AskDefine | Define Riesling

Dictionary Definition



1 white grape grown in Europe and California
2 fragrant dry or sweet white wine from the Rhine valley or a similar wine from California

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. a variety of Grape grown especially in Germany and other relatively cool areas
  2. a white wine made from this grape (often slightly sweet)



Riesling m

Extensive Definition

Riesling is a white grape variety which originates in the Rhine region of Germany. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety displaying flowery, almost perfumed, aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. Riesling wines are usually varietally pure and are seldom oaked. As of 2004, Riesling was estimated to be the world's 20th most grown variety at (with an increasing trend), but in terms of importance for quality wines, it is usually included in the "top three" white wine varieties together with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Riesling is a variety which is highly "terroir-expressive", meaning that the character of Riesling wines is clearly influenced by the wine's place of origin.
In 2006, Riesling was the most grown variety in Germany with 20.8% and , and in the French region of Alsace with 21.9% and . There are also significant plantings of Riesling in Austria, northern Italy, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, China and Ukraine. In the countries where it is cultivated, Riesling is most commonly grown in colder regions and locations.


Riesling has a long history, and there are several written references to the variety dating from the 15th century, although with varying ortography. The earliest of these references dates from March 13, 1435, when the storage inventory of the high noble Count John IV. of Katzenelnbogen in Rüsselsheim (a small principality on the Rhine, close to today's Rheingau) lists the purchase of "umb seczreben Riesslingen in die wingarten" ("six Riesling vines in the vineyard"). The seller is unknown, but the price was 22 soliden. The spelling Riesslingen is repeated in many other documents of the time. The modern spelling Riesling was first documented in 1552 when it was mentioned in Hieronymus Bock's Latin herbal.
A map of Kintzheim in Alsace from 1348 contains the text zu dem Russelinge, but it is not certain that this reference is to the grape variety. In Wachau in Austria, there is a small stream and a small vineyard both called Ritzling, which are claimed locally to have given Riesling its name. However, there seem to be no documentary evidence to back this up, so this claim is not widely believed to be correct.


Earlier, Riesling was sometimes claimed to have originated from wild vines of the Rhine region, without much support to back up that claim. More recently, DNA fingerprinting by Ferdinand Regner indicated that one parent of Riesling is Gouais Blanc, known to the Germans as Weißer Heunisch, which was brought to Burgundy from Croatia by the Romans. The other parent is a cross between a wild vine and Traminer. It is presumed that the Riesling was born somewhere in the valley of the Rhine, since both Heunisch and Traminer have a long documented history in Germany, but with parents from either side of the Adriatic the cross could have happened anywhere on the way.
It has also been suggested, but not proved, that the red-skinned version of Riesling is the forerunner of the common, "white" Riesling. Most likely, the genetic differences between white and red Riesling are minuscule, as is the case for e.g. the difference between Pinot noir and Pinot gris.


Riesling wines are often consumed when young, when they make a fruity and aromatic wine which may have aromas of green or other apples, grapefruit, peach, honey, rose blossom or cut green grass, and usually a crisp taste due to the high acidity. However, Riesling's naturally high acidity and range of flavours make it suitable for extended aging. International wine expert Michael Broadbent rates aged German Rieslings, some hundreds of years old, extremely highly. Sweet Riesling wines, such as German Trockenbeerenauslese are especially suited for cellaring since the high sugar content provides for additional preservation. However, high quality dry or off-dry Riesling wine is also known to have not just survived but also been enjoyable at an age exceeding 100 years.
The townhall of Bremen, Germany, stores various German wines, including Riesling based wines, in barrel back to the 1653 vintage.
More common aging periods for Riesling wines would be 5-15 years for dry, 10-20 years for semi-sweet and 10-30+ for sweet versions.

Petroleum notes in aged Riesling wines

With time, Riesling wines tend to acquire a petrol note (goût petrol in French) which is sometimes described with associations to kerosene, lubricant or rubber. While an integral part of the aroma profile of mature Riesling and sought after by many experienced drinkers, it may be off-putting to those unaccustomed to it, and those who primarily seek young and fruity aromas in their wine. The negative attitude to aromas of mature Riesling, and the preference for young wines of this variety, seem more common in Germany than in Alsace or on the export market, and some German producers, especially the volume-oriented ones, have even gone so far as to consider the petrol notes a defect which they try to avoid. In that vein, the German Wine Institute has gone so far as to omit the mentioning of "petrol" as a possible aroma on their German-language Wine Aroma Wheel, which is supposed to be specially adapted to German wines, and despite the fact that professor Ann C. Noble had included petrol in her original version of the wheel.
The petrol note is considered to be caused by the compound 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene (TDN), which during the aging process is created from carotenoid precursors by acid hydrolysis. The initial concentration of precursors in the wine determines the wine's potential to develop TDN and petrol notes over time. From what is known of the production of carotenoids in grapes, factors that are likely to increase the TDN potential are:

Production regions

Riesling is on record as being planted in the Alsace region by 1477 when its quality was praised by the Duke of Lorraine. Today over a fifth of Alsace's vineyards are covered with Riesling vines, mostly in the Haut-Rhin district, with the wine produced here being very different from neighboring German Riesling. This is partly from difference in the soil with the clay Alsatian soil being more dominately calcareous than the slate composition of Rheingau. The other differences come in wine making styles, with the Alsatian preferring more French-oriented methods that produce wines of higher alcohol content (normally around 12%) and more roundness due to longer time spent in the steel tanks. Alsace Riesling are never aged in oak barrels. In contrast to German wine laws, Alsatian rieslings can be chaptalized, a process in which the alcoholic content is increased through the addition of sugar to the must.
In contrast to other Alsatian wines, Rieslings in this area are usually not meant to be drunk young, but many are still best in the first years. Rieslings produced here tend to be mostly very dry with a cleansing acidity. They are thick bodied wines that coat the palate. These wines age exceptionally well with a quality vintage ageing up to 20 years. This is beneficial since the flavors in an Alsace wine will often open up after three years, developing softer and fruitier flavors.

Australia and New Zealand

In 1838 William Macarthur planted Riesling vines near Penrith in New South Wales. Riesling was the most planted white grape in Australia until the early 1990s when Chardonnay greatly increased in popularity.
Australian Rieslings are noted for their oily texture and citrus fruit flavors in their youth and a smooth balance of freshness and acid as they age. The botrytized Rieslings have immense levels of flavor concentrations that have been favorably compared to lemon marmalade.
Riesling was first planted in New Zealand in the 1970s and has flourished in the relatively cool climate of the Marlborough area and for late harvests in the Nelson region. In comparison to Australian Riesling, New Zealand produces lighter and more delicate wines that range from sweet to dry.


Riesling is the second leading white grape varietal after the indigenous Grüner Veltliner. Austrian Riesling is generally thick bodied, coating the palate and producing a strong clarity of flavor coupled with a mouthwatering aroma. A particular Austrian Riesling trademark is a long finish that includes hints of white pepper. It flourishes in the cool climate and free-draining granite and mica soil of the Wachau region where Austrian wine laws allow for irrigation. With levels normally around 13% it is has a relatively high alcohol content for Riesling and is generally at its peak after 5 years.


In Ontario, Riesling is commonly used for Icewine, where the wine is noted for its breadth and complexity. After this, the wine is normally filtered again to remove any remaining yeast or impurities.
In viticulture, the two main components in growing Riesling grapes are to keep it "Long & Low" meaning that the ideal situation for Riesling is a climate that allows for a long, slow ripening and proper pruning to keep the yield low and the flavor concentrated. A Riesling's typical aromas are of flowers, tropical fruits, and mineral stone (such as slate or quartz), although, with time, the wine acquires a petrol note as mentioned above.
Riesling is almost never fermented or aged in new oak (although large old oak barrels are often used to store and stabilise Riesling based wines in Germany and Alsace). This means that Riesling tends to be lighter weight and therefore suitable to a wider range of foods. The sharp acidity/sweetness in Rieslings can serve as a good balance to foods that have a high salt content. In Germany, cabbage is sometimes cooked with riesling to reduce the vegetable's smell.
As with other white wines, dry Riesling is generally served at a cool 11°C (52°F). Sweeter Rieslings are often served warmer.


There exists a large number of commercial clones of Riesling, with slightly different properties. In Germany, approximately 60 clones are allowed, and the most famous of these have been propagated from vines in the vineyards of Schloss Johannisberg. Most other countries have sourced their Riesling clones directly from Germany, but they are sometimes propagated under different designations.

Red Riesling

A very rare version of Riesling which has recently received more attention is Red Riesling (Roter Riesling). As the name suggests, this is a red-skinned clone of Riesling (a skin colour commonly found for e.g. Gewürztraminer), but not a dark-skinned clone, i.e., it is still a white wine grape. It is considered a mutation of White Riesling, but some experts have suggested the opposite relationship, i.e., that Red Riesling could be the forerunner of White Riesling. To confuse matters, "Red Riesling" has also been used as a synonym for red-skinned Traminer grapes (such as the Savagnin rose of Klevener de Heiligenstein) and the obscure variety Hanns, which is a seed plant of Roter Veltliner.


In the late 19th century German horticulturalists devoted many efforts to develop new Riesling hybrids that would create a more flexible, less temperamental grape that could still retain some of the elegant characteristics of Riesling. The most notable is the Müller-Thurgau developed in Geisenheim in 1882, it is said to be a cross of Riesling and Silvaner though this has come under doubt. Other Riesling/Silvaner crosses include the Palatinate regional favorite Scheurebe and Rieslaner. Kerner, a cross between Riesling and the red wine grape Trollinger is a high quality cross that has recently eclipsed Riesling in plantings.
The VIVC lists the following crosses with Riesling as the first parent : Alb de Yaloven, Arnsburger, Augustriesling, Beutelriesling, Bouquetriesling, Dalkauer, Edelmuskat, Ehrenfelser, Feinriesling, Floricica, Frühriesling, Geisenheim 195, Geisenheim 643-10, Geisenheim 643-20, Geisenheim 649, Johanniter, Kocsis Zsuzsa, Manzoni Bianco, Marienriesling, Müller Thurgau, Multaner, Muscat de la Republique, Naumburg 231-52, Oraniensteiner, Osiris, Osteiner, Quanyu B, Rabaner, Rieslina, Riesling Magaracha, Romeo, Weinsberg S186, Weinsberg S195
And as the second parent : Aris, Arnsburger, Aurelius, Dalmasso 12-40, Dona Emilia, Dr. Deckerrebe, Elbriesling, Freiburg 3-29, Geilweilerhof F.S. 4-208-13, Geilweilerhof Koe-49-81, Geilweilerhof Koe-68-107, Geilweilerhof Koe-70-4, Geilweilerhof Koe-70-96, Geilweilerhof Sbl. 2-19-43, Geisenheim 154, Geisenheim 156, Kamchia, Kerner, Lafayette, Misket Varnenski, Negritienok, President Carnot, Rabaner, Rieslaner, Riesling Bulgarski, Ruling, Thurling, Weinsberg S509, Weinsberg S516, Weinsberg S523, Weinsberg S2630


Many grapes that incorporate the name Riesling are not true Riesling. For example :
  • Welschriesling is an unrelated variety, which is common in Austria, Croatia and Hungary which may also be labelled as Riesling Italico, Welsch Rizling, Olasz Rizling or Laski Rizling.
  • Schwarzriesling (Black Riesling) is the German name for Pinot meunier, a grape used in Champagne, but which is also grown in Southern Germany.
  • Cape Riesling is the South African name for the French grape Crouchen.
  • Gray Riesling is actually Trousseau Gris, a white mutant of the Bastardo port wine grape.
  • White Riesling is the 'real' Riesling, which is also called Johannisberg Riesling (named after the famed Schloss Johannisberg) and Rhine Riesling (= Riesling Renano in Italy, occasionally Rheinriesling in Austria). Other synonyms include :
Beregi Riesling, Beyaz Riesling, Biela Grasevina, Dinca Grasiva Biela, Edelriesling, Edle Gewuerztraube, Feher Rajnai, Gentil Aromatique, Gentile Aromatique, Gewuerzriesling, Gewuerztraube, Graefenberger, Graschevina, Grasevina Rajnska, Grauer Riesling, Grobriesling, Hochheimer, Johannisberg, Johannisberger, Karbacher Riesling, Kastellberger, Kis Rizling, Kleigelberger, Kleiner Riesling, Kleinriesler, Kleinriesling, Klingelberger, Krauses, Krausses Roessling, Lipka, Moselriesling, Niederlaender, Oberkircher, Oberlaender, Petit Rhin, Petit Riesling, Petracine, Pfaelzer, Pfefferl, Piros Rajnai Rizling, Pussilla, Raisin Du Rhin, Rajinski Rizling, Rajnai Rizling, Rajnski Ruzling, Rano, Reichsriesling, Reissler, Remo, Rendu, Reno, Renski Rizling, Rezlik, Rezlin, Rezlink, Rhein Riesling, Rheingauer, Rheinriesling, Rhiesling, Riesler, Riesling Bianco, Riesling Blanc, Riesling De Rhin, Riesling Echter Weisser, Riesling Edler, Riesling Gelb Mosel E43, Riesling Giallo, Riesling Grosso, Riesling Gruener Mosel, Riesling Mosel, Riesling Reinskii, Riesling Rhenan, Riesling Rhine, Rieslinger, Rislinenok, Rislinok, Rizling Linner, Rizling Rajinski, Rizling Rajnai, Rizling Rajnski, Rizling Reinskii, Rizling Rynsky, Roessling, Rohac, Rossling, Rosslinger, Ruessel, Ruessling, Russel, Ryn-Riesling, Ryzlink Rynsky, Starosvetske, Starovetski, Szuerke Rizling, Uva Pussila, Weisser Riesling

Notes and references

Further reading

  • Robinson, Jancis Vines, Grapes & Wines Mitchell Beazley 1986 ISBN 1857329996
  • Christina Fischer, Ingo Swoboda Riesling Hallwag 2005 ISBN 3-7742-6994-7
Riesling in Tosk Albanian: Riesling
Riesling in Catalan: Riesling
Riesling in Czech: Ryzlink rýnský
Riesling in German: Riesling
Riesling in Estonian: Riesling
Riesling in Spanish: Uva Riesling
Riesling in French: Riesling
Riesling in Italian: Riesling
Riesling in Dutch: Riesling
Riesling in Japanese: リースリング
Riesling in Norwegian: Riesling
Riesling in Polish: Riesling
Riesling in Portuguese: Riesling
Riesling in Russian: Рислинг
Riesling in Slovenian: Renski rizling
Riesling in Swedish: Riesling
Riesling in Ukrainian: Рислінг
Riesling in Chinese: 雷司令
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