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.
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.
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.
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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
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.
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