from "Professional friends of wine" website - http://www.winepros.org
Because of both its cellar longevity and its ability to maintain varietal identity while reflecting the individuality of its terroir, Riesling may be the best of all the white wine grapes. Its homeland is Germany, where it has been cultivated since the 1400s or earlier, and where it is made into wines that run the gamut from bone dry and crisp quaffers to the complex, unctuous nectars made from Botrytis-affected, shriveled berries, individually late-picked, and known by the moniker Trockenbeerenauslese.
Sometimes referred to as White, Rhine, or Johannisberg, the Riesling name has been tarnished by the attachment of its name to other white varietals (Grey Riesling--aka Chaucé Gris--, Walschriesling--aka Italian Riesling--, and Missouri Riesling) that are of far lesser quality and genetically unrelated to the true Riesling. It does have distant relatives in the Sylvaner (or Franken) Riesling and the crosses, Emerald Riesling (with Muscadelle du Bordelais) and Müller-Thurgau (with Sylvaner). In Germany, there are more than 60 selected Riesling clones available to meet various flavor and growing condition criteria.
Riesling vines are particularly hard-wooded and tolerant of cold weather and they bud late, so are well-suited to the coldest wine-growing climes. Riesling is both moderately vigorous and productive, yielding from three to six tons per acre. The berries are small, round and soft when ripe, with tender, greenish-yellow skins that have a flecked appearance from lenticels (lens-shaped pores) on the skins. Hanging in compact, winged clusters and ripening later than other varieties, bunch rot and non-beneficial molds can be a problem if there is much rain or humidity during in the ripening season.
If dry conditions, however, follow a single day of wet, Riesling grapes left on the vine beyond normal ripeness can develop Edelfäule (Nobel Rot). The result of this ugly but non-toxic mold, Botrytis cinerea, is the shriveling of the grapes, the evaporation of much of the juice, and the concentration of the sugar. The German names for this heirarchy, which ascends in order of the must weight or degree of sugar concentration, are Spätlese (late-picked), Auslese (selectively-picked bunches), Beerenauslese (selectively-picked berries), and Trockenbeerenauslese (only the most affected berries), or TBA. These wines have not only incredibly intense and concentrated flavors, but also remarkable life span.
Hillside microclimates which provide cool climates and at the same time plenty of sun exposure, yet protection from the winds are of paramount importance to quality Riesling. The best German vineyards with these conditions on the Mosel River produce wines that are unique in their low alcohol, powerful aroma, and high extract. This grape also is very successful in Alsace, France. The nominees for Best Supporting Appellation in California Riesling are: Santa Barbara, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and Mendocino, while Washington and Oregon also have done well. Other countries which grow Riesling with much dedication, albeit generally lesser results, are Australia, South Africa, Chile, Austria, Switzerland, Russia, Yugoslavia, and Italy.
Riesling has a powerful and distinctive floral and apple-like aroma that frequently mixes in mineral elements from its vineyard source and is often described as "racy." Its high natural level of Tartaric acid enables it to balance even high levels of residual sugar. The most frequently encountered (but not exclusive) smell and/or flavor elements found in riesling-based wines include:
The light, delicately sweet flavor of simple pan-fried-in-butter trout is especially good with Riesling. On the other hand, grilled or sautéed sausage, with its range from savory to spicy, also works well with this varietal. As with most foods, spices and sauce should be the factors that determine the wine match, rather than the color of the meat. Try a Riesling with Spicy Long Bean Beef Stir Fry and you'll understand.
by Jim LaMar