These two varieties of wine are not among the most widely consumed, but they do have an ardent following among some wine lovers. So what are the main differences between Moscato vs Riesling? And what foods do they pair well with? Here’s a simple tasting guide.
Muscato is one of the most versatile types of wine available. Produced largely in Italy using Moscato grapes, styles include sparkling, still, and dessert wines. And colors range from white to pink to red. Moscato wines are generally sweet — with some wine lovers saying they’re the best sweet wines in the world.
If you like sweet wine, Riesling has you covered as well — with several variations of Rieslings featuring varying levels of sweetness, including dessert wines. But you can also find very good dry, crisp Riesling wines. Germany is among the largest Riesling producers, but this white wine is made in regions around the world.
Use this guide to learn about the distinct characteristics that make each of these kinds of wine unique. From their flavor profiles and aromas to average prices and food pairings, we’ll cover everything you need to help you choose your next great bottle with confidence.
- The origins of Moscato
- The origins of Riesling
- Moscato flavor characteristics and aroma
- Riesling flavor characteristics and aroma
- 6 Classifications of Riesling
- Acidity in Moscato and Riesling
- Riesling vs Moscato: Body
- Riesling vs Moscato: Color
- Moscato food pairings
- Riesling food pairings
- Prices for Riesling and Moscato
- Moscato vs Riesling summary
- More wine-related answers
The origins of Moscato
Relatives of the Muscat grape, which is used to make Moscato, are believed to be among the oldest in the world, dating perhaps as far back as the ancient Egyptians.
It is also among the most varied types of wine grape, with roughly 200 varieties. Among these, the two most common are the Moscato Bianco (also known as the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains) and Muscat of Alexandria. The former is largely grown in Italy and France, while Italy is the predominant region for the latter.
Muscat grapes themselves feature a range of shades from white to gold, pink, red, brown, and black.
While Italy is one of the top Moscato producers, it is also made in several other European countries, including Spain, Portugal, France, Germany, and Greece. You can also find Moscato from non-European regions like the United States and Australia.
The origins of Riesling
Riesling white wines are believed to have originated in the Rhine Valley, with the first vines being grown in Germany in the 15th century. Over the next 400 years, it grew in popularity, becoming one of the most widely consumed types of wine in Europe by the mid-19th century. It even rivaled some of the great wines being produced in France.
But World Wars I and II took a devastating toll on Riesling production during the first part of the 20th century. Many of Germany’s vineyards were destroyed and Riesling production plummeted. It would take another 50 years after the end of World War II before Riesling would once again become most widely planted grape in Germany.
Now several other European countries produce Riesling, including Austria, Switzerland, and France. It is also widely grown in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand.
Moscato flavor characteristics and aroma
Moscato comes in a range of styles and colors. And each has its own flavor characteristics. Here, we’ll go over many of the most popular.
Among the most widely consumed types of Moscato is Moscato d’Asti. It hails from the Piedmont region in northern Italy — which borders Switzerland to the north and France to west — and is made using Moscato Bianco grapes.
This semi-sparkling wine is lightly effervescent, sweet, and very fruity. Common flavors include citrus (both orange and lemon), apricot, peach, ripe pear, strawberry, honey, and floral notes like rose petal.
High-quality wines of this type will be sweet but clean, with tangy acidity and low alcohol content — around 5-6% ABV.
Whereas Moscato d’Asti is semi-sparkling, Asti is a full sparkling wine. Both wines are made in the same region with the same Moscato Bianco grape. But in terms of flavor profile, Asti typically comes across as slightly sweeter with fruity flavors of nectarine and peach, as well as jasmine.
The alcohol level of Asti usually falls in the 7-10% ABV range.
If you want to try a Moscato but don’t like wine with carbonation, a still style may suit you. They are usually made with Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains grapes and have similar floral aromas and fruit flavors as other Moscatos. But they can be a bit dryer.
Made by mixing white Muscat Blanc with Merlot, Pink Moscato is sweet, floral, and, as the name suggests, light pink in color. It often has notes of red berries like strawberry, raspberry, and cherry. Pink Moscato is popular with winemakers outside of Italy in regions like Australia and the U.S.
Both acidity and alcohol levels are normally low in Pink Moscato, with ABV around 5-7%.
Don’t let the name fool you. Moscato Rosa and Pink Moscato are not the same thing.
Moscato Rosa gets its name from a unique rose-like aroma. But the color is actually a darker ruby red. It’s made from a red-purplish grape that’s a close relative of the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains — and it’s primarily produced in Italy’s northeastern Alto Adige region.
Common flavors are spiced berries, cloves, and cinnamon.
Red Moscato is also a blend of white Moscato and red wine, but for this type of wine, it’s typically Syrah and Zinfandel.
It’s a light red in color and sweet, with notes of ripe berries and sweet citrus. In terms of body, it’s typically light and fresh with low acidity.
Moscato Dessert Wines
Some of the sweetest Moscatos are the dessert-style wines. Among the most popular is the Muscat de Beaumes de Venise.
Produced in France’s Rhône Valley, this rich gold wine is created by combining the Muscat Blanc à Petits Grains and Muscat Noir grapes. It’s then fortified with spirits. That serves to halt the fermentation of the wine and leaves some residual sugar in it, boosting its sweetness.
Riesling flavor characteristics and aroma
As with Moscato, Rieslings come in a variety of styles.
Some Rieslings are known for earthy, flowery flavors like grass and rose blossoms. Sweeter Rieslings can also have green apple and honeycomb flavors.
Citrus and stone fruit flavors are also common, with notes of grapefruit and Meyer lemon in younger Rieslings, and pear and peach in more mature wines.
The aroma of a Riesling can take some by surprise, as it’s not unusual to detect hints of gasoline or petrol. This is caused by a natural compound called TDN that develops as the grapes are exposed to more daylight.
But don’t be put off by it. Typically, the more pronounced the aroma, the better quality the Riesling tends to be. That’s because the grapes can ripen more as they’re subjected to increasing amounts of daylight.
Other Riesling aromas commonly include ginger, honey, and rubber.
6 Classifications of Riesling
As we mentioned earlier, Germany is one of the largest producers of Riesling. In fact, they have a specific classification system for the various types that are made, ranging from dry to sweet.
With German Rieslings, there are 6 different categories they can belong to. They denote the ripeness level of the Riesling grapes when they were picked, and as a result, they indicate the sweetness levels of the wine. The wine label will include which classification the Riesling belongs to. The 6 categories include:
These wines are produced with grapes that are the least ripe when they’re harvested. That means they’re usually dryer, crisper, and lighter than other Rieslings.
Spätlese (semi-dry to semi-sweet)
Spätlese translates to “late harvest,” so the grapes in these wines have additional time to mature on the vine. As a result, they can develop richer flavors before they’re picked. This also adds body to the wine. Spätlese Riesling can range from a semi-dry wine to semi-sweet.
Auslese (semi-sweet to sweet)
These wines denote ones made from a select harvest of grapes. They are typically hand-picked and have noble rot — a fungus that causes wine grapes to shrivel and the juice to become more concentrated. This in turn adds to the sweetness level of Auslese Rieslings.
It is possible to find a dry or “trocken” Auslese, but this category of Riesling is usually a semi-sweet to sweet white wine. Some even consider them nearly as sweet as dessert wines. though they do pair very well with Asian cuisine like curries and even duck breast.
Beerenausleses are generally rich and very sweet Riesling wines. These are more traditional dessert wines. They often pair well with desserts that enhance the wine’s stone fruit flavor like peach cobbler, as well as richer ones like crème brûlée. It’s also capable of aging well.
Grapes for this classification of Riesling are left until they begin to shrivel on the vine. That allows the sugars in the grapes to become very concentrated. The resulting intense sweetness of these wines goes well with sweeter desserts like fruit pies, but they also pair well with soft, creamy cheeses.
Eiswein is perhaps the most famous dessert Riesling. They’re produced using grapes that have frozen on the vine. The resulting juice is very concentrated and high in natural sugar. This ice wine is traditionally low in alcohol with high acidity levels.
Acidity in Moscato and Riesling
As we’ve seen, Moscato comes in several varieties which are made with different types of grapes. Those differences affect the acidity of the wines. In general, Moscato has medium to low acidity. However, Moscato d’Asti and Asti styles usually feature much brighter acidity.
The sweetness in the wines also serves to somewhat lower the sensation of acid.
While some Rieslings are dry, many are produced to be sweet or semi-sweet. That’s because they’re naturally very high in acidity. To balance that out, some sweetness is added during the fermentation process.
This isn’t done by adding sugar. Rather, the fermentation process is stopped before all of the grape sugars have been converted to alcohol. The extra sugar helps make Rieslings crisper and rounder, rather than overly tart. And this also can result in these sweeter wines having less alcohol.
Riesling vs Moscato: Body
Riesling wines tend to be light-bodied, crisp, and clean. This is generally true regardless of where they’re grown. Since many are produced by halting the fermentation process early in order to make them sweeter, they tend to have a fairly low alcohol content — with many landing at around 10%-12% ABV.
Popular Moscato d’Asti and Asti wines tend to feel lighter in the body with a sweet crispness to them. This is reflected in their lower alcohol content of between 5-10% ABV.
Other types, like Red Moscato and Moscato dessert wines, can feel fuller in body, thanks to the addition of wines like Syrah (in the case of red Moscato) and stronger spirits (for the dessert wines).
In terms of alcohol levels, Red Moscato averages about 5.5%, while the dessert wines can top 15% ABV.
Riesling vs Moscato: Color
Often, the color of a Riesling will indicate how sweet it is. Dry Rieslings generally are a lighter yellow color, similar to pale straw. Sweeter Rieslings can be richer in color, or have a darker golden hue.
Moscato wines, on the other hand, cover a wide spectrum of colors depending on the type they are. Moscato d’Asti will be a light gold. Pink Moscato will look more like a rosé wine. And Red Moscato is typically a light to medium red. The popular Muscat de Beaumes de Venise dessert wine is usually a deep gold shade.
Moscato food pairings
Since most Moscato wines are sweet, they generally pair well with spicy foods like curries and Thai food. The sweetness of the wine can help balance out those strong flavors.
Still types of Moscato can pair well with lighter dishes like grilled fish and lighter pastas. It also complements soft cheeses like Brie and goat cheeses.
And the fortified sweet dessert wine styles will complement creamy and fruity desserts, as well as souffles and dark chocolates.
Riesling food pairings
Rieslings can pair with a wide range of foods, depending on the level of sweetness in the wine.
Drier Rieslings can go well with sushi, shellfish, and other seafood, along with softer cheeses. Semi-sweet Rieslings pair well with spicier foods like Thai dishes, curries, and Mexican food. Try dessert wines with sweet and creamier dishes like crème brûlée, fruit pies, and custards.
Prices for Riesling and Moscato
Ready to try one or both of these wines? The good news is that you don’t need to break the bank for a nice example of either one. Here’s what you can expect to spend on average.
A good bottle of Riesling can be had for around $20-$25 at local wine shops and grocery stores. If you do some shopping around, you can likely get an even better deal.
Moscato prices will vary depending on the type you buy and the quality. Generally, you can expect to pay around $15 for a good bottle of Moscato d’Asti. Red Moscato tends to average about $10 a bottle. While some of the dessert Moscatos can land more in the $25-$50 range.
Moscato vs Riesling summary
- Primary growing regions: Italy, France, Spain, Portugal, Germany, United States, Australia
- Body: Light to medium
- Color: Light to rich gold to pink to medium red
- Acidity: High to medium-low
- Flavor notes: Citrus, apricot, peach, ripe pear, strawberry, honey, rose petal (for Asti); red berries (Pink Moscato); spiced berries, cloves, and cinnamon (Moscato Rosa); ripe berries and sweet citrus (Red Moscato)
- Cost: $10 for Red Moscato; $15 for Asti; $25 and up for dessert Moscato
- Primary growing regions: Germany, Austria, France, United States, Australia, New Zealand
- Dry to Very Sweet
- Body: Light to medium-light
- Color: Pale yellow to medium-rich gold
- Acidity: Generally high
- Flavor notes: Lemon, grapefruit, peach, pear, green apple, honey, grass, rose blossoms
- Cost: $15-$20+
More wine-related answers
Learn about more wines and what sets them apart with the links below.