If you have a thing for Riesling, you have something to celebrate on March 13th. This day is International Riesling Day, a holiday for this princely and versatile varietal that is made in dry, sweet, and late-harvest (very sweet!) styles.
Hailing from Germany, Riesling makes some of the most elegant still wines on the planet and it is also a premier grape for sparkling wines. This popular grape needs little introduction – but we are going to do so anyway because it might not need it, but it deserves it!
Where is it Grown?
An aromatic varietal, today this German grape variety is planted all over the world. It is a late budder and mid-to-late ripener so very tolerant of cool climes where it flourishes. Alsace in France, Austria, Croatia, and Italy are all famous for quality Riesling in Europe. In the New World, New Zealand, South Africa, and the USA each produce elegant styles of Riesling.
History and Character
There is evidence that Riesling has been cultivated for 2000 years. It needs gentle treatment in the winery to preserve delicate flavors and high acidity. It usually undergoes fermentation at cooler temperatures and is rarely aged in oak as this can mask its distinct, pristine aromas and flavors. Its also famed for its petrol notes that arise with bottle aging in some regions and styles.
Apparently, Riesling first had a mention in wine tracts back in 1435 where its name appeared on a long-forgotten invoice on the date of March 13th – hence the date for International Riesling Day.
Riesling Flavor Profiles Around the World
In Germany, there are Kabinett (dry to off-dry), Spätlese (sweet), Auslese (sweeter), Beerenauslese (sweeter still), and Trockenbeerenauslese (super sweet) styles of Riesling. The very sweetest are made with Riesling grapes that have been affected by botrytis cinerea or noble rot, a condition that concentrates sugars naturally and makes beautiful sweet wines balanced by fine acidity.
If you are seeking some of the finest Rieslings in the world, look for bottles marked VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikats). This mark is not easy for a winery to come by and indicates wines that have been made within strict guidelines, are very expressive of their terroir, and are of the highest quality.
A word on bubbly: Germany is one of the biggest per-capita consumers of sparkling wine, so it is little surprise winemakers have explored the potential of Riesling fizz. Made with the tank (charmat) method and called Sekt in Germany, sparkling wines made from Riesling have the label Deutscher Sekt and have lovely gentle notes of pear, apple, and white flowers. If you really want to go a step up and experience Riesling Sekt at its very best, go for a label that says Deutscher Sekt bA. This means grapes come from top vineyards in one of Germany’s 13 wine regions and it is even sometimes made in the traditional method for that bit more complexity (and prestige!).
The most widely planted of the noble varieties, Riesling in France’s eastern wine region of Alsace is dry with medium levels of alcohol, medium to full-bodied with notes of citrus, stone fruit, and a pronounced steely, stony personality. The mouthfeel is a little more viscous than that of a German Riesling.
Riesling also features in sparkling acidic, green apple forward Crémant Alsace.
Austrian Riesling and Italian Riesling
The finest examples of Austrian Riesling come from Wachau, Kamptal, and Kremstal. These medium to full-bodied wines boast ripe, peach notes and are dry. Many of these wines have good bottle aging potential.
Italian Riesling generally tends to be light in character and very drinkable with citrus-sherbet notes, orchard fruit, and bright acidity.
New Zealand Riesling
New Zealand is renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc (and rightly so), but it is also a significant producer of Riesling. Most is grown on the South Island where the sunny days, cool nights, and lengthy, dry autumns offer ideal growing conditions for Riesling.
Following Germany’s lead, Riesling styles range from dry to sweet with stone fruit, orchard fruit, spice, citrus, and brilliant minerality displaying depending on the wine’s region of origin.
Finger Lakes USA Riesling
Riesling is one of the varietals that put the Finger Lakes in New York state on the international wine map. Glacial soil and limestone deposits add bright minerality and divine structure to this region’s Rieslings and bottle aging yields elegant petrol notes.
When it comes to pairing Riesling, you need to take into account the style of the wine.
For example, Alsace Riesling pairs like a dream with cured meats and rich fish like salmon and tuna. Sweet stone fruit notes make them good partners for spicy cuisine and they also are good matches for vegetarian dishes. A dry Riesling from New Zealand goes well with shellfish, spicy cured meat, and chilli hot food.
A bright Italian Riesling is ideal for partnering with pasta (of course!), lean fish dishes, cured meats, and mature, hard cheese. while Riesling Sekt is perfect for soft-centered cheese like brie and fatty, fried dishes.
The list of perfect Riesling pairings goes on and is waiting for you to explore.
There you go! Whatever style of Riesling you go for, there are plenty of reasons to raise a glass to this iconic grape on March 13th.