Riesling, that coveted white wine

The Riesling grape is in constant rivalry with the Chardonnay grape, both fighting for popularity and to be crowned the best white variety. It is considered the best and most noble of the German strains and is one of the best known around the world.

It started life in the Rhine River Valley, in Germany, where references to ‘Rießlingen’ have been found in documents dating back to the year 1435. It is derived from the French Gouais Blanc variety, which is said to come from varieties like Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Muscadelle.


Although this variety is of German origin, it has its second home in Alsace, a small and idyllic region of France. Located between the Los Vosgos mountains and the Rhine River Basin, this area is home to interesting examples of great dry wines made with Riesling and also some sweet wines made with late harvest grapes that have been affected by botrytis cinerea.

The variety is obviously common in its native Germany, and as we have already said, it can also be found in Alsace, which is the only region in France where the grape is authorised.

Riesling can be found in Austria, Australia, the United States, New Zealand and to some extent, in some parts of Spain, Italy, Chile, Argentina and Canada.

What is the Riesling grape like?

The clusters are made up of small, pale green grapes that are difficult to break off. The vine prefers poor soils but it can adapt to virtually any kind of terrain. It is a winter-resistant grape but it is an easy victim of diseases like botrytis cinerea or noble rot.

Riesling wines are perfectly balanced in sugar and acidity, they are fruity and floral, noble and elegant, and with exceptional longevity. They are able to reflect the terroir they come from.

The Riesling variety is aromatic, delicate and expressive. When it is younger, it has aromas of lime on the nose, and as the nuances change, these give way to notes of lemon, pineapple or peach when it is more mature.

A very unusual aroma that also appears and that sets this variety apart, is gasoline or kerosene, which can be surprising and perhaps even unpleasant. It is similar to the smell that comes from a car brakes. Riesling wines acquire this characteristic over the years. There are some Australian Rieslings that even have this from a young age.

There are also more pleasant aromas such as apples, apricots and nectarine. With age they can also develop aromas of toasted bread or honey.

Because it is susceptible to botrytis cinerea, it creates a wonderful range of wines made from berries with noble rot across different levels of sweetness and with something for everyone. They are elegant, gastronomic and very long-living wines.

It also creates exceptional late harvest wines and sweet ice wines (Eiswein) that are made from frozen grapes. An exclusive treat!

And, due to its acidity, long life and organoleptic characteristics, the grape can also be used to make sparkling wines, called Sekt in Germany.

How can we tell the difference between a dry, semi sweet and sweet Riesling?

Sometimes the makers don’t make it easy to do so. The key is to recognise the words on the wine labels that are used to differentiate each of the styles within German wine classification.

The 6 main types of German wines:

1 – Trocken: the word to look for if you want a dry Riesling.

2 – Kabinett: wines that begin to reveal a sweet hint. These are light and low in alcohol content.

3 – Spätlese. Wines made with overripe grapes and so contain more sugar than a Kabinett.

4 – Auslese. These wines are made using some clusters affected by botrytis. They are denser and sweeter than the previous ones.

5 – Beerenauslese. These are sweet wines made with berries selected from clusters affected by noble rot.

6 – Trockenbeerenauslese. Very sweet wines made with dried berries affected by botrytis.

What can we drink Riesling wines with?

Wines made with the Riesling variety are very versatile.

The sweet wines are perfect for enjoying with spicy foods and their acidity refreshes and cleanses the palate. So if you love Asian cuisine like Indian or Thai, or you like spicy Latin dishes, Riesling wines are what you are looking for.

It goes very well with meats like duck, pork and chicken; also with fish and shellfish. They are great for enjoying with sushi.

It is a perfect accompaniment for cheeses and foie. The sweetest Rieslings are a perfect accompaniment for blue cheeses, for example.

They go well with vegetables. They are especially suited to those with a certain natural sweetness like red onion, some peppers, aubergine, pumpkin or carrots.

Do you want to know some curious facts about the Riesling grape?

“White wines are to be enjoyed young” is a myth that Rieslings destroy because they have extraordinary longevity and many of the great Riesling wines are those that have been resting for a few years. So white wines can age and develop great dignity and elegance. And they are amazing!

Be careful with the terms Trocken and Trockenbeerenauslese when choosing a Riesling wine because the first are the driest wines and the second are the sweetest wines.

It is unusual to find the Riesling variety in coupages with other varieties. In some areas where the grape does not have such a strong presence, there are some interesting coupages like Ekam wine, made with the Riesling and Albariño varieties in the D.O. Costers del Segre, in Spain.

What glass should we use for Riesling?

Riesling wines are aromatic and delicate and there is even a special Riesling glass, which is narrow and curved, specially designed to enhance and bring out the full expression of these qualities.

You can also use tasting glasses, which are a standard size: 155 millimetres tall, 65 millimetres in diameter at its widest part and 46 millimetres in diameter at the upper edge.

Did you know that among the three most expensive wines in the world, one of them is made with Riesling grapes?

We are talking about the Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese, which is worth around twenty thousand euros for a 750 ml bottle. And any true wine enthusiast who wants to show off should learn how to say it ;) (it would be something like this: [Eegon Miule Shvars hof berga riislin tdzroken biegrn ausliiesen])

And on a final cinematic note. Do you remember the movie Hannibal? There is a scene where Hannibal Lecter prepares a peculiar dinner for Clarice Starling accompanied by Trimbach Clos Sainte Hune, which is widely considered to be the most elegant Riesling in the world and which, by the way, is not German, but Alsatian, made by the well-known Trimbach winery.

So why don’t you take a look at our selection of Riesling wines. We are sure you will find one to suit your tastes, and that you will be quickly hooked on.

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