Riesling is a white wine variety that has captured the hearts of white wine lovers from around the world. Riesling was initially produced in Germany, where it is responsible for highly aromatic wines with noticeable acidity. Typically, Riesling offers aromas of flavours, ranging from apples and lime to peaches, blossoms, nuts, gasoline, and beeswax. However, the grape variety is highly expressive of its terroir, where it adapts to each unique environment. What you experience with a bottle of Riesling depends on its region, growing conditions, and age, highlighting its adaptability and versatility.
While it is most popular in the cooler parts of the world (namely Germany and Alsace),more regions are adopting Riesling and producing their own unique style. Typically, in the cooler climates, Rieslings are pale yellow, medium-bodied, and naturally extremely high in acidity. The aromas range from green apple to lime and peach. As the wine ages, however, these aromas can transform into complex notes of honeycomb, beeswax, spices, gasoline, and candied fruit.
Germany is the world’s largest Riesling producer, despite the country’s lack of sunlight and extreme cold. Fortunately, Riesling takes ample time to ripen, so it matures well into Autumn, where more sunlight hours are available. The winemakers in Germany have also mastered the art of planting the vines at specific angles on slopes that ensure optimal sunlight exposure. By growing the vines near large beds of water, they are able to get the sunlight directly from the sun, as well as the sunlight reflection from the water.
Some delicious German Riesling wines to try:
- Schloss Vollrads Rheingau Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2019
- Weingut Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2017
- Schloss Vollrads Schlossberg Grosses Gewächs Rheingau Riesling 2018
Considering Alsace is on the border of Germany in France, you can understand how these regions share similar characteristics in their wines. These wines display the same high acidity levels, citrus notes, and notable minerality. But unlike German Rieslings, Alsace wines display intense floral notes. Since the region also experiences more sunlight than Germany, the grapes are able to ripen more extensively, which results in higher sugar and higher alcohol.
Why not try these Riesling wines from Alsace?
- Cave De Hunawihr Riesling Grand Cru Rosacker 2017
- Famille Hugel Estate Riesling 2016
- Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 2013
South African and Australian Riesling
If you compare the Rieslings from the cool climate areas to Rieslings from hot climates, you will have a somewhat different experience with the wine. Since these countries have hot growing conditions, the sugar and alcohol tend to be much higher while the natural acidity is significantly lower. Frequently, because of this higher alcohol content, these Rieslings have an oily mouth-feel too. The flavours remain quite similar with notes of lime, flowers, orange blossoms, and tropical fruits.
South African Riesling suggestions:
- Hartenberg Riesling 2018
- Paul Cluver Wines Riesling 2020
- Paul Cluver Wines Noble Late Harvest Riesling 2020 (Half Bottle)
Australian Riesling recommendations:
- Jim Barry Lodge Hill Riesling 2020
- Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Clare Valley Riesling 2021 (Half Bottle)
- Grosset Polish Hill Clare Valley Riesling 2021
Different Styles of Riesling
Since Riesling has proven to be such a diverse grape that adapts to any environment and is capable of ageing exceptionally well, the grape is made in various styles. Not only are dry Riesling wines some of the most popular, but the sweeter styles are becoming increasingly admired too.
Any Riesling can be made in a dry or sweet style; it really just depends on the winemaker. However, wines from Austria, France, and The United States tend to lean more toward the drier type. While Riesling is able to age exceptionally well, drier Rieslings can be aged anything from five to fifteen years.
Sweet Riesling is most common in Germany, where the winemakers stop the fermentation process. By stopping the fermentation, the yeast does not consume all the sugar, which accounts for the sweetness. Sugar acts as a preservative in wine, which means sweeter Rieslings can age slightly longer. The ideal ageing period for sweet Rieslings is between ten and thirty years.
These wines fall in the middle of sweet and dry Rieslings with just a hint of sweetness. Much like with sweet Rieslings, the winemakers are able to achieve this by stopping the fermentation process. However, they do this much later on when more of the sugar is converted into alcohol. Since there is still sugar in the wine, these styles of Riesling can also age between ten and twenty years.
The most common sparkling Riesling comes from Germany, where it is known as ‘Sekt.’ It is a wine that is enjoyed thoroughly by the locals and cannot easily be found outside of German borders. To make these wines, the winemakers ferment the wines in large steel tanks to convert the sugar into alcohol. Thereafter, the wines are fermented in steel tanks again, but the second time is to create the natural bubbles in the wine. Once the wine is sparkling, it is pumped into bottles, and corks are added. This is not the same winemaking method used to make the renowned Champagne wines, where the second formation takes place inside the bottle.
Riesling Food Pairing Ideas
Riesling’s diversity makes it an excellent food wine. Not only are young Riesling wines capable of pairing with a number of dishes, but older Riesling also bring a whole other element to the pairing experience.
Sweet and semi-sweet wines are the best wine to pair with spicy food since the sugar counter-balances the heat of the dish. Try these wines with Thai food or Indian curries.
The complex notes of dry Riesling should not be underestimated and should be paired with food that is equally as complex in flavours. Here, Asian stir-frys are the ideal option. However, for a more traditional approach, try pairing Riesling with Bratwurst (grilled sausage) and potato dumplings. When it comes to Sekt, dessert or cheese should be your first choice. Since Sekt is most commonly made in sweeter style, the wine is the perfect companion to fruit-based desserts or a variety of cheeses.
Warmer-climate Rieslings from Australia and South Africa do well with a number of other dishes. These creamier Riesling wines pair well with creamy dishes, including pasta, risotto and creamy mussels and are excellent companions for seafood.
If you haven’t explored the wondrous world of Riesling yet, we highly suggest you do. We cannot emphasise enough how Riesling can change your perspective about wine, food, and regions. By experiencing a number of different Riesling wines from different climates and different styles, you will come to appreciate the significant impact winemaking techniques and terroir have on wine.
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