Wine varietals and styles

Riesling

As far as bright, aromatic and lifted white wines go, riesling is an all-round winner. And with diverse styles available, there’s a bottle to meet every preference.

Riesling comes in a range of guises, from dry to off-dry and 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

Riesling

Australian riesling regions

While riesling is adaptable and grown in various conditions around the world, 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 are on the rise.

Clare Valley

According to James Halliday, the Clare Valley is “the monarch of Australia’s riesling regions”. Its most celebrated rieslings are dry, with fresh citrus and apple characteristics, and an incredible depth of flavour balancing natural acidity.

Eden Valley

The Eden Valley produces excellent riesling from vines that are among the oldest in the world. Riesling from the Eden Valley typically has delicate floral aromas and intense lime juice flavours, developing marmalade and honey notes with age.

Henty

Henty rieslings are elegant in style, with fine natural acidity. The region sits at the far southwest corner of Victoria, and its volcanic soil and cold climate provide ideal conditions for the variety.

Canberra District

Riesling from the Canberra District is dry, crisp and complex. The combination of cool nights and warm days in this region is perfect for grape-growing.

Great Southern

The Great Southern produces riesling that stands tall next to those of famous regions on the east coast. Styles from this sprawling Western Australian region show classic citrus and complex herbal characteristics, and are brilliant for ageing.

Riesling characteristics

Riesling 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.

Riesling 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 on the rise, 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.

Riesling

International riesling regions

The 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 a small-but-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, spatlese, 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).


Pairing riesling with food

The diversity of riesling’s styles means you can find the right kind to match your meal. The refreshing flavours of a young Australian riesling will make a perfect pairing with anything you’d serve with a squeeze of citrus, with seafood being a classic example. Off-dry styles are great with salt and spice, thanks to their combination of sugar, acid and a lower percentage of alcohol – try them with a creamy curry or a flavour-packed Asian stir-fry. Aged examples are an excellent match to full-flavoured cheeses, as are botrytis rieslings, eisweins and other sticky styles, which also work well with fruity desserts.

Serving temperature for riesling

Riesling doesn’t need to be chilled to icy temperatures before drinking. A short stint in the fridge is fine for your standard dry riesling (7–8°C is about right), while sweeter styles should be enjoyed at around 10°C, and aged riesling a couple of degrees warmer still.