Riesling is a white grape with many names - Riesling Renano, Rheinriesling, Weisser Riesling, and Johannisberg Riesling. Riesling is usually a sweet wine, although it can also create a dry wine as well. In a way, sweet riesling is the 'precusor' to White Zinfandel - Riesling is the wine that “sweet wine” drinkers sought out before White Zinfandel became available.
The Riesling grape is believed to be indigenous to Germany, and was first planted there in the fourteenth century. Riesling does its best in Germany and France, but is also grown in Australia, California Austria, New Zealand and Canada
Riesling is a late-ripening grape which only produces a moderate yield, which is often reflected in the price. You can still find cheap Rieslings, but they tend to be a bit sharp, but a well grown, higher price, riesling will be a complex, sweet white wine that ages very well. Riesling is affected by where it is grown - Germanic Rieslings tend to be more tart and 'grapefruity', while Californian Rieslings tend to be dry and have a melony tast. Other typical Riesling flavors include floral and fruity, as well as musk and honey.
The origin of Riesling is a bit of a mystery. Many wine historians believe it originated from the Mosel in Germany and is a selection from a native German vine. The first documentary evidence of Riesling appears in 1435 and links Kloster Eberbach – a monastery in the Rheingau with the making of Riesling wines. This is supported by Stuart Pigott who notes that the earliest reliable records are from an invoice written by the estate manager of Count von Katezenellenbogen for Rielsing grapes to be planted in his vineyard at Russelsheim on the Main near Rheingau in 1435.
From Germany Riesling emigrated to the surrounding grape growing countries including France, Italy, Hungary and Austria. The grape eventually made it's way to new world wine countries including South Africa, California and Australia.
From the mid 1970's the demand for Riesling went into decline world-wide, with Chardonnay taking over as the preferred white wine.
Germany: Riesling's traditional homes in Germany are the regions that trace the middle Rhine and the lower Mosel. These are the key wine regions of Germany, most famously the Rheinhessen, Mosel, Pfalz and Rheingau. Here Riesling vines cover the steep, slate-rich hillsides above these famous rivers and produce crisp, refreshingly acidic wines. France: Moving to the other side of the Rhine you will find Alsace, this region was once German but is now part of France. Riesling is on record as being planted in this region by 1477, where its quality was praised by the Duke of Lorraine. It is the most important grape variety grown here in terms of both quantity and, according to many, quality. Riesling produced here typically have their own individual style, tending to be richer and more generous than those produced in Germany. This is made possible by the region's mesoclimate, which tends to be sunny and dry. This climate, in part, is due to the shelter provided by the Vosges mountains.
Austria: Large amounts of Riesling are produced in Austria, where it is the second leading grape varietal after the indigenous Gruner Veltliner. This grape is especially prevalent in its eastern Wachau and Kremstal regions. Riesling produced here tend to be drier, thick bodied styles, although Lake Neusiedl, which is located just south-east of Vienna, has a climate with enough humidity to allow for the production of sweet botrytized Riesling.
Australia: Australia is producing some quality Riesling wines, particularly in the Clare and Eden Valleys. Those produced in the Clare valley have become noted for their own style, producing wines with crisp citrus acidity and aromas of honeysuckle and toast.
New Zealand: Riesling was first planted in New Zealand in the 1970s. Quality wines made with this grape are being produced on both the north and south islands of the country and do particularly well in the cooler climate of the Marlborough and Central Otago regions. Riesling produced here tend to be more delicate and lighter than Australian Rieslings and range from dry to sweet.
Canada: Canada uses Riesling in the production of many of their famous Ice Wines, particularly in the Ontario and Niagara regions. These grapes are also used to produce varietal wines that are typically dry to off-dry. Some sparkling wines are also produced here using Riesling grapes.
Riesling wines can be highly aromatic with peach, apple and pear at the forefront mixed with delicate floral undertones and often spice and honey on the nose. On the palate, Rieslings echo the pear, apple and peach along with citrus and tropical nuances. Rieslings tend to pick up a noticeable minerality from the soil, explaining why hints of slate or limestone are often present. Riesling can produce a dry or sweet wine. The dry styles tend to pair well with seafood, Thai, Asian and lighter poultry or pork dishes. The Sweeter styles go well with apple pie, peaches and cream and other sweet desserts.