Riesling comes in a range of guises, from dry to off-dry, sweet and others in between. Some producers even include a sweetness scale on labels to help communicate the complexities of the variety. It’s a wonderfully versatile wine, with vibrant lemon and lime characters in youth mellowing into luscious, honeyed flavours with age. Learn all about this aromatic white variety ahead.
Go to section: Australian riesling regions | Riesling characteristics | International riesling regions | History of riesling | Pairing riesling with food | Serving temperature for riesling
Australian riesling regionsWhile riesling is adaptable and grown in various conditions worldwide, it prefers a cool environment for producing elegant examples. In Australia, the Clare and Eden Valleys have long been synonymous with riesling. Victoria’s Henty also makes a coveted style, as does WA’s Great Southern, and areas like the Canberra District and Tasmania are increasingly recognised.
Riesling characteristicsRiesling wines range from water white in colour to straw green and deep yellow-gold. This high-acid variety displays zesty, juicy flavours of lemon, lime and tart Granny Smith apples when it is less ripe and richer, warmer flavours such as apricot, pineapple and ginger as it increases in sweetness. As it ages, it begins to show nutty, toasty and honeyed characters.
Australian rieslings tend to be steely, dry wines with stunning citrus flavours. In contrast, European types are textural and with varying degrees of sweetness (although the trend to produce similar styles locally is rising, as Halliday Wine Companion tasting team member Jeni Port describes). The obvious categories might be dry, off-dry and sweet, but riesling is so nuanced that this breakdown doesn’t quite do it justice. Perhaps that’s why the Germans came up with their exacting riesling scale, dividing the variety into six styles of ripeness (detailed in the next section), plus various other classifications to do with a wine’s quality, site and residual sugar.
International riesling regionsThe world’s most-referenced riesling regions are Austria, Alsace in France, and the Mosel and Rhine Valleys in Germany. Other places of note are the Finger Lakes and Washington State in the US, and New Zealand, with small yet prosperous production thanks to its ideal growing conditions.
As well as being the ancestral home of riesling, Germany has the world’s largest plantings, with distinctive styles from each of its regions. Its labelling system includes the terms (from driest to sweetest) kabinett, spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese, trockenbeerenauslese and eiswein. Eiswein translates to ice wine, referring to the fact this sweet wine comes from frozen grapes.
History of riesling
Riesling originated in the Rhine River region that crosses both Germany and France’s Alsace, first documented in the 15th century. In Australia, it has been around since the start, with various peaks (in the 1960s and ’70s, and rising again now) and troughs (in the early days when cheap white blends were often called riesling, even if they included none of the wine, and in the ’90s when chardonnay prevailed).