Riesling

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About Riesling
 

Newfound appreciation for the dry, crisp flavours of riesling have seen the grape’s popularity surge in recent years, but its historical importance is far deeper-seated than this recent flood of appreciation might suggest. 

Known in some parts of the world – including its home of Germany – as ‘the king of grapes’, riesling produces white wines of unparalleled depth and presence. One of the only white grapes inclined to get better with age, riesling does this not just well, but exceptionally.
 
The taste profile of riesling is dependent on a number of factors, and the final product can be anything from particularly sweet to particularly dry. As a terroir-expressive wine, taste is largely determined by the area in which the grapes are grown. And with significant plantings in almost every wine-producing country in the world, the range of available riesling experiences is nothing short of stunning.
 
A feat of German engineering
 
The uniqueness of riesling can perhaps be put down to the fact that it is one of the rare grapes that didn’t get its start on French hillsides. It was rather the small German principality of Rüsselsheim (on the Rhine River near Frankfurt) that lays claim to the first riesling production, with documents mentioning the variety as early as 1435.
 
DNA fingerprinting has identified the parents of riesling as gouais blanc (a Croatian grape that is rare today, but was widely planted in the Middle Ages) and a cross between traminer and a wild variety. It is presumed that the grape originated in the Rhine, although in reality it could have originated anywhere between there and the coasts of the Adriatic Sea.
 
The Rhine Valley is still thought to produce the finest examples of riesling to this day, with its aged dry offerings held in particularly high esteem. The Alsace region of France is considered an almost equally iconic riesling region, however.
 
The original Australian white
 
Before the chardonnay boom of the 80s and 90s and the subsequent rise in popularity of sauvignon blanc and pinot grigio, Australia’s white wine industry leant heavily on the shoulders of riesling. While William McArthur is credited with planting the first commercial vines near Penrith in 1838, the rush of German settlers to South Australia in the mid-1800s served to truly establish the variety as an Australian staple.
 
Mount Barker, the Clare Valley and the cooler Eden Valley proved happy hunting grounds for the resolute Germans, and these remain Australia’s most fruitful riesling regions to this day. The area Australia devotes to riesling is second only to Germany.
 
The rush of the lighter and less complex whites of sauvignon blanc and chardonnay has put Australian riesling in the shade in recent decades, but with palates developing around the nation the unique proposition that riesling brings to the table is once again gaining recognition.
 
 

Few grape varieties can match riesling for quality, ageability, food matching and drinkability. Both as a young wine and with bottle age, it's clean acidity and crisp lime/lemon flavours make it a mouthwatering addition to the cellar or dining table.

What does riesling taste like?

Riesling is a unique white. It’s German for a start – a country not exactly famous for its wine making credentials (although it really should be). It can be aged for longer than almost any red – up to a century in some cases. And it is one of the most terroir-expressive wines in the world – its flavours taking heavy cues from the environment in which it’s grown. Between differences in terroir and time in the barrel it can be hard to pin down the taste of riesling. Fruit that is picked young and aged lightly (if at all) will generally be light, crisp and fruity, and this is the most common style in Australia. Riper fruit that spends longer in the barrel will be sweeter, more minerally, and have a distinct oaky edge, which is the more traditional German style. Flavours of apple, pear and peach are dominant in both types of riesling, but are delivered to the palate very differently.

Is riesling sweet or dry?

will be. The riesling grape is used to make the full spectrum of dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling wines, so it’s a matter of checking the label and understanding which areas and labels produce which type of drop. Australian rieslings tend to be on the drier end of the spectrum, although there are many winemakers in places like the Eden and Clare Valleys – areas with strong German heritage – that produce wines in a sweeter, more traditional style.

Where does the best riesling come from?

he South Australian regions of the Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Mount Barker are the country’s most renowned riesling producers. A wave of German settlers emigrated here in the mid-1800s, and the areas have been producing A-grade beverages ever since. A bit further from home, the Rhine region of Germany is where riesling got its start, and it continues to produce unique and delicious wines to this day.

What is the best temperature to drink riesling at?

Again, the temperature will change with the style of the riesling. Lighter, drier rieslings are fantastic when consumed ‘fridge cold’ – around the 4-6C mark. Aged rieslings however do their best work nearer the 8-9C mark, which can be achieved by putting the bottle in the fridge 20 minutes before opening.

Which wines are similar to riesling?

If you’re wondering what the riesling experience is all about, or perhaps love the wine and are looking for more riesling-style adventures of the palate, these are the grapes that come closest to the riesling package. Pinot Grigio: Crisp, dry pinot grigio shares the body and many of the flavours of crisp, dry riesling. Gewürztraminer: Another German product, like riesling gewürztraminer is made both dry and sweet. Chenin blanc: The acidity of chenin blanc matches riesling, and the dessert wines produced by both grapes are quite similar. Viognier: A punchy white, fine viognier is similar in body and presence to fine riesling.