Riesling is the queen of the north. The white wine grape thrives up north where no other grape can. It’s easy to see why Riesling is the most planted white varietal in cold Germany. Riesling, though, is the source of a diverse and exciting stylistic range. The grape’s aroma palette alone can be floral, fruity, or mineral, but it can also remind you of spices and honey. Overly sweet or bone dry, Riesling can do it all, even sparkling wine! If there’s one thing all wines made with Riesling have in common, they are always lively and fresh.
Riesling is also responsible for low-alcohol wines. Some examples from Mosel, Germany, can have as little as 7% ABV. The wines are overly acidic as well! Since the grapes have a hard time ripening in cold weather, they retain most of their acidity and produce little sugar.
Interestingly, some of the longest-lived white wines in the world are made with Riesling. Some examples are still delicious after fifty years! This is something few white (and even red) wines can do.
Riesling: Interesting Facts
- Riesling is one of the oldest grape varietals, originating in Germany in 1435.
- Riesling grape vines have thicker bark than most, making them ideal for growing in cooler climates.
- Riesling contains less alcohol than most varietals.
- Riesling can be used to make dry, semi-sweet, or sweet white wines.
Where Is Riesling Grown?
Riesling has reclaimed first place in Germany in terms of area. The variety occupies 24,000 hectares, while the runner-up Müller-Thurgau now occupies only half that amount, 12,000 hectares. In 2016, nearly 60,000 hectares of vineyards were planted worldwide, with Germany accounting for 40% of the total. The finest German Riesling grows in the Mosel, Rheingau and the Rheinhessen.
Lush variants: Alsace and Austria
Alsace, the French region neighboring Germany, is fond of Riesling. Here, the wines are always dry unless made as late harvest “Vendanges Tardives” or noble rot “Sélection de Grains Nobles” dessert specialties.
Four thousand hectares of Riesling are planted in France, almost entirely in Alsace. The wines are more alcoholic than their German counterparts and typically exhibit stone fruit and citrus aromas.
Austrian wine regions also produce elegant, often mineral dry Rieslings, especially in the Wachau and Kamptal regions. Here, Rieslings gain intensity on the country’s barren, sandy-stony rock soils, with notes of apricots, tropical fruits, and blossom honey.
Riesling in the United States
Washington State, in the United States, has 5,000 hectares of vines. Riesling has been the region’s flagship white varietal thanks to large and small producers gaining international recognition, even against German and Austrian examples. Riesling’ Eroica,’ a joint effort between St. Michelle and German Ernie Loosen in the 1990s, helped position Washington State as a premium source of Riesling.
Riesling in Canada and Australia
Canada’s 1,200 hectares of Riesling are relatively small. However, winemakers in this region have specialized in a style that we have previously avoided. Ice wine. To make this wine style, producers allow the grapes to hang on the vines until the first winter frosts. They then pick frozen solid grapes and press them to separate the sweet grape juice from the ice shards, resulting in incredibly rich and sweet wine.
Australia is not known for its cold-climate wine styles, but Riesling is remarkably successful in the country, mainly along the Adelaide Hills. Until 1992, Riesling was the most planted grape variety in the country! It was one of the first white varieties to arrive on the fifth continent in the luggage of Silesian settlers in the nineteenth century. Rieslings from the Eden and Clare Valley have a wonderful soft lime aroma and a beautiful minerality and length.
Riesling and Food Pairings
Riesling is versatile at the table since you can find the wine at all sweetness levels. Dry Riesling is fantastic with white and oily fish. Poultry is also compatible with the golden grape. Sweet Riesling pairs best with tarts, bakes, pies, and other fruit-based desserts.
Date for your diary:
International Riesling Day is on March 13!
Want to read more about Riesling? Try reading these books!
Wine Grapes: A Complete Guide to 1,368 Vine Varieties, Including Their Origins and Flavours. Jancis Robinson 2012
Wine. Years. People. Events. Massandra Wine Collection 2010
The World Atlas of Wine: 8th Edition. Johnson, H & Robinson, J. 2019