Riesling represents German wine culture like no other grape variety. It grows in all of the German wine-growing regions and takes up a total area of 21,700 hectares, or more than 20 % of the area under vines. All of the German wine-growing regions contribute towards this, but to varying extents. In the Rheingau, with 2,500 hectares, Riesling accounts for roughly 80% of the available area under vines. In addition to this, the Mosel (approx. 5,400 hectares) and Pfalz (5,500 hectares) regions are among the most significant Riesling producers and the latter is the largest Riesling-growing region in the world.
The early dissemination of the Riesling vine, first mentioned in the 15th century, its growth characteristics, size of grape, long ripening period and frost resistance are indicative of its relationship with wild vines. The winemakers in the Rheingau and Mosel regions have the longest Riesling tradition, with historical documents dating back to the years 1435 and 1465 respectively, and there are indications of dissemination in the modern-day Rheinhessen and Pfalz regions from the late 15th and early 16th century. While many countries in the world grew Riesling, it’s only cultivated to perfection in Germany. That’s why German Fine Riesling used to be more expensive than Château Lafite.
Riesling is a slow-ripening grape variety whose characteristic element is its fruity acidity. This means that it is well-suited for the northern wine-growing regions, where it can ripen to perfection in the late autumn sunshine. While it places the highest demands on the location, it is not so discerning where the soil is concerned. Accordingly, it produces wines with very different nuances, depending on the location (soil type and microclimate). The heat-storing, steep stony slopes along the river valleys offer the ideal conditions.
Riesling wines come in all quality levels and flavours. The »typical« Riesling has a pale to greenish-yellow colour, a dominant aroma of peach or apple and a fine acidity on the tongue. Rieslings from slate soils are said to have a mineral touch, while others smell of flint and matured wines often have an interesting petrol tone. The Riesling grape produces sweet wines of the highest quality. The best sweet wines are made by the high concentration of flavour caused by noble rot, i.e. when Riesling grapes are infected by the fungus Botrytis cinerea. Noble rot occurs in regions where there is early morning mist in autumn contrasting with dry weather during the day. The evaporation of moisture has the effect of concentrating the other components of the grapes, such as sugar, acids and flavour, which significantly increases the weight of the wine. Botrytised wines have a sumptuous sweetness and an intense perfume of exotic fruit. Of particularly high quality among the botrytised wine specialties is »Eiswein« (ice wine). Eiswein is made from frozen grapes picked in temperatures of at least minus seven degrees Centigrade and pressed while still frozen. At these subzero temperatures some of the water in the grapes crystallizes into ice, while the sugar contained in the grapes binds with non-crystallized water as well as the grapes’ acids. This results in highly concentrated, very sweet wines with a high level of acidity – a combination which gives these wines their famous ability to age well. Elegantly sweet Beerenauslese (selected grapes), Trockenbeerauslese (TBA – speziell selected grapes) and Eiswein (ice wines) are among the highest rated German wines, even internationally, with very long ageing potential.
Young, light Riesling wines – dry to fruity-sweet, depending on their gusto – are the ideal summer wines. Mature Rieslings are better suited as an accompaniment to food and even some Riesling Spätlese wines that are getting on a bit show a hint of their youth again when taken with food. Dry to medium-dry Rieslings go particularly well with light dishes, such as steamed salt and freshwater fish, boiled meat with a light sauce and small poultry varieties. Medium-dry to sweet Spätlese harmonizes well with cream cheese, while fruity sweet Spätlese or delicately sweet Auslese wines are the ideal accompaniment to fruity desserts. Matured, delicately sweet Auslese and Beerenauslese Rieslings are the ideal aperitifs on festive occasions.