Riesling is a white wine varietal native to Germany. It has a long history, first showing up in an inventory of Count John IV of Katzenelenbogen in 1435. Riesling loves cold climates, poor soils, and good drainage, so the incredibly steep south facing slopes that pepper most of the German wine growing regions are a perfect home for the grape. It is commonly known as the queen of white wine grapes.
Riesling makes up 21% of the wine grape plantings in Germany, and just about that much in the Alsace, where is also has a long, noble past. It is also grown in Austria, New Zealand and Australia, California, New York, and South Africa.
One of the most important things to understand about Riesling is that it can be made into bone dry wines, super-sweet dessert wines, and everything in between. Riesling resists interventionist winemaking -- it does not like malolactic fermentation, new oak barrels, super yeasts, or other trickery. It does like long, slow fermentations in neutral oak or steel, and great Riesling comes from a combination of a great site -- terrior, minimalism in winemaking, and knowing just when to pick the grapes.
Due to Riesling's high acid nature, good winemakers can hide a few grams of residual sugar in Riesling. Some people are scared of Riesling as they think wines made from it are always sweet, but pairing Riesling with spicy foods, or letting the wines age for a few years both serve to mitigate the sweetness of the wine. Aged Riesling pairs well with salty foods
Riesling is a stunningly aromatic grape, and can have aromas and flavors ranging from green apple and pear to cassis, strawberry, citrus fruits, tropical fruits, and nuts. There is usually a strong taste of the soil as well, sort of a mouthcoating finish of spicyness. Riesling also ages incredibly well, with top examples being drinkable for decades. As Riesling ages, it can pick up an aroma commonly called petrol, which is due to terpenes present in Riesling grapes. Mature Riesling can have a milky, lactic aroma and flavor to it.
There are a lot of grapes out there that might be confused with Riesling, but are not, like Welschriesling, Cape Riesling, and Gray Riesling.
Some great producers of Riesling include:
- Germany: Robert Weil, Helmut Donnhoff, JJ Prum, Selbach-Oster, Dr. Loosen, van Volxem and AJ Adam
- Austria: Nikolaihof, Hiedler, Hirsch, and Alzinger
- Australia/New Zealand: Grosset, Petaluma Estate, Jim Barry, Forrest Wines, Framingham
- Canada: Inniskillin (Icewines)
- Washington State: Poet's Leap, Chateau Ste. Michelle, Pacific Rim.
- Alsace: Domaine Trimbach, Domaine Weinbach, Hugel & Fils, Zind Humbrecht