EducateThe Sour Patch Kids Theory: For Riesling Lovers

The Sour Patch Kids Theory: For Riesling Lovers

In tackling one of the world’s most misunderstood grapes, there have been countless articles on why you’ll love Riesling: “It’s a sommelier’s favorite!” “It’s a great addition to your wine cellar!” “It’s not all sweet!”  The last one begs another question – if it is sweet, who cares? Especially if you like it! Similar to Chenin Blanc and Sémillon, Riesling expresses itself in a myriad of ways on the dry and sweet scales, as well as being known for potent fruit-flavor combinations.   

It’s conducive to having a wide array of intensity from sweet to sour. Plus, the aromas and fruit flavors of Riesling can broad: apricots, peach, red and green apples, nectarine, anjou, bartlett pears, honey, ginger, and floral arrangements. And its body weights can be as diverse as boxing classes. 

From slightly tangy and fruity to the mind-numbingly, mouth-puckering sour and/or sugary fever dreams, you just love this stuff! Sour Patch Kids are…. *record scratch*. Yes, I did say Sour Patch Kids! But, I easily could have been talking about Riesling wines too.

The Theory 

For International Riesling Day, I offer a simple theory: If you grew up loving Sour Patch Kids (or other sweet/sour candies) then you will love or already love Riesling.  

The intense flavor of sour candy, like Sour Patch Kids, comes from the addition of certain organic acids and sugar, both of which are found naturally in wine grapes. Riesling’s natural acidity when compared to other white grapes like Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc, and Pinot Grigio, is quite high.  

Sugar is where we can balance things out. Sour candies wouldn’t be enjoyable if they were just sour. They need a little kick of sugar. Wine grapes are similar. The higher the acidity, the lower the sugar and vice versa. What makes Riesling stand out, is that while we can still get a sweet Riesling, the acidity or sourness levels can still be higher than other sweet wines.   

Some Sour Power Science 

Tartaric acid

This acid occurs naturally in grapes or grape-based wine. It is very strong and plays the role of a wine’s mouthfeel. Tartaric acids often crystallize on the cork forming ‘wine diamonds’. They are often called tartrates.    

Citric acid

Citric acid is the main acid in citrus fruit and is found in grapes as well but at much lower levels. It does have an intense sour flavor on your tongue. However, in terms of acidity is much weaker than tartaric acid.  

Lactic Acid

This is a fermentation byproduct of Malic acid, which is the grape’s natural ‘sharp’ acidity.  It is also the same acid used in pickling, and responsible for the sour taste in kimchi, sauerkraut, and of course, pickles!*

In addition to being antioxidants and having the ability to prevent bacterial growth, Tartaric and Citric acids are added as powder or liquid to various foods and beverages. While both can give a sour taste, it is the protons of these acids that are actually sour. When they mix a liquid or our saliva, they activate. Thus, we perceive acid as sour. 

Some scientists theorize that some of our population’s penchant for SOUR became a thing over the course of evolution due to our inability to synthesize Vitamin C. Liking acidic foods might be a way for us and other primate species to be reminded to ingest it.

Fun fact:  On the pH scale – which measures acidity, zero being the most acidic – sour candies have a pH between 2 and 3. Riesling grapes, when physiologically ripe, are around 3.1 and 3.4. Of course, when picking Riesling grapes early, to get that twinge of acidity popping a bit higher, the pH level could get to around 2.  

The Sweet Stuff

Fructose and Glucose 

Fructose and Glucose are natural sugars found in wine grapes.  When the alcoholic fermentation process occurs, yeast cells eat up these compounds and residual sugar is what is leftover in the wine.  If the alcohol is higher, we have less residual sugar.   If the alcohol is lower, we have more residual sugar.  

The level of sugar in Sour Patch Kids is 24 grams of sugar per serving, which is the equivalent level of sweetness in a wine such as Moscato d’Asti or… 😉 Riesling! So, while your favorite sour candy can be super tart and tangy, you also have quite the high percentage of sugar.   

Remember, there’s nothing wrong with having a preference for sweet things, especially wine!  Most of the scientific community agrees why most of us like SWEET or are at least comforted by it.   As early as childhood, we used food and drink to pacify ourselves. Sugar affects our dopamine levels and – Yay! I got a reward! – and up our serotonin levels – I’m so happy!  

Riesling Picks!

Honestly, there’s no amount of writing I can do that can make you believe that if you’re a Sour Patch Kids fan, NERDS fan, Skittles fan, or similarly sour candy freak, you’ll enjoy Riesling. I just have a hunch. The real test is for you to try. So below, I’ve recommended some different types of Rieslings to try out, all with varying levels of acid, sugar, and aromatic profiles.   

From the bubbly and bone-dry to the slightly sweet, and unctuously syrupy, the following Riesling picks will hit all or most of your Sour Patch Kids et al. sour candy memories in liquid form!

Bubble Pick

Weingut Fitz Ritter Riesling Sekt Extra-Trocken – Pfalz, Germany

Not many know it, but Germany produces and consumes a ton of sparkling wine.  This lively sparkler is produced in the Charmat method, like its cousin Prosecco. It displays an aroma of peach and pineapple, and the fruitiness and sweetness play well against each other.   Remember, there are no sekts in the Champagne room! 

Avg. National Price: $22.

On the Drier Side

Pewsey Vale Dry Riesling – Eden Valley, Australia 

Winemaker Louisa Rose, time and time again, makes one of the best dry and snappy, value Rieslings on the planet, from this historic site.   Aromas of white flowers, lemon, and a touch of pineapple, and a grapefruit, key-lime pie palate, cascades to a juicy, lingering finish.   Seeing no oak, this light-bodied wine has plenty of minerality and saline qualities to pair with oysters, ceviche, or a nice summer salad.

Avg. National Price:  $18.

Rootdown Cellars Riesling “R2” – Cole Ranch, Mendocino, California 

Some of the best Rieslings in California come from Mendocino county and the absolute ‘bees knees’ comes from the tiniest AVA in the country:  Cole Ranch.    From vines planted in 1971, these grapes are fermented in neutral barrels and concrete eggs, see no added sulphur.   The result is a wild ride of ripe, fuzzy fruits and baked, red apples.   The medium-bodied wine just cascades along the palate, zipping left and right like a surfer catching some gnarly waves.   Juicy fruit… is gonna move ya!  

Avg. National Price: $30. 

Zind Humbrecht Riesling Grand Cru ‘Brand’, Alsace, France 

Made by only the second winemaker to receive the illustrious Master of Wine title, Olivier Humbrecht, and farmed from biodynamically farmed old vines, this is a wine to seek out. Whether in its youth, or with 20 plus years of age, it is one of the most sublime wines you can find on the planet. Classic white peach and floral aromatics and a granitic minerality are showcased in its youth, but as it takes on age, marzipan and a honey/beeswax component appears, making every sip seem like heaven.   Medium to full-bodied. 

Avg. National Price: $150.

On the Sweeter Side 

Schlossgut Diel ‘Nahesteiner’ Riesling Kabinett – Nahe, Germany

Winemaker Caroline Diel sources this gorgeous fruit from the Goldlach cru that her family has owned for generations.  She farms organically and has a ‘hands-off’ approach to winemaking, to let the fruit speak for itself.   An explosive nose of apricot, peach, and other tropical fruits is coupled with a palate of juicy, granny smith apple and a jolt of acidity that offsets the wine’s sweetness.  On the light-bodied side of things.  

Avg. National Price: $24.

Weingut Alfred Merkelbach Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese – Mosel, Germany

Year in and year out, my favorite Riesling Spätlese comes from one of the best producers in the Mosel, and one of the best single vineyard sites – Ürziger Würzgarten.** The vines on this classic site in Ürzig, which literally translates to ‘Spice Garden’, are planted on the original rootstock in red slate soils.   Lush and rich, but still savory and precise.  Citrus fruits, green apples, and a hint of ‘spice’ are all inside here.  Outrageously enjoyable in its youth, many wine geeks I know age this wine, some going back 30 years. Thankfully, we don’t have to travel to Arrakis to harvest this ‘spice’.  😉 

Avg. National Price: $36.

Weingut St. Urbans-Hof Nik Weis Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Auslese – Mosel, Germany

The Bockstein site in Ockfen is where some of the most famous and expensive wines came from in the early 20th century. Only very ripe and noble grapes are picked then put into traditional, large oak casks. The wine is rich, full-bodied, and complex with minerality, wild flowers, and citrus flavors. At this level of residual sugar, one may even start to smell candies from their youth, whether it be Sour Patch Kids, or in my case, NERDS. A wine like this is best served with pork or chicken with fruit-laden sauces. For hot and spicy, this is always a great choice. A wine like this can also cellar for up to 40 years or more. 

Avg. National Price: $80.

** In addition to harvest terms and sweetness labels, you will often see phrases like this on German labels:  Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Ürziger Würzgarten, and so on.   On the first word, you will see the letters “er”.  This indicates a town or commune. Think of New Yorker.   I am from New York.  I am from Wehlen. The second word is the single vineyard or site. So, on the label of a wine that says Ürziger Würzgarten, the grapes will be coming from the single vineyard of Würzgarten that resides in the town of Ürzig. Yay!   
For more explanations on terms like Kabinett, Spätlese, and other sweetness levels, please see our article “Understanding German Wine Labeling Terms.”



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