What is Riesling?
Riesling is one of the world’s top three whites, the other two being Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
It’s extremely terroir-expressive, reflecting its place of origin. It has a long history, with written references to Riesling dating back to 1435 in a storage inventory for a small principality in the Rhine. DNA fingerprinting points to the Rhine region of Germany as the grape’s origin. One parent of Riesling is Gouais Blanc. Rare today, it was grown extensively by German and French peasants in the middle ages.
Riesling belongs in the Aromatic white family, which are defined by their dominant floral aromas found naturally in the grapes. Riesling can age extremely well, with some examples more than 100 years old still drinkable.
The most expensive wines made from this varietal are late harvest dessert wines, affected by Botrytis or ‘Noble Rot’.
Traditionally, most Rieslings sit at the sweeter end with strong fruit flavours balancing the wine’s high acidity; yet many styles can be bone dry. Riesling seldom sees oak.
As an aromatic, Riesling typically displays pungent aromas of jasmine, lime, honey and green apple.
Young Riesling shows apple, citrus, lemon, tropical fruit and mineral notes.
Steely, flinty characteristics are common. One interesting feature of Riesling is its ability to display kerosene, diesel and petroleum notes. Age brings out smoky notes, honey and toast.
Pairing with food
Because of its sweetness and acidity, Riesling pairs perfectly with spicy food. It is one of the few wines that can handle strong Asian and Indian dishes. Riesling can hold its own against spices and herbs like cayenne pepper, ginger, allspice, madras curry and soy sauce. For meat pairings, look to duck, pork, chicken, white fish, shrimp and crayfish. Sweet Rieslings pair well with salty cheeses, including feta, blue cheese and aged Gouda. Dry Rieslings are perfect with soft, creamy cheeses like Brie and Camembert.
Notable regions for Riesling
New Zealand - Riesling was introduced to New Zealand in the 1800s. The 1980s saw an increase in planting, and today Riesling is New Zealand’s fourth most planted white wine. There were more than 750 hectares in Riesling plantings as at 2016. The grape is grown in Gisborne, Wairarapa, Marlborough, Central Otago, Nelson, Canterbury and the Waipara Valley.
Australia, Clare Valley - Riesling is king in the Clare Valley, with the region considered its Australian home. Typical flavours include crisp lime, white flowers, tropical notes, earthy minerality and notes of kerosene. Other notable regions include Central Victoria, Tasmania, Frankland River and the Canberra District.
International - Rhineland, Germany - the German grape is ever present in the Rhineland. Riesling is Germany’s most popular grape and while the origin of Riesling is disputed with neighbours in Austria and Alsace, the association with Germany could not be stronger. In Germany, Riesling wine is often sweet, although as winemakers respond to changing tastes in various markets, more dry wines are being produced.
Alsace, France - Alsace, on the border with Germany, in France is a notable region for growing Riesling grapes. Rieslings from Alsace typically have higher alcohol content than their Rhineland equivalents. Riesling is permitted in the controlled blend associated with the region along with Muscat and Pinot Gris. Riesling is also produced in Austria, California, Oregon, Washington State, Idaho, Michigan, New York, Ontario and South Africa.