Riesling wines offer wine enthusiasts one of the better examples of the fine balance between acid and sugar that make for a pleasant wine tasting experience. A high-quality Riesling is an impressively graceful contrast between them. The signature fruity and floral characteristics of a great Riesling are an excellent backdrop for the natural acid/sugar balance already present in the grapes. Rieslings age very gracefully and become more luxurious and supple with age.
Riesling and the Chardonnay Revolution
Before the 1980s, Riesling was a popular wine grape. It was a time when the American wine lover’s palate gave preference to off-dry white wines. Chardonnay, however, began winning over the hearts of many Riesling lovers during the 1980s and 1990s, causing somewhat of a shift in its popularity and its presence in American vineyards.
During the early 1980s, Riesling dominated over 11,000 of California’s wine growing acres. Since that time, consumer demand for them has basically dried up. Fully fermented reds and whites have drawn far more attention in North America since then. The decline in the popularity of Riesling is evident in its disappearance from California vineyards. Only about half of the acreage that used to be taken up with these grapes is still used to grow them today.
Riesling on the Rise
Fortunately, for both the grape and the wine tasting enthusiast, Riesling is seeing a slight yet noticeable increase in interest worldwide and more Riesling grapes are being grown around the world today than were even just a few years ago. Both Old World and New, both Northern and Southern hemispheres, are starting to revive this once noble varietal and helping to elevate its status once again.
Cultivation and Character
Riesling grapes flourish in areas with both a cool climate and a long growing season. Locations like Monterrey County, California, produce excellent quality fruit with plenty of good flavour and character. The homeland of Riesling is the Rhine in Germany, making it genetically predisposed to fare well in chillier climates, but warmer regions also produce excellent specimens that do a good job of retaining their acidity.
The ripe, developed fruit of California Rieslings coupled with their notable acidity makes them unique in style and character. A quality Riesling displays fresh floral characteristics with lush, peachy aromas. Although they contain an abundance of acid, the flavour of it is less prominent in California wines that have a higher amount of alcohol. The grapes are also more greatly extracted in California than the leaner German varieties.
In the colder climates of the New World, Riesling has attracted much interest, particularly in the state of Washington. It also performs well in New York state’s Finger Lakes region, Northern Michigan, and in Canada’s Okanagan and Niagara regions. Even parts of Oregon produce impressive Rieslings that perform well in that soggy climate.
An Enduring Affection
Even today, amid a lull in its popularity, German winemakers and drinkers alike, as well as those in France’s Alsace region, still hold a singular affection for Riesling and consider it among the noblest varieties of wine grapes. For many years now, though, it has shown difficulty ripening under less than optimal growing conditions and in all but a few specific locations, and the character of the wines vary considerably between regions.