Riesling is an aromatic white grape variety, known for its high acidity, fruity and floral aromas. Originating in the Rhine region, Riesling is a highly versatile grape varietal considered to be ‘terroir expressive’. Like Pinot Noir, Riesling picks up characteristics from where it is cultivated, resulting in wines that range from dry to sweet, and even sparkling. Aromas and flavours in Riesling are affected by the condition of grapes, for example - green fruit flavours are typical of just-ripe Riesling grapes, where-as stone fruit and tropical fruit flavours prevail when extra-ripe grapes are used to produce the wine. Due to its high levels of acidity, Riesling is suitable for long ageing, making it one of the few white grape wines that can age for decades. Aged Rieslings often evoke aromas of honeycomb and petrol, which are generally associated with excellent vintages.
The ageability of Riesling together with its ability to express the characteristics of the area it is cultivated in, are aspects highly regarded by wine connoisseurs, who cherish this often-overlooked wine.
Riesling’s versatility and ability to transform into different wine styles with a vast array of flavours, aromas and complexity levels, are mirrored in the grape’s long history. Riesling’s first mention dates back to 1435, when Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen in Rüsselsheim is first recorded buying Riesling vines; Riesling was in fact believed to be the wine preferred by the German nobility at the time. A series of circumstances like the destruction of vines during the Thirty Year’s War followed by the replanting of Riesling vines, and the Elector and Archbishop of Trier ordering that all the inferior vines had to be substituted with Riesling, exponentially increased the proliferation of Riesling. After becoming a sought-after wine for its perceived high-quality and growing popularity in the 1850s, Riesling fully achieved recognition in the mid 1990s when it was identified as the finest white German wine.
Riesling is now Germany’s dominant grape variety and is found in a number of categories identifiable through Germany’s labelling system. Kabinett, a delicate and light Riesling; Spätlese, a late-harvest wine; Auslese, Riesling made from selected extra-ripe grapes and Eiswein which translates to 'icewine' - Riesling made from grapes that have frozen on the vine. Riesling can also be found in very special sweet-wine formats, indicated by the Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese terms that identify Riesling made from grapes concentrated by Botrytis – a noble rot that enhances sugar levels.
While Germany counts over 24,000 hectares of Riesling wines in its 13 wine growing regions, Riesling is now produced all over the world. France, and specifically Alsace, produce dry aromatic Riesling, while a refreshingly fruity style of Riesling is found in Clare Valley and Eden Valley in Australia. Riesling is also cultivated in some areas of the U.S. after German immigrants brought it overseas.
When exploring Riesling's finest producers, several names come to mind. Joh. Jos. Prüm and Weingut Egon Müller are some of the top wine estates in the Mosel area, with notable expressions being the Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese and the Egon Müller Scharzhofberg releases. Trimbach is the most remarkable winery located in Alsace, producing Riesling from Clos Sainte Hune, a highly renowned Riesling vineyard. Weingut Keller is another name to look out for; from the Rheinhessen region, Keller's most sought-after expression is the G-Max Riesling Trocken. With highly-rated Riesling Eiswein, Weingut Dönnhoff is a famed producer in the Nahe region. Exceptional Riesling expressions are also produced by Weingut Schloss Reinhartshausen; a notable name for this producer is the Schloss Reinhartshausen Erbacher Markobrunn Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese.
With top-quality Rieslings frequently being acclaimed for their versatility, longevity, balance and powerful flavours, this wine offers consumers the choice among many styles, each with its specific set of recognisable characteristics. From a crisp and refreshing character to honeycomb notes, peach and apricot aromas or even intense dried fruit flavours, Riesling has the potential to meet any wine lover’s preferences. Whether from New World or Old World, Riesling can surely impress and win the hearts of enthusiasts who have an appetite for the explosion of intense aromas created by this noble grape.