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Riesling’s Rise: What to Know About This Great White Wine

Christie’s wine expert Chris Munro explains the bold, bright appeal of an under-appreciated German wine that doesn’t skimp on character

First mentioned in the cellar log of Count Katzenelnbogen at Rüsselsheim in 1435, Riesling was the dominant grape variety in Germany until the early 20th century. It has resurged over the past 100 years and is now seen as a true noble variety and a treasured part of German vinous life.

View of the Mosel Valley in Germany
Germany’s Mosel Valley viewed from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr, or the sundial of Wehlen, the prized vineyard of Dr. Loosen, a J.J. Prum estate.

Internationally the wines of Germany’s two leading regions, Rheingau and Mosel, have had checkered histories. Throughout the 19th century the wines were revered and commanded exceptionally high prices, in many instances eclipsing the prices achieved for the first growths of Bordeaux. Favored by the royalty of Europe, Hock, a British term for white wine produced in Germany, appeared at Christie’s auctions throughout the 19th century.

Bottle of Weingut Keller Riesling
This bottle of Weingut Keller Riesling sold for £1,348/$1,717 at Christie's London on 17 October 2019.

During the 1970s and ’80s the approach of the German wine industry was to make commercially attractive brands in bulk, such as Blue Nun and Black Tower. Of course, the great producers continued to make some fantastic wine and were blessed by superb vintages—1971 and 1976 in particular. Snap them up if you see them at auction. I regularly come across cellars in the United States that include rare gems from great producers such as J.J. Prüm and Egon Müller.

Helmut and Cornelius Dönnhoff of German winery Dönnhoff
Father-and-son team Helmut and Cornelius Dönnhoff of German winery Dönnhoff, based in Oberhausen in Nahe and renowned for its racy, elegant wines. Image: Alamy

Today the world of German Riesling is populated by emerging, young producers. Look out for names such as Dönnhoff, Weingut Keller, Von Schubert, and Fritz Haag—this really is the golden age of German winemaking.

Riesling Elsewhere in the World

Argetsinger Vineyard in New York
Ravines Wine Cellars’ Argetsinger Vineyard on the shores of Seneca Lake, New York, which has shallow, mineral-rich limestone soil. Image: Getty


The United States ranks second to only to Germany in terms of Riesling vines planted and the long growing seasons in Washington, Oregon, and California produce beautifully balanced specialties that have resulted in commercial success. Delicate varieties can also be found in Michigan and the Finger Lakes region of New York, as hardy Riesling vines are capable of withstanding these areas’ frigid winters and create dry, complex wines as a result.

Clare Valley in Australia
Clare Valley, shown here with the distinctive purple Paterson’s Curse, has established itself as one of the best places to grow Riesling in Australia.

Surprisingly, for a grape that thrives in cooler conditions, modern versions of Riesling are being produced to great effect in Australia. The varietal can mainly be found in two areas. Clare Valley, near Adelaide, has a warmer climate but a large discrepancy in day- and night-time temperatures, ideal for giving the grapes their trademark acidity. Eden Valley in the east is cooler and is home to some of the world’s oldest vines—grown from cuttings that were taken from the Rheingau in 1837. Both are known for a bold, bright Riesling that also develops well in bottle (although for not quite as long as the German variation).

Banner image: Riesling vineyards on the Bremmer Calmont hillside above the Mosel River, Germany. Getty Images