What is Riesling?

Riesling is a white grape variety from Germany that thrives in various regions across the globe. It somewhat divides the wine world, as it is made in a such a bewildering array of styles that some drinkers shy away from it. Nonetheless, due to its ability to express site and place, it is often considered to be one of the noblest white grapes, alongside Chardonnay.

What does Riesling taste like?

Riesling has one chief hall mark and that is its acidity – which may well be the reason that many people struggle to like it. When it comes to smell, Riesling is semi-aromatic and can cover the entire citrus spectrum with uncanny resemblance, riper styles boast notions of peach and yellow plum, sometimes there are overtones of fresh or dried herbs. With age, Riesling develops incredibly complex notions of wax, lanolin and herb tincture. One aroma particularly associated with Riesling is TDN (1, 1, 6, -trimethyl-1,2-dihydronapthalene) which is related to sun exposure on grape skins, it smells as heady as petrol. Riesling also differs considerably when grown on different soils. Riesling is made in every style, from bone-dry to sweet, but often (erroneously) believed to be always sweet, a stumbling block in today’s market. What sets Riesling apart in this regard is that it has the acidity to balance any sweetness in the wine. Riesling is also made into rare and precious botrytised wines, and it can be used as a base for sparkling wines. While Riesling can be anything from bone-dry to lusciously sweet in Germany and Alsace, most Austrian and Australian examples are dry. Among white grape varieties, Riesling stands out for its ageability.

Where is Riesling from?

While Riesling, like numerous other grape varieties, has a parent-offspring relationship with Gouais Blanc, its origins are unclear. It has been cultivated for centuries along the river Rhine in Germany and is thought to have originated there.

Where does Riesling grow?

Riesling is prized for its frost-hardiness in winter and its ability to ripen in cool regions where the growing season is long enough. Germany has the greatest Riesling plantings by far. The variety thrives across all thirteen German growing regions but attains sublime expression in Mosel, Saar, Ruwer, Nahe, Pfalz and Rheingau. In France, Riesling is restricted to Alsace, in Austria it does best on the stony slopes along the Danube River. Other significant Riesling regions are the Clare and Eden Valleys of Australia, Washington State and the Finger Lakes in New York State in the US and Marlborough in New Zealand. More recently, Michigan in the US has been making a name for itself with Riesling.

Famous Riesling regions:

  • Mosel, Saar, Ruwer, Nahe, Pfalz and Rheingau in Germany
  • Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal in Austria
  • Eden Valley and Clare Valley, Australia
  • Washington State, USA
  • Marlborough, New Zealand

Anything else?

Riesling thrives where other grape varieties struggle: on the steepest, stoniest slopes with the poorest soils. It is a delicious contradiction that such exertion should bring forth such joyful wines.

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