The one true classic non-French grape, Riesling is the most versatile, scented white variety in the range of wines it produces from dry to lusciously sweet. Yet it’s revival always seems to be just around the next corner.
This is as much because of its tarnished reputation due to Liebfraumilch and the array of wanna-be Rieslings which have arrogated the good name of Rhine Riesling (Olasz, Welsch, Laski, Riesling Italico) as for the steely acidity which generally makes for more demanding wines than those produced from Sauvignonor Chardonnay.
The late-ripening Riesling’s heartland is the steep Mosel and Rheingau valleys of Germany, where it produces wines rich in crisp, lime and appley flavours and honeyed richness. Its classification from dry to sweet gives it an entirely different cultural slant from its French counterparts, with the perfumed, sweet styles ranging from auslese to trockenbeerenauslese in great demand.
Fine, dry Riesling is not only increasingly fashionable in Germany, but in Alsaceand Austria too. In the Wachau in particular, some of the world’s greatest dry Rieslings are produced.
As a cool climate variety par excellence, Riesling has not adapted as well as the other to classics to the New World, but there are a handful of regions where it has been shown to do well, most notably the Eden and Clare Valleys in South Australia, Mount Barker in Western Australia, New Zealand’s South Island, Washington State, and cooler spots in California and the Cape’s Constantia.
In its Teutonic heartland of the Mosel and Rheingau Valleys, Riesling produces elegant wines with crisp, lime, lemon, apple and peach flavours and honeyed richness. In the Mosel it is said to become slatey, which is easier to describe as minerally, developing honey, petrol and kerosene-like flavours. In Alsace it can be more floral and perfumed, while Australian Riesling, particularly from the Eden and Clare Valleys, starts out lime and lemon-like and develops a minerally, keroseney character with age.