generally speaking, Moscato tends to be sweeter than Riesling, but it will depend on the variety of wine that you buy.
Here is our quick guide to the different varieties of each wine and their sweetness levels, in order of sweetness:
- Dessert Moscato is one of the sweetest wines you can buy and normally contains around 100 grams of residual sugar per liter. As its name suggests, it is normally served with the dessert course.
- Sweet Riesling is highly sought after and admired by wine connoisseurs. The sweet flavor is perfectly balanced to give a light, refreshing drink with complex taste notes.
- White Moscato is made from a blend of the Muscat Blanc grape and other Moscato grape varieties. Although not as sweet as its dessert counterpart, it is still much sweeter than most white wines.
- Red Moscato is very unusual, as it is a sweet red wine. It has a dark fruity taste with spicy and floral flavor notes.
- Pink Moscato is a rosé-style sweet wine with flavors of red berries. It is slightly fizzy and has a floral aroma.
- Sparkling Moscato is slightly sweeter than most other sparkling wines, although drier than white Moscato.
- Sparkling Riesling is a semi-sweet fizzy wine, also known as ‘Sekt’.
- Off-dry Riesling has a very subtle sweetness and moderate levels of acidity.
- Dry Riesling is normally matured for several years and has a dry, complex flavor that is in complete contrast to sweet Riesling.
One of the first things that are discussed when it comes to comparing wine is the aroma. After all, it is the scent of a wine that hits us first before we even begin to taste it!
Riesling and Moscato share a similar floral profile, normally likened to aromas of rose and white flowers.
Riesling also carries a scent reminiscent of orchard fruits such as nectarine, apricot, apple, and pear. You may also be able to smell sweeter notes such as honeycomb and jasmine, and a hint of citrus in the form of lime peel.
Interestingly, Riesling often also carries a chemical-like smell reminiscent of petrol or petroleum wax. Don’t worry, this doesn’t mean that the wine is contaminated or filled full of chemicals!
The smell is actually a natural compound called TDN, which contributes to the overall flavor of the Riesling.
Moscato is slightly unusual in its aroma as it is one of the few wines that smell of grapes.
You might find it odd that the aroma and flavor of wine are never likened to the fruit it is made from, but wine connoisseurs prefer to focus on the more subtle flavor notes.
However, when it comes to Moscato, the aroma of grape is unmistakable! Moscato also tends to have a much stronger aroma than Riesling. You may be able to detect hints of orange blossoms, peach, and tropical fruits.
Which Is Most Acidic?
If you are considering buying a bottle of wine, then how acidic it is would never normally cross your mind. However, acidity is a major contributing factor to the flavor of wine, especially when it comes to sweet wines.
Riesling has relatively high acidity levels, similar to lemonade. This acidity perfectly counterbalances the sweetness of the wine. The higher levels of acid in Riesling mean it does not tend to have an overwhelming sweetness.
Moscato wines have moderate acidity levels, which allow the sweetness to shine through. This tends to make Moscato more palatable for someone who is trying wine for the first time.
The acidity levels of wine can also affect how they age. Aging wine is a fine art and without the correct acidity levels, a bottle of wine will never improve no matter how long it is left to mature in the cellar.
In fact, if the acidity levels are low, wine should not be matured at all and is best drunk as a young, fresh wine.
Riesling has a high acidity level which, combined with its sweetness, makes it a great wine to store for years.
This is the reason why, historically, Riesling was so popular with the German nobility. A good quality well-aged Riesling was highly prized and sought after.
In contrast, Moscato does not age well due to its low levels of acidity.
This particularly applies to the sparkling versions of Moscato, such as Asti and Spumante. There is no benefit to keeping these in the cellar for years and they should be enjoyed while they are fresh and young.
This does not apply to all wines made from Muscat grapes, just Moscato. You may come across vintage varieties of wine made from Muscat grapes that are several years old.
Moscato is popular with first-time wine drinkers not only because it is sweet, light, and fresh, but also because of its relatively low alcohol content.
As wines go, Moscato is one of the lowest alcohol forms out there at around 6% ABV. As a general rule, the sweeter the Moscato, the lower the alcohol content. This means a dry Moscato may have an ABV of up to 10%.
This makes Moscato a good choice for people who are trying to reduce their alcohol intake or who just want one or two glasses of low-alcohol wine with their meal.
The reason that Moscato is low in alcohol is also the same reason why it is a sweet wine.
To make wine, the sugars in grape juice are converted to alcohol through a process called fermentation. When Moscato is fermented, this process is stopped early before all of the sugar has been converted to alcohol.
The result is a lightly sweet wine with a relatively low alcohol content. It is still important to bear in mind that Moscato is an alcoholic drink and should only be drunk in moderation.
Riesling tends to have a higher alcohol content than Moscato, at around 8-9% ABV. This figure can vary widely according to the level of sweetness and maturity of the wine. A well-aged dry Riesling may have an ABV of up to 13%.
The higher alcohol content of Riesling, as well as the acidity, tends to cut through the natural sweetness of this wine. As sweet wines go, this makes it very well-balanced, with a smooth, rounded palette.
Many people steer clear of sweeter wines because they have no idea what to pair them with. We all know that a crisp white goes well with fish and seafood, and a robust red should be served with beef.
But what do you do with a bottle of sweet Riesling or Moscato? As with all wines, the intricate flavors of these two wines pair better with some dishes than others.
When pairing wine with food, the rule of thumb is that wine should always be sweeter than the food. So, in theory, Riesling and Moscato could be paired with pretty much anything!
This is going to sound like a very odd concept, but sweeter white wines pair incredibly well with spicy food. The combination of sweetness and low levels of alcohol makes the perfect match for spicy dishes!
Both Riesling and Moscato also work surprisingly well with sweet and sour sauces. And when it comes to Riesling, it has the added benefit of higher levels of acidity, making it great to pair with fatty or greasy foods like duck confit.
Moscato and Riesling also live up to their name and are great with sweet dishes, cakes, and fruity desserts.
Some more unusual combinations include pairing Moscato with cheese or honey-glazed ham, as well as Riesling with a spicy Thai salad.
Whatever dish you serve your sweeter white wine with, remember to keep it light. These smooth, fruity wines will be overpowered by rich, powerful flavors.
Alternatively, enjoy your Riesling or Moscato on their own, served super chilled on a hot summer’s day. Simply delicious!
So What’s The Difference, Really?
You may be wondering why we are concerning ourselves with things like acidity and alcohol content when comparing different wines. The reason is that many factors contribute to the taste of wine, not just the grape it is made from!
Wines with high levels of acidity tend to balance out sweetness much better than those with low acidity. This means you could have a Riesling and Moscato with the same levels of residual sugar, but the Riesling would seem less sweet.
The same happens when we raise the alcohol levels. Riesling usually has a bit more alcohol than Moscato and it will feel slightly heavier and less sweet on the palate.
So although Riesling and Moscato are both sweet and fruity wines, Riesling tends to taste more rounded and full-bodied, whereas Moscato is lighter, fresher, and sweeter.