Riesling is a great wine of the world ampelographic heritage. It is elegant and powerful in essence, yet also delicate, whimsical in gustatory balance, has an admirable longevity and is complex with its many faces.
Its history is intertwined with the European Renaissance period, between Alsace and Rheingau, and like many other grapes, it is a direct descent from the Gouais blanc, a varietal of Eastern Europe.
On the viticultural level, it prefers steep slopes with sun exposures at noon that guarantee a late ripening season (between the end of September and October) and thus the accumulation of the typical aromas: citrus, apple, white peach and orange blossom, always accompanied by a mineral note of flint and a note of kerosene that develops with the wine's evolution.
It is a grape variety with a strong resistance to the cold and therefore to winter frosts, which renders it able to exalt itself to the fullest. It is able to constantly maintain a marked acidity which, in more traditional areas, justifies a balance with the sugary residues.
It is worth noting that the kerosene/flint aroma stamp associated with this grape that distinguishes it from the others, is not only associated with Riesling, but to other varieties as well. In fact, this aroma, to a smaller extent, can be found also in the white wines: Vermentino, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Fiano.
In reality, the kerosene-like note known as TDN is more incisive in wines produced from grapes grown in particularly hot or sunny areas, and from the aging of the wine; if on the one hand it represents a typical descriptor, it is right to place it in an overall profile of the wine of a complementary type, impressive yes, but discreet and harmonious with the other aromas, and therefore not intrusive in the Riesling's bouquet.
On the pedological level, the Riesling varietal needs calcareous, schistose or volcanic soils, never endowed with particular fertility. The type of soil combined with climate, slope, exposure and presence of water in the vicinity such as rivers, produce a recipe for the possible perfect degree of aromatic ripeness.
Tradition and oenological necessity sees Riesling interpreted with versions aged in inert containers, steel or concrete, or large, old barrels, in order not to compromise the aromatic typicality of its bouquet.
The aromas of Riesling in Italy: South Tyrol, Pavese, Langhe
The areas of Italy that "suffer" from the cold, are also those which are the most prolific Riesling producers: Alto Adige, Oltrepò Pavese, parts of Friuli, Veneto and the Garda area and Piedmont.
In South Tyrol, Riesling is more present in the cold Val Venosta and Valle Isarco areas, from which a less "Central European" aromatic profile emerges that recalls fresh or ripe yellow fruit: citrus, rennet apple, pear, peach, apricot, the classic combination of flint and kerosene/flint, floral nuances with rose in the foreground, a delicate note of cinnamon.
In the Pavia area, there is an important basin that has a milder climate and different soil compositions creating a more "Mediterranean" aromatic pattern: yellow peach, pineapple, white currant, almond paste, touches of mint and wildflowers.
The Piedmontese Langhe area, very famous for reds, produces a Riesling with mineral traits of flint, iodine and kerosene, a fruity profile that evokes yellow fruit (also candied), pear, grapefruit, delicate notes of yellow flowers, most notably chamomile, and notes of pastry by virtue of the yeasts in the vinification process.
The aromas of Riesling in Alsace
The dispute over the paternity of the Riesling varietal between France and Germany goes back centuries, but considering the clear difference in style between the wines it is good to emphasize the aspect linked to the terroir.
In Alsace, the area in north-eastern France that borders Switzerland and Germany (in the past under the Teutonic dominion), Riesling represents about a fifth of the total wine-growing surface and contributes to the elaboration of the prestigious Grand Crus, which are delineated along the Reno river and which manifest distinct and different characters according to the soils, but with a common denominator: the fragrant minerality! Thanks to a grape variety that has clusters with small berries and which is subject to noble rot, opulent wines are generated: the Vendanges Tardives and Selection de Grain Nobles, with spicy and honeyed aromas.
The territorial syntheses in the glass includes different profiles with aromas that mirror the Alsatian geological soils; granite, volcanic rock, sandstone, schist, limestone, marl, clay, crushed stone and sand, all contribute to the Riesling bouquet in this region.
Among the most famous vineyards (Gran Cru) we find:
- Kastelberg with notes of peach, apricot and silica
- Rosacker with notes of wild rose
- Schonenbourg with notes of citrus, flint and white flowers
- Furstentum with notes of papaya, flint and talc
- Mambourg with notes of orange peel and balsam
- Kessler with notes of rock, citrus and ginger
- Rangen with notes of flint, ash and peat
The aromas of Riesling in Austria and Germany
Germany is simply the country of Riesling! Delicate, long-lasting and youthful or rich, graceful and ripe or dry, semi-dry or markedly sweet, it is certainly the classic German wine. It is present in all regions with further differences related to latitude, slopes, soils, proximity to rivers, and then again to the degree of ripeness of the grapes, the type of harvest, the state of botrytis, the style of vinification, its aging in steel, large or small barrels, amphorae, and with early or prolonged ripening. In essence, all of these factors are valid for the noble varietal in its homeland of choice, since it represents about half of the world surface area of its production!
Rheingau and Mosel are the most representative regions of the varietal, but worthy and interesting outposts are found throughout the country.
- The Rheingau crossed by the river Rhine has been the iconic area since the early eighteenth century where it was decided to give priority to the viticulture of Riesling. The wines tend to be more full-bodied with an olfactory framework that evokes ripe fruit and notes of smoke.
- The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer area crossed by the rivers of the same name, is the modern and productive emblem capable of delivering elegant, precise and sharp Rieslings with notes of green apple, citrus and white flowers and mineral notes outline the aromatic profile.
- The Nahe, a region in the middle of the two described above, reflects from the river of the same name, and the wines are full-bodied and savory, the fragrant profile presents notes of lemon and mandarin.
- The Hessian Rhine produces a fruity lemon Riesling with notes of dry hay.
- The Palatinate that extends to the south of the country enjoys a drier and more temperate climate, producing a Riesling that presents itself as citrusy and ethereal.
- Southeast Wurttemberg, delivers notes of Williams pear and candied lemon.
Despite being grown on just 5% of Austrian land, Riesling is considered the country's noblest grape variety capable of re-proposing the characteristics of the different terroirs. The areas of greatest interest are in Lower Austria (Niederosterreich), in the North West of the country in Wachau, Kamptal and Kremstal, around Vienna (Wien) whose pedoclimate enhances the varietal, and in Southern Styria (Sudsteiermark) with colored slate soils.
- The Wachau region, with its own classification of dry wines grown on the typical terraces above the limestone rocks, reflects a varied and complex Riesling for its mineral character, fruity notes of peach and apricot and complement of aromatic herbs.
- Kamptal vineyards, with their volcanic component, southern exposure and “hot-cold” ripening due to daytime sunshine and cold nights, produce a decidedly mineral Riesling, with hints of sweet orange, ripe grapefruit and pink pepper.
- The area around Vienna with red clay and shell-like limestone soils, produces a Riesling with yellow fruit aromas and vibrant chalk aromas.
The aromas of Riesling in the New World
The United States is the second largest producer of Riesling in the world for this varietal which is versatile in the vineyard.
- Riesling produced in the eastern part of Columbia Valley in Washington State presents aromatic notes of ripe apple and candied ginger.
- Just further south, in the state of Oregon, there is a decidedly more rainy and cool climate. The Willamette Valley is Riesling's prominent production area in the state producing wines with aromas of mandarin, yellow plum and wildflower honey.
- California hosts an area of about two thousand hectares, particularly in the North and Central Coast with well exposed mid-hill vineyards. Here, Rieslings are expressive wines in which aromas of yellow peach and citrus flowers emerge.
- On the opposite side of the Continental US, the New York Finger Lakes provide an adequate condition for the viticultural success of Riesling; cold and rigid in winter and warm and sunny in summer with morainic and schisty soils, the area delivers an enjoyably fruity wine of peach and apricot with notes of iodine.
Best known for its formidable Icewines, Canada offers Rieslings in different styles and versions. About a thousand hectares of Riesling terrain exists between the profitable and established Ontario Province and British Columbia Province on the west coast. The wines stand out for a sweet fruitiness reminiscent of golden apple and pineapple, with kerosene notes when aged.
With only 0.5% (about three hundred and thirty hectares) of the total vineyard area of Chile, Riesling is, never-the-less, an authentic varietal with considerable potential in the Casablanca area of the north and in the highlands of the southern valleys; thermal excursion, ventilation and heterogeneous soils bring out a fresh wine with strong varietal aromas and notes of lime and yellow plum.
In Australia the most outstanding Riesling is produced in the Clare Valley in the southern state. Here, the altimetry, calcareous and rocky soil, in combination with sunny days, enhance a large and round fruit; grapefruit, lime and green apple aromas abound, with notes of toasted almond in the aged versions. Eden Valley is the other appellation on shale soils and possessing a regular climate, in which Riesling is produced with aromas of Chinese mandarin, candied ginger and petroleum. Western Australia is colder, with important influences of sea breezes, stony soils of granite, and ferrous deposits translate a crisp Riesling, with mineral and brackish notes, and notes of jasmine and tangerine.
New Zealand holds about eight hundred hectares, a "negligible" percentage compared to the Sauvignon Blanc varietal there. Riesling are more recent crops on rather diversified soils expressing wines with aromas of peach, citrus and rosemary.
There is confusion generated in South Africa on the real origins of the Riesling varietal, here named Weisser or Rhine, which has prevented an adequate knowledge and relative appreciation of the wine. Today the most convincing expressions are produced in the areas of Stellenbosch and Robertson presenting aromas of candied citrus fruit, and on the coastal areas of Elgin, Walker Bay and Hermanus, presenting aromas of yellow flowers, musk and Williams pear.
Riesling, though not currently in fashion, and though capable of originating complete differences according to structure, aromas and evolution, is transversal and eclectic, undoubtedly among the best varieties in the world. It is simply noble!