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Riesling- The Misunderstood Noble

Although it ranks 20th in worldwide production, Riesling is considered to be one of the top three white grape varietals. Lagging behind the popular stalwarts Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling is often misunderstood by the general public, who often view the varietal through a one-dimensional prism.  The notion that the powerfully aromatic white is synonymous with a sweet wine is the result of a confluence of different factors including Germany's early 20th Century reputation, mass producers, name pilferage, and changing consumer demands.  Yet, the noble Riesling seems to have endured these detriments and has begun a global comeback.

Where is Riesling Grown?

Originating in Germany, Riesling still maintains a foothold in the cool winegrowing regions of Western Europe while continuing to explore the New World.  The dissemination of the grape continues around the globe, finding homes in the cooler reaches of wine regions.  Yet, those new countries have quite a challenge to match the originator.


Germany - Imported by the Romans to satiate the thirst of their conquering legions, wine grapes made their introduction to the northerly European region in the 1st Century A.D.  Yet, it wasn't until centuries later that the Catholic Church began developing huge vineyards along the Rhine and Mosel rivers.  South-facing vineyard sites were chosen as the sun would melt the snow on those slopes first. 



The dramatic pitch of the hills descending to the river made it quite a challenging task, but proved integral in ensuring the vines received the maximum daily sun exposure in the chilly region.  From the Alps along Germany's southern border with Switzerland, the Rhine River winds its way through the country's wine regions.  The fingers of its tributaries also encourage grape cultivation, most of which strive to grow Riesling.  The most important region for its cultivation remains Rheingau, where it is rooted in the most striking slopes of Germany.  And while quality and production suffered for most of the 20th Century, determined winemakers are bringing Riesling back to prominence within the country.

German Producers to look for (Weingut means winery in English): Weingut Christmann, Weingut Dr. Burklin-Wolf, Weingut Geheimer Rat Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan, Weingut Joseph Biffar, Weingut Muller-Catoir, Hessische Staatsweinguter Kloster Eberbach, Schloss Johannisberg, Schloss Vollrads, Weingut Franz Kunstler, Weingut Georg Breuer, Weingut Johannishof, and Weingut Peter Jakob Kuhn.

France - Just across Germany's eastern border, Riesling made its debut in Alsace in the late 15th Century. The region is quite unique, not only in terms of its mix of French and German cultures, but also in its winemaking techniques.  Alsace not only veers from the French tradition of naming wine after the region of origin, but in the use of tall, slender bottles.  From the border town of Wissembourg, the wine region parallels the Rhine River south, reaching the hills at the base of the Alps. Alsace has two main regions, Bas-Rhin and Haut-Rhin, the latter of which produces the best Riesling of the two.  Boasting the second driest climate in the country, Haut-Rhin backs into the Vosges Mountains, which provides the steep, hilly slopes of its best vineyards while protecting the fertile valley from Atlantic storms.

Alsace Producers to look for: Clos St-Landelin, Leon Beyer, Domaines Schlumberger, Domaine Marcel Deiss, Hugel & Fils, Domaine Weinbach, Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, and Maison Trimbach.

Australia - Although Riesling currently lags behind Chardonnay and Semillon for most widely cultivated white grape, it has a long history of producing world class wines in Australia.  The grape was introduced in 1838 when it was planted in New South Wales.  It quickly gained in popularity and spread west across South Australia and made its way to Western Australia.  The regions of Clare Valley, Barossa, and Eden Valley continue to craft world class wines with distinct flavor profiles.  More recently, the Western Australian regions of Frankland River, Porongorup, and Albany have showed their promise with Riesling.

Australian Producers to look for: Grosset Wines, Jim Barry Wines, Orlando Wyndham, Peter Lehmann Wines, Wolf Blass Winery, Yalumba, Mountadam Vineyards, Petaluma Limited, Shaw Vineyards, Alkoomi Wines, and Frankland Estate.

United States - As German immigrants made their way across the Atlantic, they made sure to bring clippings of their home country's signature white varietal.  Riesling was first planted in New York State in the Finger Lakes region where it continues to be the dominant white varietal.  In the Pacific Northwest, Washington State has seen an increase in plantings since the late 19th century.  In fact, a major producer in the state, Chateau Ste. Michelle has become the worldwide leader in Riesling production with over 600,000 cases per year.

American Producers to look for: Chateau Ste. Michelle (Washington), Columbia Crest (Washington), Hogue Cellars (Washington), Pacific Rim (Washington), Charles Smith (Washington), Hermann J. Weimer (New York), Belle Pente (Oregon), Mercer (Washington), Red Tail Ridge (New York), Chateau LaFayette Reneau (New York), Dr. Konstantin Frank (New York), and Fox Run Vineyards (New York).

Riesling Styles

Riesling produces light and incredibly aromatic wines, regardless of the levels of residual sugars.  The grape is quite terroir-driven and winemakers choose sweetness levels based on its characteristics in specific locales.  Therefore, Riesling runs the spectrum of sweetness from bone dry to sweet and sometimes will be made into sparkling or ice wines.  The traditional German style, which during the 19th century was as sought after as Bordeaux's first growths, balances the floral, perfumed aromas with the intrinsic lively acidity to craft delectable offerings.  And although commercial interests forced many estates to increase yields at the detriment of quality, the top producers remain committed to the traditional style.  Next door in Alsace, Rieslings tend to have a bit more minerality, gained from the gravel and limestone soil, and more intense fruit flavors.  The New World regions also tend to accentuate fruitiness and Australia and US examples tend to highlight apricot, apple, and lime aromas. Sweet examples and ice wines can sometimes produce honey or marmalade tones.

 

Smell

 

 

Taste

 

Feel

 

Price


Green apple
Grapefruit
Peach
Honey
Floral
Rose blossom
Cut grass

 

 

A wide range from dry to sweet, the most common being semi-sweet. 


Alcohol content in German Rieslings tend to be low however Riesling alcohol content can be as low as 8% or as high as 14%. 

Generally, the lower the alcohol content the sweeter the wine.

Acidity levels are high, giving most Rieslings a crisp taste

No tannins

 

 

Rieslings are among the most affordable of the International varieties.  Most medium quality Rieslings are under $15.  Age worthy Rieslings however can easily be in the $25 - $40 range.

 

 

To help understand your wine profile read Understanding Your Wine Profile.

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