Author: Kristian Kielmayer, Ágnes Herczeg
One of the most fantastic white grapes in the world comes from Germany, from the banks of the Rhine. According to some records, it was first mentioned in 1435 in the Rheingau region in a sales contract. Its name is probably derived from the German word reissen, which can be translated as “to split”. This perhaps refers to the detachment of the berry. However, the etymology of the word Russling has also come up in research, which refers to its deeply coloured, dotted canes. One of Riesling’s parents is Gouais Blanc, thus it is related to many well-known varieties, such as Chardonnay or Furmint.
It has moderately large, unlobed leaves which narrow at the base and whose backs are extremely hairy and fluffy, while its clusters are tight and dense with small, relatively thick-skinned berries. It is a late-budding, late-ripening variety, which is very adaptable and able to thrive on many types of soils; however, it prefers cool climates and is very cold resistant. It can make wine in a wide range of styles. In most of the world, its simply called Riesling, which should not be confused with Olaszrizling.
The variety is most widespread in its homeland, Germany, where it accounts for around half the Riesling in the entire world. Pfalz and the Mosel are home to the largest plantings. Outside Germany, it can be found in Australia, Austria (Lower Austria) and in Alsace in France, where it is the most planted variety.
Riesling is grown on almost 1,300 hectares in Hungary. The greatest proportion can be found in the Pannonhalma wine district, where every tenth vine is Riesling, while the Kunság wine district produces the largest quantity. The best, richest wines are now found around Lake Balaton, where they combine fruitiness with depth, richness and the personality of the terroir. And although it is a relatively resistant variety, appropriate conditions are still important, from planting the vines through to bottling.
Its wines have a certain lightness but are also incredibly rich in flavour and delicately fragrant thanks to the variety’s chemical components, such as its monoterpenes. It is rarely high in alcohol, thus making its acidity all the more dynamic as well as fresher and crisper. Young wines are characterised by citrus fruit, green apple, apricot and floral aromas. It can age beautifully, taking on waxy, toasty, honeyed, oily and kerosene notes. The petrol, kerosene note can be attributed to 1,1,6‐trimethyl‐1,2‐dihydronaphthalene, or TDN for short. In Hungary, it is rare to come across sparkling wine or botrytised sweet wines made from it, but these are also some of the diverse range of wines it can yield. Hungarian Rieslings are almost always dry, although a little residual sugar generally helps keep its high acidity in balance. Its intense fruit character and pronounced acidity result in enticing wines that really reflect their terroir.
Rhein Riesling grape bunch and leaf
Riesling is a really special grape variety as it can be produced as both light and extremely complex wines thanks to its crisp acidity. It is used to make a wide variety of styles, from light, lean wines through caressingly fruity wines with some residual sugar to dense, luscious botrytised and ice wines. Light, simple styles of dry, off-dry or medium-sweet Riesling are great everyday wines, which are best drunk young, preferably from the last few vintages. They are best appreciated when served at 8-10°C in a tulip-shaped white wine glass.
More serious dry estate wines and single-vineyard Rieslings develop well in bottle, so can be worth laying down for a few years. Their enticing minerality and rich aromatics also warrant time and attention when you are enjoying them. With age, their fruit-driven notes of citrus fruit, peach and honey are complemented by the variety’s characteristic petrol note. Such wines pair well with a variety of spicy Asian noodles, salads with citrus fruit, game birds, poultry, fish and pork dishes. Best served at 8-10°C, when their lovely aromatics are best appreciated from a tulip-shaped white wine glass.
Late-harvest Riesling and Riesling ice wines boast pure fruit aromatics, so can work well with fruity desserts, gateaux, cream pots or mature cheeses, depending on residual sugar levels. These wines should be served chilled at 6-10°C depending on style in small tulip-shaped white wine glasses or dessert wine glasses.