What is Riesling?
The History of Riesling
The Riesling vines, probably from the Rhine Valley in Germany, were well cared for by Benedictine and Carthusian monks and noble families in the 15th century. However, Riesling’s popularity only increased 200 years later. At the end of the Thirty Years War, when the French gained control of Alsace in 1648, most of the destroyed vineyards were replanted in Riesling. Recognizing a good idea, Schloss Johannisberg, who was in the Rheingau region of Germany, planted all his vineyards in Riesling in 1720. The Moselle followed quickly, and in 1787 voter Trier Clemens Wenceslaus decided that all the “bad” vines should be uprooted and replaced by Riesling. The madness continued.
The next century was marked by Riesling’s apogee. By the end of the 19th century, German models had a worldwide reputation and gained prices at the same level as the first vineyards in Bordeaux and Burgundy. The British Queen Victoria was a famous devotee. In 1900, Egon Muller, the famous Saarland property in Moselle, won the Grand Prix at the Paris International Exhibition. Riesling was the pride and joy of Germany as well as its most common caste.
But Riesling’s birthplace is also the site of its decline. The First and Second World Wars led to the mass destruction of the German vineyards, after which the country’s winemaking focused mainly on quantity rather than quality. This drift favored older and less fastidious varieties such as Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau. The remaining Riesling vineyards were trained to produce higher yields, resulting in lower quality wines.
Products such as Liebfraumilch and similar German mass wines, easily recognizable by their signature blue bottles, reduced sales of Rieslings properties and cultivated vineyards. Throughout the 1980s and early 1990s, high quality Riesling was a secret of initiation.
But noble grapes cannot be retained. In 1996, Riesling recovered the title of the most common grape variety in Germany. It is grown on all continents except Antarctica, bringing world-class wines from Alsace in France as well as from Austria, Australia and Washington and New York to the USA.
Riesling classification levels
Kabinett: Grapes harvested during a normal harvest, resulting in a light wine with a low alcohol content that is normally dry or not dry.
Spatlesi: It means “late harvest”. Fully ripe grapes bring more fruit intensity and a more complete body. Spatlesi wines can be dry or not dry, and a fine sweetness is often compensated by a spicy mourning.
Auslese: means “selected vintage”. Made in the best years from carefully selected and fully ripe grapes. These wines are exuberant and quite sweet.
Beerenauslese: Literally translated as a “selected grape harvest”, this wine is made from very ripe, handmade grapes affected by noble rot, and only in large glasses. It is very sweet.
The richest, sweetest, most expensive of all German wines. It is made only in exceptional years.
Eiswain: Literally “cold wine” made from frozen grapes. They are crushed and the ice is separated from the juice, resulting in a very sweet and highly acidic dessert wine.
Early ripening grapes, Riesling performs best in a cool climate with poor, well drained soil like shale. In fact, when Riesling is grown in an area that is too hot, it can easily over-ripen and become flaccid. Very fragrant, the Riesling usually smells like ripe or sour peaches and citrus fruits, depending on the climate, with a distinct minerality often found in the form of smoke, bituminous shale, black stone or gasoline.