Riesling – The Queen Of Grapes
Riesling’s renowned aroma and flavour superiority are undisputable. Its longevity is legendary and ability to reflect “terroir” unequalled.
A Rhine Riesling grown on well-drained, mineral rich soil will have “racy” flavours, whereas the same clone planted on loam or sandy loan on flatland will end up yielding a flowery and perfumey wine.
Riesling reflects the terroir, and winemakers everywhere know that unlike many other grapes, it is made in the vineyard.
When properly ripened, Riesling needs careful harvesting, rapid transportation, pressing, and cool fermentation to yield its best. It has a high natural acidity, ages well and can be vinifed to low levels of alcohol, much like Moscato d’Asti and Vinho Verde.
Rhine Riesling from the Rhinegau region is aromatic, elegant and tastes excellent in good vintages, and on the Mosel it yields spectacular wines with abundant fruit, depth and flavour.
In the 18th and 19th centuries Riesling, wines fetched higher prices than now legendary Sauternes wines which before the Russian revolution in 1917 had reached unheard-of levels. Riesling is a cool climate grape and needs a warm but long growing season. Its popularity prompted growers in other regions outside of Germany to call unrelated varities with a suffix i.e Okanagan Riesling, Welschriesling, Grey Riesling, all of which have nothing to do with the original, authentic Rhine Riesling.
German nurserymen and researchers use Riesling in their breeding programmes. Most German hybrids are derived from Riesling clones and another German or French variety. One of the oldest and most popular Riesling crosses is Muller-Thurgau created by professor Muller from canton Thurgau in Switzerland while teaching and researching at the Geisenheim School of Vitiviniculture and Oenolgoy.
The most famous Riesling clone is the one discovered on the vineyard of Schloss Johannisberg in Rhinegau. Since them millions of clones were propagated from that one vine and planted all over the world.
It is a vigorous, upright-growing vine, with a relatively high yield (seven tonnes per hectare is the upper limit for fine wine), ripens late, is winter hardy and thin-skinned. Bunches and berries are small and delicate.
Outside of Rhine and Mosel Rivers, Riesling grows well in Ontario, British Columbia, New Zealand, South Africa, in the cooler regions of Chile, France (Alsace), Austria, Hungary, Slovenia, Oregon and Washington State on high altitude vineyards.
Along the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Rivers Riesling yields off dry, succulent, highly aromatic and refined wines capable of aging for a decade or longer pending vintage.
Dr Loosen, Selbach-Oster, J J Prum, Dr Zenzen, Dr Thanisch, and Forstmeister Zilliken are some of the finest Mosel wineries whose products are always reliable and impeccably made.
On the Rhine River the following wineries stand out” Schloss Johannisberg, Schloss Schonborn, Schloss Eltz, Schloss Reichartshausen, just to name a few. Elsewhere in Germany R. Lingenfelder, K. Darting, and Gunderloch are well respected for their high quality.
In Alsace Riesling is mostly dry, but late harvest (vendange tardive) or Selection de Grains Nobles, specially selected late harvest) wines can be spectacular and spectacularly expensive. L. Beyer, J Hugel, Zind-Humbrecht, Trimbach, Dopff et Irion, P Sparr, Bollenberg, and Domaine Weinbach stand out.
In Ontario Vineland Estate, Cave Spring Cellars, Hernder, Konzelmann, Reif, Inniskillin and in British Columbia Gehringer Brothers and Mission Hill are renowned for their elegant Rieslings.
In New York State’s Finger Lakes region, H Wiemer and Dr K Frank’s Rieslings are sought after.
Australia’s Tasmania and Yarra Valley in southern Australia produce fine Rieslings, but New Zeeland’s K Crawford, Stoneleigh and Kumeu River enjoy excellent reputations for their acid-driven, refined Rieslings.
Ultimately, when buying Riesling one must consider the integrity and fame of the winery, as well as the region and the location of the vineyard if and when a single vineyard wine is being considered.
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu