|Posted on January 12, 2012 at 2:05 PM|
There are only a handful of grapes made throughout the world that have as much range as Riesling does. What you find in your glass can be bone dry and screaming for food or all the way up to lusciously sweet to be enjoyed on its own. The one constant that seems to prevail with the Riesling grape is that it thrives in cool climate wine regions. Areas like California and Spain have a hard time making balanced versions using the Riesling grape due to their warmer climates than places like Germany or Ontario or Australia’s Clare Valley which is found in the state of South Australia to the north of Adelaide.
Germany is the home of Riesling – it is where it all got started. In fact, for many years, Germany was known more for its aromatic white wines than any red wine available on the market. Due to the country’s northern latitude, it was generally felt by the world’s wine drinkers that red grapes were too difficult to ripen properly so the trend was towards buying their fruity white wines made from grapes like Riesling and Muller-Thurgau. During the 1980’s, Muller Thurgau started to lose ground and by the mid 1990’s Riesling was dominating production and sales. Looking at 2008 figures, at that point, Riesling was planted in approximately 22% of the acreage set aside for grape production in Germany and it was the #1 planted grape in the whole country. On the other side of the world we have Australia, where Riesling accounted for approximately 4400 hectares of vineyard space back in 2008. The Clare Valley, located in Australia’s South Australia state, is considered to be the home of Riesling and is one of the oldest viticultural regions in the country. Riesling is the fourth largest planted grape in Australia and this particular region is well suited to growing Riesling because of the altitude of the vineyards, the warm to hot summer days and cool to cold summer nights, and the minimal rainfall during the growing season. The variations in soil composition give the grapes grown there a strong mineral quality which is desirable in most Rieslings and the climate ensures that the grapes have a chance to ripen properly.
In terms of Ontario wineries, Riesling tends to be focussed in the Niagara Peninsula with several wineries producing a full range of wines using this grape. It is extremely rare for a Riesling to be put through malolactic fermentation as this process gives wine a creamier, less acidic taste and mouth feel than is desired from Riesling. Those of us who love dry Riesling are looking for a wine that is tart, acidic and thirst quenching with flavours of citrus fruit, minerals and, in older Rieslings, a petrol aroma and flavour. As the wine progresses up the sugar scale, the wine will also take on a considerable amount of tropical fruit flavours and aromas while still maintaining that distinctive acidity that gives Riesling wines great balance. This is true even all the way up to the sweetest of Riesling based wines…Icewine! Riesling Icewine is fast becoming the most popular white grape based Icewine from Ontario wineries. The fruit itself offers more complexity than Icewine made from Vidal grapes and due to Riesling’s ability to age, if you are patient enough, this Icewine can seriously reward a patient collector. The aromas and flavours are typically candied stone and tropical fruit like apricot, peach and mango. However, there is also an interweaving of acidity that spins its way through the palate that makes the wine balanced and gives it a lengthy finish. It is not an uncommon experience for there to still be lingering flavours the next day if you enjoy a glass of this after dinner.
Whether you like a bone dry Riesling from a Niagara on the Lake winery or a semi dry Riesling from the Niagara Escarpment, there is a Riesling to fit your mood. The diversity available from the Riesling grape makes it a perfect wine for pairing with food. Everything from Thai to Roast Chicken or Salmon with a fruit salsa can be paired with a wide variety of Rieslings that our winemakers make year in and year out. So, the next time you are in your local winery, check to see what kinds of Rieslings they make and give a glass a try. You may be surprised by the depth and the scope that this grape is capable of.