Riesling is commonly mispronounced. It’s REES-sling, not RYE-sling.
But don’t worry, we’ll know what you mean if you stick to RYE-sling.
It’s a type of grape variety that produces wines notable for
- Pure, often complex, floral and fruity aromas
- Crisp, zesty acidity which can counter balance any residual sweetness
- Lower alcohol levels than many other white wines
- An ability to produce a wide range of styles from bone dry to sparkling to lusciously sweet
- The potential to express flavours and aromas specific to its point of origin
- In the best examples, an amazing ability to age gracefully in bottle for many years
It’s probably the last two points that seal the deal on this being the greatest white wine grape of all. For the winemaker there’s no where to hide with Riesling, it doesn’t perform well when mucked around with in the winery. In fact doing the least possible to interfere with the wine is the way to get the best results from it.
So, unlike white grapes such as Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc techniques such as new oak barrel ageing (for toasty vanilla flavours), lees-stirring (which imparts creamy flavours) or, *wine-speak alert*, Malolactic Fermentation (which gives the buttery and creamy texture to many wines, red and white) are virtually never employed in the development of great Rieslings. Unlike many other grapes Riesling is rarely used in blends of grape varieties. If one had to find an equivalent red grape that exhibited some of the same traits as Riesling then it would probably be Pinot Noir.
DNA analysis has shown that Riesling is the result of a cross between an ancient grape variety called Gouais Blanc and an unknown, probably extinct, other. It seems likely that this crossing occurred in Germany and the vine was well established in the Rheingau area west of Frankfurt. The first documented mention of Riesling occurs in 1435 when a certain Klaus Kleinfisch, cellarmaster at Schloss Katzenelnbogen, recorded a transaction for Riesling cuttings amounting to 22 gold coins.
Where it’s grown
Germany is the epicentre for Riesling with 22,434 hectares planted at the last count making it the most commonly planted species of grape vine.
In second place, perhaps surprisingly, is Australia where Riesling is the fifth most planted vine with 4,401 hectares. Not so surprising considering the Silesian immigration in to the Barossa Valley region in the early nineteenth century. The Germanic influence can still be felt there; don’t forget Wolf Blass is short for Wolfgang Blass.
Remarkably France does not officially allow Riesling production anywhere outside of Alsace (which used to be in Germany anyway). But here it is the most planted vine with 3,382 hectares given over to it.
Austria is a keen growing region with 1,874 hectares while Switzerland is surprisingly sparse with just 12 hectares.
The USA has taken to Riesling production enthusiastically in the last ten years or so. Washington state leads the way with 2,558 hectares while California has 1,550 hectares and the Finger Lakes region of New York state has 276 hectares (this may have decreased following the devastating frosts of during the winter of 2013)
Hungary has a decent amount with 1,283 hectares with the best coming from around lake Baloton.
There are large amounts of Riesling recorded across Eastern Europe and into Russia but it is not entirely clear what is actual Riesling and what is not.
Czech Republic 1278 ha
Slovakia 998 ha
Slovenia 643 ha
Croatia 1,072 ha
Moldova 1.343 ha
Bulgaria 1,170 ha
Ukraine 2,702 ha
Russia 882 ha
Another surprise is that China grows 378 hectares.
Finally New Zealand is near to breaking the 1000 barrier with 917 hectares recorded
Riesling can be found in Spain, Italy, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Japan and Israel as well.
By Colin Thorne