Generally recognized as a wine of German origins, first documented as far back as the early 1400s, Riesling also has a long history in the neighboring French region of Alsace and is now grown worldwide. Perhaps no other grape gives rise to such an immense diversity of expression: Riesling can be bone-dry or honey-sweet, light or creamy, still or sparkling, to reference just a few of its possible incarnations. In Germany, for instance, Mosel Rieslings are particularly well renowned for their delicate, almost ethereal offerings, with floral, apple-y aromas underpinned with mineral, almost metallic notes. The Rheingau area, on the other hand, tends to produce somewhat fuller variants, with stone-fruit notes and a longer finish. Elsewhere, Riesling wines can be earthy and dry, or so fruit-driven they give the impression of being sweet despite containing zero residual sugars! One common thread is that Rieslings are aromatic, elegant wines, generally suitable for aging, but a little insider knowledge is certainly no bad thing when it comes to finding your own personal favorite.
So, how are German Riesling wines classified? In terms of how dry or sweet they are, Rieslings are classified as trocken (dry), kabinett (off-dry), spätlese and auslese (sweet), or beerenauslese, trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein (very sweet). In practice, these terms refer to the ripeness of the grapes at harvest, in ascending order, and therefore the amount of residual sugar they contain. Whilst this labelling system may be a source of confusion for the casual buyer, a good rule of thumb is to check the alcohol percentage on the bottle’s label: if it is on the low side (below 9% for example), then the wine will almost certainly be sweet; if it is over 11% on the other hand, then it will be a dry Riesling.
In Italy, excellent Riesling wines are produced in the Alto Adige and the Oltrepò Pavese in particular. The former is home to the prestigious Falkenstein winery, whilst the latter even boasts an area known as the Riesling Valley, spanning the municipalities of Calvignano, Montalto Pavese, Oliva Gessi, Casteggio, Mornico Losana and Rocca de’ Giorgi. Aside from German Riesling – also known as Riesling Renano and denoting the classic Riesling grape – a variant called Riesling Italico is also widely grown in both France and Italy, not to mention Croatia, Romania and Hungary. Whilst the former tends to give rise to refined, more ‘noble’ wines that you may wish to hold onto for a while, the latter is best known for producing easy-drinking crowd pleasers that won’t last much beyond a weekend with friends.
What do Riesling wines taste like? Riesling wines are famed for their dense aroma, with notes of peach, apple and pear often first to arrive on the nose. You will generally be able to distinguish floral undertones such as honeysuckle, alongside a subtle spiciness too. In older Rieslings, these flavors settle and mature, with the taste profile moving toward dried fruits, candy and a touch of earthiness. More aged versions also tend to have a richer mouthfeel.
What foods go well with Riesling? As you have probably gleaned from reading this article, there really is a Riesling to accompany not only every palate, but every plate too. Should you so wish, you could find the perfect Riesling to pair with every course from the aperitif through to dessert. Shellfish is a great match for this wine, in particular younger Rieslings, or try a slightly older bottle alongside a sheep or goat’s cheese to enhance the full complexities of each.
Why not purchase a range of Rieslings, to experience its miraculous shape-shifting qualities for yourself?