Riesling Day: Celebrating Riesling's birthday

Monday, 13 March, 2023
Kristina Beuthner CWM
Fancy celebrating your 588th birthday… Yes, that is how old Riesling is, according to the German Wine Institute.

In 1435, Riesling was documented for the first time in a German cellar. Do not confuse this variety with Schwarzriesling or Welschriesling, a story for another time.

Short overview

Riesling is grown in more than 20 countries, on about 50 000ha, around the world. Riesling's descent is probably a natural crossing from Heunisch, Vitis Vinifera subsp. Sylvestris, and a clone of Traminer. There are more than 60 clones and it is a versatile cultivar of moderate vigour, drought resistant, late budding and late ripening. Riesling can be made at all levels of sweetness, from bone dry to sparkling to noble sweet and ice wine.

Should you be a White/Rhine/Johannisberg Riesling fan, or not, the story of Riesling is worth a read.

From Jancis Robinson (‘finest white grape variety in the world`) to Stuart Pigott (his book: Best white wine on earth: The Riesling story), there is a lot of talk about Riesling.

The truth is that indeed Riesling presents an ability to transmit the characteristics of a vineyard without losing its style. It has also shown that it is world class when referring to the longevity of wines, selling at higher prices than the First Growths of Bordeaux in the 1800s. Connoisseurs knew that Riesling´s combination of extract and acidity could develop for many decades in the bottle, regardless of the sugar and alcoholic strength. In the 20th century lots of wines with little extract and high residual sugar damaged Riesling's reputation.

The story of the Riesling is impressive, whether you research Schloss Johannisberg in the Rheingau; Generation Riesling; the Global Riesling Masters; or our legendary South African winemaker Gunter Brözel.

Description of Riesling

What can we say to newcomers/first-timers who have never tried a Riesling wine?

Riesling is an aromatic variety, and has a quiet following, and is not as cyclical as Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Without pre-conception it could be a "refreshing improvement on basic Chardonnay", is light to medium bodied but full flavoured, lots of acidity and extract, sometimes quite a bit of residual sugar, which can be disguised by the acidity both when the wine is very young or very old.

Connoisseurs describe Riesling as steely, powerful and aromatic. It is said that Riesling depends on the type of soil it is grown in: DWI mentions that "heavy clay soils promote citrus fruit, red sandstone ensures apricot flavours and slate soils create a concise mineral note which is at times reminiscent of flint".

Riesling wines

Let us focus on South Africa: Gunter Brözel was the cellarmaster of Nederburg for some 33 years. He pioneered noble late harvest wines, and brought out Edelkeur in 1969. He started the Nederburg Auction and also received many awards. He is an incredibly interesting man to interview and an icon in our industry!

A few Riesling wines in South Africa

The 2023 Platter’s Wine Guide mentions over 20 wineries (with 4.5/4 star ratings) Riesling wines: Cape Collective Riesling (from Illimis Wines)

  • Klein Constantia, Lothian Vineyards, Spioenkop, Oak Valley, Van Wyk Family Wines,The Fledge & Co, Meinert Wines, and Catherine Marshall Wines produce dry Rieslings
  • Thelema Mountain Vineyards has two off-dry Rieslings
  • Delheim, Neethlingshof, Paul Cluver, De Wetshof, and Jordan have various categories of semi-sweet, sweet and noble late harvest Rieslings and occasional other releases

You will find Riesling in some white blends too, e.g. the Nederburg Ingenuity.

Significant wineries around the world producing Riesling

Weingut Kloster Eberbach, Weingut Schloss Vollrads, Weingut Künstler, Weingut Dr. Loosen, Weingut Wittmann, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, Domaine Marcel Deiss, Domaine Trapet, Weingut Bründlmayer, Domäne Wachau, Weingut FX Pichler, Chateau Montelena, Peter Lehmann, Mission Hill Family Estate, Winery Seppelt, Winery Cloudy Bay, and many more.

If you want more specifics, winedexer.com has an index of more than 50 countries describing their best Riesling wines, wein.plus and drinkriesling.com have many explanations of tasting profiles, and regions. You can also check out the big online wine magazines with regular articles on the variety.

Although 13 March is only a marketing method to focus on the Riesling story, you may discover, with an open mind, that one day a Riesling wine will take you on a tasting journey, showing you the many facets of this great "gentil aromatique".

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Grosses Gewaechs Schloss Johannisberg
Grosses Gewaechs Schloss Johannisberg

Catherine Marshall Riesling 2017
Catherine Marshall Riesling 2017

Steininger Riesling Brut Reserve
Steininger Riesling Brut Reserve

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