A grape that can display incredible balance and complexity while still being immensely enjoyable and versatile, the venerable Riesling is a wine-lover’s dream.
Riesling is the very definition of a classic grape: it has been cultivated and vinified in its homeland of Germany for over 500 years and is arguably the best aging wine in the world – bottles over a hundred years old are not unknown! The grape is used for dry, sweet, and semi-sweet wines and provides balance in each with a bracing dose of acidity. Instead of the citrus and tropical fruit flavors associated with Sauvignon Blanc, expect more stone fruit (such as peach) and mineral notes, floral tones, and even “petrol” in very fine aged examples. Riesling is considered one of the most terroir-expressive wines, and thus presents a challenge to the vintner. The best soils for growing are sandy and dry, with significant mineral content. Colder climates allow the grape to slowly refine its flavor, and cold fermenting temperatures keep the taste crisp and clear. Wild or natural yeasts are often preferred for fermentation, and the use of barrels is restricted to those that add no oak flavors.
The Rhine Valley of Germany is known for producing some of the finest Riesling, but the nearby Alsace and Mosel regions have excellent examples as well. Using the grape to produce sweet or semi-sweet wines in addition to dry is traditional in these areas, usually through the means of the “noble rot”. Canada’s colder climate is well suited for the production of Riesling ice wines, by leaving the grapes on the vine through several frosts, which increases the sugar content. The acidity of dry Riesling makes it an easy match for a variety of dishes: try it with roasted chicken with lemon, mild fish in Béchamel sauce, or spicy Thai or Cantonese food.