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Riesling – A Star among White Wines

Riesling is one of the world’s major white wine varieties – stylistically diverse, multifaceted, and – above all – most delicious. The best Riesling wines are grown in Germany, Austria, and Alsace.

A visual inspection on Moselle River (Mosel) in Germany: Did you know that there are steep slope vineyards (up to 78%) in that region? The views from their tops are breathtaking. But how arduous it must be to work in them! Luckily, the winegrowers’ efforts are recompensed: This unique cultivated landscape with its barren slate soils yields top-class white wines.  

The Mosel Region has one of biggest variety in the global wine cosmos

Riesling is the most commonly grown variety around here, and it is, without exaggeration, one of the greatest varieties in the global wine cosmos. There is no other type of grape that could translate soil into wine with more precision and pleasant taste. Slate soils develop different aromatics and notes than calcareous ones. The potential to convey them is unique to Riesling grapes. In addition, they allow for stylistically diverse wines – from bone dry and semi-sweet to sweet ones, from light, low-alcohol to heavy ones with impressive complexity. Riesling wines always smell enticingly. In one of his books, British-German critic Stuart Pigott compares Riesling to a woman, who has found the perfume that perfectly fits her personality.  

Despite all these undisputed assets of Riesling wines, its production is a tiny show – the variety is grown on only one per cent of all global cultivation areas. One reason for it being such a minority may be that many consumers and savourers have a certain aversion to the pronounced natural acidity in Riesling wines. In many cases, this «fear of acidity» is unfounded. Very often, they are balanced with residual sugar, only to an extent, however, that the wine can still be considered “dry”. Riesling wines are usually fermented in stainless steel tanks or large wooden barrels and then developed. Storage in barrique barrels usually disagrees with this type of grape.

Riesling originates in Germany. The country’s regions have stepped up their game over the course of the last 20 years. Today, they produce the wines with the best cost-enjoyment ratio. Riesling hotspots also include Austria and Alsace. The variety is also grown in New World regions, such as the US, Australia, and New Zealand. In Switzerland and Italy, Riesling wines are exotics.

Five top Riesling wines

Wine lists at Swiss Deluxe Hotels include a number of Riesling wines, and wine partners of the association carry unique Riesling wines in their product range. Peter Keller shares five of his favourites; three German wines, one from Austria, and one from Italy.

The classic: Riesling Trittenheimer Apotheke 2018, Weingut Ansgar Clüsserath, Mosel (Germany)

The grapes for this superb wine is grown on steep slopes and 60- to 80-year-old vines. This Riesling boasts a fine bouquet with notes of yellow fruit, herbs, and minerals. It is dense, fresh, elegant, complex, enduring, noble. An outstanding classic from a famous region with excellent storage potential.

The giant: Riesling Halenberg GG 2013, Weingut Emrich-Schönleber, Nahe (Germany)

Absolutely grand! This Riesling wine shines with its cool, complex, mineral bouquet. Intense, complex, juicy, powerful, and elegant on the palate, it provides a lasting finish. A legend from the tiny Nahe growing area. Storable and a perfect partner to a great meal.

The elegant: Riesling Höllenpfad Erste Lage 2017, Weingut Dönnhoff, Nahe (Germany)

The Dönnhoff estate is part of the wine-growing elite in Germany. If you appreciate purist, touching white wines, this is an ideal choice. Even though «just» a premier cru, it manages to enchant you with a multitude of flavours and a noble perfume. Very dry, contains plenty of fruit extract and glaze, perfect acidity levels, and a long finish.

The powerful: Riesling Ried Klaus Smaragd 2015, Weingut Prager, Wachau (Austria)

The Austrian Wachau wine-growing region produces expressive wines. Top producer Prager manages to transport the barren gneissic and granite soils of the Klaus growing area into wine bottles. Characteristics of this Riesling include a cool nose and a rich and intense bouquet on the palate. Despite its power and concentration, it does not come across as opulent. In fact, it is a supremely elegant, world-class Wachau wine. 

The exotic: Riesling 2018, Poderi Colla, Piemont (Italy)

Piedmont is not your typical Riesling-growing region. The Poderi Colla estate had a go at the prestigious variety anyway. With impressive results: Typical citric notes, stone fruit, and flowers unfold in your glass. This wine is dry on the palate, light, elegant, and it has a medium-length finish. It is an ideal pre-dinner wine, ready to spring a surprise, proving its status as an exotic among Riesling wines.  

Words by Peter Keller, Weinakademiker and wine journalist, who writes for NZZ am Sonntag in Zurich.

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