Riesling (Weißer Riesling, Rheinriesling)

A picture shows grapes of the grape variety Riesling
© AWMB / Oberleitner

Origin: Germany, Oberrhein. The earliest documentation of the name was in 1435, in Rüsselsheim.

Parentage: Natural crossing of Weißem Heunisch, Vitis sylvestris and Traminer. The variety was probably taken from wild vines on the Oberrhein (the Upper Rhine). Roter Riesling is a red grape variation, a bud mutation of the Weißer Riesling. The Weißer Riesling is not related to the Welschriesling variety.

Vineyard area: 1,986 ha, 4.3 %

This variety was brought from the Rhine to the Danube in Austria and is now – next to the Grüner Veltliner – the most important white wine variety in the Wachau. In premium vineyard sites, especially in the wine growing regions Wachau, Kremstal, Traisental, Kamptal as well as Wien (Vienna), Wagram and Weinviertel, the Riesling yields highly ripe grapes because it is a late harvest variety. The vineyard area for Riesling increased by 13% between 1999 and 2009. In Germany, Riesling is the most widely grown white variety for all quality levels of wine.

Important ampelographic features
Leaf: medium-sized, circular, with five lobes, coarse surface, very hairy underside
Grape cluster: small but dense, cylindrical, shouldered, usually no wings, small yellowish-green grapes with scar marks.

Ripening time: late

Significance, conditions: Riesling is a world-renowned variety, that along with Grüner Veltliner enjoys great prominence and importance in the wine-growing regions along the Danube river and its tributaries, an area quite rich in weathered primary rock soils. There's good reason that Riesling is called the king of white wines.

The late ripening grape is highly demanding in the vineyards, and is sensitive to grape stalk necrosis, stalk rot and grape Botrytis. The Botrytis is mainly undesirable - except for noble rot, for Auslese wines - because it can ruin the typical varietal aromas.

Wine: Young Riesling wines exude charming fruitiness and flavour, and can develop into great and complex wines through ageing. For these, notes of stone fruit are dominant and include peach, apricot and exotic fruits. Wines especially from the terroirs of the Wachau, Kremstal, Kamptal and Traisental reflect a minerality reminiscent of slate or flint. Riesling ripens slowly and reaches the highest quality as aged wines with rose-like scent. Depending on the level of ageing, they develop a pleasurable petrol tone, something that perhaps not all wine consumers like. When the late harvest grapes are infected with noble rot, then special wines are the result – Auslesen and Beerenauslesen styles with outstanding quality.