The Riesling variety is often called the diva of the wine world and may well be the most elegant and refined grape in the world. Thanks to its ability to resist cool climates, Riesling has colonized German vineyards over the centuries. The pictures of old Riesling vines on river valley hillsides searching for sunlight and warmth is an iconic image of German vineyards.
In France it is mainly found in the Alsace region where it offers a more fatty and rounded character than in Germany, partly thanks to the chalky-clay soils. Alsatian Rieslings have a higher alcohol content and are usually aged in wood for longer, which also adds to their more rounded features. Near Alsace, but back in Germany, Riesling is considered to be ideal for expressing terroir, a grape capable of transmitting the particular characteristics of each vineyard. In general, German Rieslings are vertical wines with a tense acidity and floral aromas, great wines which evolve wonderfully even acquiring aromas of hydrocarbons like petroleum and a fascinating complexity.
There is some Riesling, which is excellent, even in Italy. And it is, of course, a re-interpreted Riesling, which is different from the Central European one. A Riesling that does not shy away from the structure and the fruit. But for its elegance and minerality it an example of absolute excellence in character and personality. Which terroir, then? The first is the Oltrepò Pavese, in lower Lombardy. A land of great pleasant and fragrant reds and whites, in the highest and best exposed crus it produces an enveloping Riesling, complete and rich in minerality. Not of extraordinary longevity, but incredibly versatile and ready to drink even when young.
Then there are the Langhe. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this legendary area also has vineyards at considerable altitudes, where the reds struggle and where there are exceptionally performing Pinot Noirs and, indeed, Riesling. The one from the Alta Langa is a surprising Riesling, powerful and at the same time vertical, of very strong minerality and assured longevity. And then there is the terroir perhaps more naturally inclined to Riesling; the one that, in Italy, can best be compared to the Central European crus: Alto Adige. It is here that Italian Riesling probably resembles more closely those of Alsace and Moselle. Here it is able to excel in verticality and freshness, giving up a little in structure, but providing real champions of minerality, with hints of hydrocarbons and longevity.
Australia produces probably the best Riesling wines in the New World. German emigrants brought the grape to the Barossa Valley, from where it swiftly spread to cooler areas like the Eden Valley and Clare Valley where it has been more successful. Wines from Clare Valley are more reminiscent of Alsation wines, whereas Eden ones are more austere.
Regarding soils, slate adds smoky hints to Riesling while other soil kinds can produce touches of steel, tar or earth. Depending on the ripeness of the grape, a wine’s aromas can vary between lime and flint to ripe apricots or pineapple, but always over a floral and spicy background and a final comforting sweet sensation.