German Riesling: A buying guide for beginners


Riesling grapes from Schloss Schönborn's vineyard near the Rhine.
Riesling grapes from Schloss Schönborn’s vineyard near the Rhine.

Riesling grows prolifically from Alsace and Austria to New York and New Zealand. Nowhere but Germany, however, does Riesling shine with such kaleidoscopic brilliance.

After all, Germany is considered by many to be the birthplace of Riesling. Historical accounts of Riesling’s exact origin vary, but undoubtedly, Germany is the heartland where this majestic grape has flourished for centuries. The earliest recorded reference of Riesling in Germany was found on cellar logs dated 13 March 1435, a date that’s celebrated  as Riesling’s unofficial birthday.

Riesling is the chameleon of the wine world, adopting a unique persona and style in every region it sets its roots. But only in Germany does Riesling unveil the full technicolour spectrum of its abilities. A mirror to the exacting intricacies of German terroir, German Riesling ranges from bone dry, or trocken, to the barely sweet feinherb and decadently sweet. German Riesling triumphs in both still and sparkling forms.

Key Riesling regions in Germany

Despite straddling the historic limits of cool-climate viticulture, Riesling has flourished in each of Germany’s 13 wine regions thanks to a complex interplay of sun exposure, topography and soils.

The most iconic of all German Rieslings are those of the Mosel, a region where legendary producers like Willi Schaefer, Joh. Jos. Prüm, Zilliken and others are so abundant, that they’re seemingly ubiquitous. Spine-tingling and often laser-light in expression, the wines of the Mosel are born out of a contrast of extremes. Despite an extremely northerly latitude (in wine region terms), the steep, south-facing slopes of the Mosel enjoy maximum exposure to the sun. The craggy outcrops of shale covering the region’s most famous vineyards reflect sunlight and hold in heat.

‘The depth, complexity and lightness of wines from the Mosel, especially our Kabinett, is singular to Germany and the world,’ says Andreas Barth, who, with his wife Susanne, operates Weingut Lubentiushof in Niederfell, a winery that dates back to 1711.

The Rheingau’s historic reputation for Riesling of aristocratic pedigree far outsizes its surprisingly small vineyard size. Vineyards of the Rheingau stretch along the northern banks of the Rhine and Main Rivers, tucked around the many castles and abbeys that dot the region. The south-facing vineyards tumble down gentle slopes towards the rivers and are protected from northerly winds by the Taunus mountains to the north.

Compared to the Mosel or Pfalz, the region enjoys a ripening period that starts earlier and extends late, explains Catharina Mauritz, the eighth-generation owner of Domdechant Werner in the village of Hochheim. The Riesling there is ‘elegant and filigreed’ with ‘acidity that’s not too harsh’, she suggests. Dry, distinctly supple Riesling with focused minerality is characteristic, but the region is also renowned for complex expressions of botrytised sweet Riesling.

Rheinhessen is Germany’s largest wine region – a sunny, fertile expanse that was once an epicentre for the mass production of industrial sweet wines. Today, the region is far better known for the renegade producers of the 1990s who spearheaded a quality revolution there. Historically, Rheinhessen’s best sites were concentrated in the red-sandstone soils of the Rheinterrasse (‘Rhine Terrace’) and the majestic Roter Hang (‘Red Slope’). Winegrowers like Gunderloch, St. Antony and Kühling-Gillot were largely responsible for resurrecting this region’s reputation and producing some of Germany’s most profoundly spicy, savoury expressions of Riesling there. Meanwhile, a roster of star producers – Klaus-Peter Keller, Wittmann, Battenfeld-Spanier, Dreissigacker and others – have brought new attention to the gentle limestone hills of the Wonnegau in the south.

The Pfalz, which extends south of Rheinhessen to Germany’s border with Alsace in…

Source : https://www.decanter.com/learn/german-riesling-a-buying-guide-for-beginners-524608/