The biddies return to the noble grape close up with Riesling – the only noble grape that does not originate from France. Tune in to learn about the different styles, the primary growing countries and how to pick out a Riesling that isn’t too sweet (or is just sweet enough!).

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Sources:

Wine Grapes; Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, Jose Vouillamoz 

Wine Spectator, The Story of Riesling

Master Class, Learn About Riesling

Wines of Germany, Rieslings by Region

JJ Buckley Fine Wines, What You Should Know About German Riesling

Skurnik Wines, American Riesling

James Suckling, Top Alsace Wines

Vivino, Alsace Riesling

Wine Enthusiast, Best Australian Rieslings

Wine Spectator, Vintage Chart

Image Credit: Liquor.com

Study Notes On Riesling:

*Please note these are the literal notes we created to record the podcast and sections may be copied and pasted from our sources above.

Arguably the most viticulturally versatile of the world’s noble wine grapes

BACKGROUND

  • One of the most ancient German grape varieties (can be suggested by it’s amount of synonyms”
  • Etymology: might derive from reissen (Old German Rizan) originally meaning to split, then to make an incision, to carve, or to engrave and later, to tear or to write
    • Not sure why this is the name or the strange etymology behind it but potentially could be a reference to the way the berries split between the fingers
    • Could also be “Rissling” meaning “cutting”
  • Most likely originated in the Rheingau (northern bank of the Rhein in Germany) where is earliest mention is said to be in a document dated March 13, 1435 (The Wines of Germany trade group has declared this the day the “official birthday of Riesling”)
    • Klauss Kleinfisch, a cellarmaster at Schloss Katzenelnbogen in Russelsheim is reporting on the expenditures and revenues of Graf Johann IV \von Katzenelnbogen
  • First mentions of the modern riesling spelling appeared in the Latin edition of Hieronymous Bock’s Kreutterbuch in 1552 where he talks about where Riesling is grown
  • DNA profiling shows that Riesling’s parents are Gouais Blanc (one of the most ancient and prolific wine grapes of Western Europe) and a wild vine/Traminer gross
    • Gouais Blanc also has a parent-offspring relationship with at least 80 other grapes including Chardonnay, Gamay Noir making them either half-siblings, grandparents, grandchildren of Riesling
  • Riesling has no genetic relationship with a lot of other grapes featuring the name Riesling (Riesling Italico, Welshriesling) or many other erroneously named Riesling (Clare Riesling – Australia, Cape Riesling – South Africa, Grey Riesling – Trousseau)
  • Another hypothesis about Riesling – speculation that is is identical to the the Vitis anime mentioned by many Roman authors
    • Variety is named after the Ritzling, a river in the Wachau region of Austria
  • Growing season begins relatively later
  • Riesling thrives where the average growing season temperature is 56-64 degrees F which SEEMS like a narrow band but is twice that of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Sangiovese, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Malbec and so on and so forth

ORGANOLEPTICS

  • Aromatic white wine grape variety that yields a floral white wine with fruit flavors
  • Light body, aromas of citrus, stone fruit, white flowers, and petrol
    • Older rieslings can smell like gasoline, kerosene, or burnt rubber but does signify higher quality wines
  • Natural high acidity (makes it favorable to produce late harvest wines)
    • Acidity can approach levels found in lemonade or orange juice

THE CATEGORIES

  • Unlike other grapes we’ve talked about, riesling wines fall into four categories
    • Sweet
    • Dry
    • Semi-Sweet
    • Sparkling
  • 5 Riesling Types: Kabinett (dry to off dry), Spatelse (sweet), Auslese (sweeter), Beerenauslese (very sweet), Trockenbeerenauslese (Sweetest)

HISTORY

  • Riesling vines were well-tendered by Benedictine and Carthusian monks and the noble families in the 15h century 
  • About 200 years later, Riesling’s popularity took off
    • At the end of the 30 years war, the French were given control over Alsace (1648)
    • Many destroyed vineyards were replanted to Riesling
    • Schloss Johannisberg in Germany’s Rheingau region replanted all of its vineyards to Riesling in 1720 after recognizing that good idea)
    • Mosel quickly followed
    • 1787 – Clemens Wenzeslaus (Elector of Trier) at the time declared that all bad vines should be ripped out and replaced by Riesling
    • The next century was really Riesling’s hey day
      • In the late 1800s, German rieslings enjoyed global reputation and garnered prices on par with those of Bordeaux’s first growth and Burgundy’s grand crus
      • Queen Victoria of Britain was a huge fan
      • 1900 – Egon Muller won a Grand Prix at the Paris Exposition
  • World Wars 1 and 2 resulted in the mass destruction of Germany’s vineyards and after the country’s wine industry focused largely on quantity over quality
  • Products like Liebramuilc and similar mass produced German wines were easily recognized by their signature blue bottles and drove down sales of estate grown, single vineyard Rieslings
  • In the mid 1990s, Riesling regained its title as Germany’s most widely planted variety
  • Grown on every continent besides Antarctica

GERMANY

  • Rarely blended with other varieties or exposed to oak which allows the grapes natural flavors to shine through 
  • Riesling is grown in all 13 of the country’s wine regions and its the world’s largest producer of Riesling
    • Wine regions are called Anbaugebiete
  • Germany is one of the most northerly winegrowing regions in the world and is considered a “cool climate” region
  • Mosel: cool-climate and steep sloped vineyards
    • Typically delicate and intensely mineral due to the slate soil
    • The steeper the slope, the better as that gives vines “stadium seating” for best sun exposure
    • Even though the Mosel is smaller than many Anbaugebiete in Germany, it has more Einzellagen than any other
      • Einzellage is the smallest, most specific level regional designatoin in Germany wine law
      • Mosel has more than 500
    • Some of the most gasoliney wines come from here
  • Rheingau: Known for more full-bodied Rieslings with structure acidity
    • Very different in character than Mosel but quality wise, neck and neck
    • Makes only 2% of Germany’s wine 
  • Rheinhessen: South of Rheingau and has more mild acidity, medium body and stone fruit flavors
    • The largest vine growing and wine making region in German
    • This is the region Liebfraumilch wine comes from 
    • Notice that a lot of bulk Rieslings come from here
  • Pfalz: Refreshing fuller-bodied Rieslings with flavors of orchard fruit and earthy, spicy elements
    • Long and narrow and if you travel south from Pfalz you will hit Alsace
    • It’s more southerly location brings more sun and a slightly longer growing season which allows dessert-level sweetness Rieslings to excel
    • Also has some of the most vineyard acreage making it a high-volume producer

FRANCE (ALSACE)

  • Alsace is one of France’s best white wine-producing regions 
  • Alsatian riesling, for one, can be of tremendous caliber and value.
  • Alsace Riesling is cultivated not far from its origin in Germany, just over the Rhine River.
  • The reason Alsation wines are compared to or confused with German wines is because for many years, Alsace was part of Germany.
    • It has belonged to France since the end of World War I, but its Germanic roots are plain to see from its single-varietal wine bottlings to the grapes that grow there.
  • Alsace is one of the sunniest winemaking regions in all of France because of this natural barrier, and in the summer it is slightly warmer than Burgundy.
  • as of 2021 there is a new requirement for sweetness levels to be listed on the labels, as follows: dry (sec), medium dry (demi-sec), mellow (moelleux) and sweet (doux).
  • Riesling is the darling of Alsace, and a favorite of wine lovers worldwide, because it’s both versatile and budget friendly. Produced in dry and off-dry styles, Alsatian Rieslings are typically fresh and crisp, with racy acidity and compelling aromas of pears, apples, lemons, flowers and spice. 
  • Described as “extraordinarily food friendly”

UNITED STATES

  • German immigrants were primarily responsible for bringing Riesling grapes to California in the mid-19th century 
  • At the end of Prohibition, over 1 million gallons of “Riesling” were produced and at the time, the definition of American “riesling” was any dry white wine or wine blend being made, regardless of varietal 
  • Confusion over the difference eventually led to ambivalence 
  • 60s and 70s brought around a bit more varietal labeling again but the grape was faced with a plethora of vague designations
    • Dry
    • Emerald
    • Grey
    • Johannisberg
  • Early rieslings were usually planted on warmer sites in the US, picked early and fermented dry, generally producing uninteresting wines which lacked substance
    • These grapes obviously needs a long, cool growing season
    • Found better homes in the Finger Lakes, Monterey, Sonoma, Santa Barbera
  • FINGER LAKES: In 1958, Dr. Konstantin Frank planted Riesling on the western shores of the Finger Lakes and is known for putting the Finger Lakes on the map for high quality riesling rivaling Germany
    • 1829: Reverend William Bostwick plants first vineyard 
  • WASHINGTON: One of the founding grape varieties with plantings dating back to 1967 in the Yakima Valley
  • SANTA BARBERA: In 1971, Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict planted Riesling in the Santa Rita Hills
    • Those vines were eventually pulled but the idea of planting Riesling in the cool climate of Santa Barbera was born
  • OREGON: In 1972, Riesling was planted in Dundee Hills and then grew in popularity in the southwestern corner in the Rogue Valley

AUSTRALIA

  • But its roots have grown deep in Australian soils since the mid-1800s. It thrives in higher elevations or by the coast, where winemakers can utilize cooling influences to craft world-class bottlings
    • 1832 James Busby vine cuttings
      • James Busby is widely known as the ‘father of Australian wine’. A viticulturist, writer and pioneer, Busby was a man with a dream – to bring vines to the new colony and kick-start the growth and production of Australian wine. Almost 200 years later, offshoots of his original cuttings can be found thriving in some of the best vineyards in Australia.
  • Clare Valley
    • The Clare Valley is considered Riesling’s spiritual home in Australia. Located 80 miles north of Adelaide, the region is speckled with stone cottages and thick groves of twisted gum trees that blanket seemingly endless rolling hills.
    • Perhaps none are more invested than Australia’s unofficial Riesling king, Jeffrey Grosset, who’s championed the variety and the Clare Valley since 1981.
    • His organically farmed, single-vineyard wines, namely Polish Hill and Springvale, remain some of the most terroir-expressive wines in the country. They are capable of aging 20 years or more.
  • Eden Valley
    • In the Mount Lofty Ranges, about 75 miles southeast of Clare Valley, sits the Eden Valley. Home to some of the world’s oldest Riesling vines, Eden Valley’s overnight temperatures are often cooler than Clare Valley and significantly brisker than the bordering Barossa Valley.

BEST VINTAGES

  • German Riesling, 2009 best in past 20 years
    • 2021, 2013, 2014 meh
  • Alsace Riesling
    • 2013, 2014 also meh

BEST WINES

  • Egon Muller
  • Penfolds
  • Zind, Zind-Humbrecht

BEST SELLING WINES

  • Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling
  • Relax Riesling