Riesling is a white grape that originated in the Rhine area of Germany . It has a number of styles from dry to rich and sweet, known for it’s quality and has a distictive flowery, sometimes even perfumed, nose. It’s flavours go from appley , grapefruit, citric and even grassy, and, as it gets sweeter, a honeyed background comes forward and richer peachy flavours dominate. It has a reputation for a clean racy acidity, so vital to maintain a balanced wine especially in the sweeter styles. Also, depending on where it comes from, a mineral or slatey soil will impart a steely firmness to the wine, particulary in German Rieslings.
It has a long history, probably first noted around the Rhine in 1430s, and certainly around the Alsace areas then as well. It is thought to have originated from the Gouais Blanc crossed with either a wild vine or more likely the Traminer grape. It thrives on slate, limestone and harsh soils and is not an easy vine to perfect. Harvest in the north can begin late in September for the drier styles , then the classic noble rot begins to create the higher sugars, and the last grapes may be picked in January if Eiswein is to be made. The risk are high, with working conditions difficult on the steep slopes, especially in the Mosel.
Germany accounts for almost 58% of the production and here the Riesling is rarely blended with other varietals, and will rarely see oak that can influence the flavour. The choice is simply what style to make, and this will determine the harvest time . Styles go from Trocken (dry) to Qba ( about 15 gms residual sugar) then into the quality QmP ladder from Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese,Trockenbeerenauslese to Eiswein. Each represents an increase in the sweetness so here the skill is to preserve acidity to ensure not only a balanced wine but one with a firmness to the finish. The best wines come from the Rheingau, a classic south facing slope that is Germany’s pride. The Mosel too is superb with the steep slatey soils retaining the heat thus ripening the grapes to perfection.
Alsace is the next stop for classic riesling and here they make fuller weightier wines, dry to just off dry. The alcohol level is slightly higher at 12%, with flavours of apricot and peach, and a good balance of acidity and finish– in all, rounder and fuller wines than their German counterparts.
The USA produces about 14% of the volume and here a richer fuller wine emerges due to the warmenr climate. Some superb dry Rieslings are now produced in the Clare and Eden Valleys of South Australia, noted particulary for their lime flavours. New Zealand is also now growing quality Rieslings, especially in Nelson and Central Otago, where Invivo can be found, and on the North Island, Urlar’s Riesling is spectacular. Other areas include South Africa, China, Austria and Canada, which is noted for their brilliant Eisweins.
Riesling is growing in demand as new areas learn the expertise required to make this great wine. Cool fermentations , no malolactic ferments, no oaks – keep the freshness
and extract the maximum flavours. So enjoy the lemons, limes, citric flavours , the lovely floral bouquets and the lasting finish of your Riesling. A great wine by the glass, serve chilled, and also a great accompaniment to food like white fish, white meats, thai and chinese food, quiche and seafood. Try the richer wines alongside dessert or cheeses - just brilliant!