10 Essential Facts on Riesling

What is the world’s greatest white grape? That question is, of course, impossible to answer – but several wine professionals and enthusiasts alike would make the case for Riesling . Whether you prefer your wine sweet, dry or somewhere in between, few grapes of any color can trigger the sort of geekdom that Riesling can. Its abilities to evoke a sense of place with searing precision are matched only by a handful of other varieties. From Alsace to the Wachau, here is everything you need to know about Riesling in ten essential facts. 1. According to the Grape and Wine Research and Development Corporation, Riesling is the 18th most planted wine grape on earth and the 7th among white varieties. Riesling can be spotted all over the globe, but its vines thrive best in colder climates. It’s a popular choice for vineyards in the most marginal conditions, grown as far north as Germany’s Mosel or British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley , and as far south as New Zealand’s Central Otago or Argentina’s newly minted Chubut appellation in Patagonia . 2. Riesling counts among the most ancient grape varieties, and it shares a parent-offspring relationship with Gouais Blanc, one of wine’s most prolific progenitors. Gouais Blanc is also a parent to Chardonnay , making Riesling most likely a half-sibling to its greatest competition for the title of the world’s most noble white grape. 3. Riesling was most likely born in the Rheingau , and Germany remains the grape’s spiritual home. More Riesling is grown in Germany than anywhere else on earth, from the Rheinhessen to the Pfaltz to the Nahe . Perhaps Riesling’s most famous vineyards, those in the Mosel, are also Germany’s most dramatic - their slate slopes descending so steeply toward the river, harvest workers are sometimes roped into harnesses to collect the grapes. 4. Ürziger Würzgarten? Wehlener Sonnenuhr? Scharzhofberger Pergentsknopp? The words that grace German Riesling labels may seem impossible to pronounce. Several of them are names of places. Riesling often garners comparison to Pinot Noir for its remarkable transparency to the land in which it was grown. As with Burgundy , the top German wines will bear the name of both a village and a vineyard (in addition to the variety) , with Riesling the vessel to communicate these brilliant terroirs . 5. Next door to Germany, Austria also cultivates some of Riesling’s most classic expressions. In Austria, Riesling often sits in the shadows behind the limelight of Grüner Veltliner , but the variety remains one of the country’s most important. It’s grown in almost every notable appellation, including the Wachau , Kamptal , Kremstal , and Neusiedlersee – often yielding wines of greater breadth and richness than their German counterparts. 6. Riesling’s other Old World home is Alsace , the region in France’s northeast corner whose ownership has teetered with Germany several times over the centuries. Sandwiched between the Rhine River and the Vosges Mountains, Riesling can achieve explosive, full-bodied wines in Alsace, where it is deemed one of the region’s four Grand Cru grape varieties. 7. One of the most common misconceptions regarding Riesling is that it always tastes sweet. In truth, like every grape, Riesling can be vinified into both bone dry and lusciously sweet renditions – and exceptional examples can be found everywhere on that spectrum. Still, not knowing exactly how sugary your Riesling will be is a veritable frustration. In 2002, the VDP (or Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter), Germany’s foremost vintners association, established the Grosses Gewächs category to signify dry wines from the country’s top vineyard sites. The International Riesling Foundation has also created a four-tiered sweetness scale you might encounter on certain back labels. 8. Riesling is, nonetheless, responsible for some of the world’s most transcendent dessert wines. Germany’s Trockenbeerenauslese Rieslings are the finest among these, crafted by individually picked berries affected by noble rot . In fact, according to Cult Wines, the UK wine investment firm, Egon Müller’s Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese is the second most expensive wine in the world, trailing only Domaine de la Romanée Conti’s Romanée-Conti Grand Cru. Its 2003 vintage reportedly sells for £13,110 per bottle. 9. Riesling’s most idiosyncratic dessert wine, though, is Eiswein . In Austria and Germany, vintners await the first deep frost of November or December to harvest their grapes in freezing conditions before dawn breaks. Pliny the Elder alluded to the practice in the first century, but the Eiswein category didn’t gain footing in Austria and Germany until the 1960s. Today, Riesling is largely considered the best variety for Eiswein, and Canada now takes the lead as the world’s largest producer of icewine , as it is labeled there, where laws necessitate a maximum -8°C temperature to harvest the grapes. 10. Why does your Riesling smell like…petrol? You can thank TDN (short for 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene) for this common, and not necessarily unwelcome, aroma descriptor. Riesling is riddled with TDN, and the compound becomes increasingly perceptible as a wine ages. Rieslings from sunnier or warmer climates may also exhibit this kerosene-like character from a younger state, but corks can help absorb some of this flavor. — Bryce Wiatrak If you're interested in or have a passion for Riesling, tickets to Rieslingfeier in NYC on Saturday, January 19th are now available for purchase. This annual event brings together winemakers from many of the greatest estates in Germany and Austria, featuring a spectacular gala dinner that is without a doubt the greatest Riesling "BYOB" in the world, as well as The Gränd Tasting where you'll be able to taste 2017 Rieslings.

Schloss Lieser

Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett Riesling 2015

Wet stone and mushroom nose. Off-dry apricot slate action on the palate. Balanced. We slammed this one right quick — 6 years ago

Severn, Ira and 9 others liked this


Kallstadter Saumagen Spätlese Trocken Riesling 2014

Marc Stubblefield

Rich but not ripe, pears more than tropical fruit, rocks on top of rocks. Not shy in any way, but it's a reserved strength, rather than boisterous energy. — 7 years ago

Anthony, P and 16 others liked this

Joh. Jos. Prüm

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese Riesling 2008

Steve Matthiasson

First off, delicious. And nothing can cruise through all of the courses, from Thai squid to duck salad to steak, like a Riesljng with acid and some sugar. But the alcohol....7.5% the sheer pleasure of drinking and refilling and drinking a yummy wine without monitoring one's consumption. Bliss. — 8 years ago

Jonathan, V and 75 others liked this

Weingut Keller

Kirchspiel Riesling 2011

Jörgen Lindström Carlvik

Generous vintage with spicy minerality and ripe white peach flavors, balanced by saline grapefruit-tinged acidity. Lovely. — 9 years ago

web, M and 10 others liked this

Pikes Wines

Traditionale Dry Clare Valley Riesling 2014

A straw coloured nectar. Floral aromas with mouth filling peach, mango and lemon grass flavours elegantly balanced with acidity. — 7 years ago


Vinothek Wachau Riesling 1997

Zach Cherry

So weird. Like liquid smoke, and poached asian pear. Like elderflower liqueur bombed in diesel. How the hell is this delicious? I don't know, but it was. I can't imagine it progressing in complexity, due to it's very nature, but I was definitely intrigued. It's like a viewing of Koyaanisqatsi. I'm not quite sure why I like it, but I did. And now I'm changed, but cannot say why. Quite confusing, but obviously unique. This is a wine drinking experience that has to be had to understand. Just wow... — 8 years ago

Peter and Jack liked this


Cuvée Frédéric Emile Alsace Riesling 2007

Delicate and beautiful.  Faint petrol and fruit on the nose.   Palate further showed the finesse of this bottle. You have to pay attention to this guy.   The acid can easy overtake the fruit if your drinking passively.  Drank as part of Alsace tasting with Rillettes du canard.  The dryness paired perfect with the richness of the food.    This was the star of the show.  This will be kicking and improving for a long time.
— 8 years ago

Casey, Gerald and 2 others liked this

Teutonic Wine Company

Medici Vineyard Riesling 2014

Stupid good single-site Riesling from the Chehalem Mountains. Impeccable balance. Could totally see calling this as a high-quality Nahe kabinett if blinded on it but at the same time it still has a distinctly Oregonian aura about it. Nose of ripe nectarine, key lime, and honeydew, pure, slate-y wet stone minerality, cherry blossom, subtle cardamom and nutmeg spice, and just a touch of petrol starting to show. Palate echoes the nose, channeled through bracing high acid and an extra layer of flinty mineral focus. Moderate concentration, medium (-) body but with great texture from neutral oak fermentation and elevage and possibly some lees influence as well. As referenced above, sweetness is comparable to some of the less sweet German kabinett wines; delightfully off-dry. Deliciously quenching. Gonna hoard a couple bottles of this because I'd love to see how this fares with a bit more development in bottle. — 7 years ago

P, Anthony and 3 others liked this


Vandenberg Riesling 2014

Lauren Vance

The rumors are true. California can make a real Riesling. The weight and texture are exquisite. Heavy and silky, the stone fruit and minerality are equally matched on the palate. Made with higher amount of botrytis but you wouldn't guess with how dry it finishes. Touches of petrol, honey, bee pollen, yellow/white flowers after a cold morning rain. Cheers to Tatomer!! — 8 years ago

Emily, David and 2 others liked this

Albert Boxler

Grand Cru Sommerberg Riesling 2012

Yoon Ha

Honey, stone fruits and citrus draped over a firm structure that gives just a whisper of sweetness. — 9 years ago

Sasha, Hai and 15 others liked this