Every year on the 13th March "International Riesling Day" celebrates the 'official' birthday of Riesling, marking the date of the grape’s first documented existence, March 13, 1435 in Rüsselsheim, Germany.
Riesling is one of the world’s oldest Noble Grapes. While there are certainly grape varieties of a similar age still used in wine production there aren’t many and very few have achieved the same degree of commercial success. Of the six original Noble Grapes (or ‘International Varieties’) only Pinot Noir is older having first been mentioned in 1283 - albeit then called ‘Moreillon’. Sauvignon Blanc - then called Fiers - was first recorded in 1534 nearly 100 years after Riesling. The first reliable mention of Chardonnay appeared in 1685-90 (as ‘Chardonnet’)the earliest mention of Cabernet Sauvignon was in a book written between 1763-77 where it was called ‘Petit Cabernet and Merlot first appeared - as Merlau - in 1783-4.
Riesling is an incredibly versatile aromatic grape variety. It can produce complex dry wines with searing racy acidity and delicate aromatics off-dry and medium-sweet styles all the way through to lusciously sweet and super-sweet wines which tend to be beautifully balanced by a refreshing acid backbone.
Its versatility and the different wine styles it can produce is both a strength and paradoxically a commercial weakness for Riesling. There is often confusion as to what sort of wine will be found inside the bottle. Too many people remember the cheap bland German Liebfraumilch wines like Blue Nun and Black Tower that predominated the latter half of the twentieth century.
Most Rieslings these days however (whether sweet or dry) are delicious truly beautiful on their own and not requiring a food accompaniment. Although, when it comes to food pairing, Riesling really is in a league of its own. Traditional method sparkling wine is often considered a good pairing choice for a wide variety of foods but amongst still table wines dry Riesling - with its high acidity subtle fruit and floral flavours - is unparalleled in its pairability. Versatile and fun it is a perfect complement to Asian and fusion cuisine seafood, Bouillabaisse, Moroccan chicken, tagine, white meat, soup, asparagus, soft-shell crab, wild salmon, and more…
Even though Germany is renowned for producing some of the finest Riesling wines in the world (as is Clare Valley, South Australia), the difficulty for consumers is that German Riesling labels contain words like Trocken, Halbtrocken, Feinherb, Liebliche, Süss, Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein - none of which are particularly helpful to those not in the know.
Luckily, Australian Rieslings tend to be dry unless marked otherwise, so you can be much more confident of what you’re buying. And, here in South Australia’s Clare Valley - famed for producing the finest examples of dry Riesling - growing conditions are pretty much perfect, with afternoon breezes, cold nights, unpolluted skies, and an altitude of up to 500 metres above sea level. All of which leads to Clare Valley Rieslings being considered among the world’s best: celebrated for their purity, rich lime and tropical fruit flavours, minerality, and ability to age for decades. The elevated aromatics and refreshing acidity enables Clare Valley Riesling wines to age gracefully, over the years typically developing notes of honey, dried tropical fruits and hints of kerosene - a characteristic which is actually delicious, despite how it sounds.
And because Riesling tends to be fermented and aged in stainless steel (with no oak in sight), the finished wine is a pure expression of the grape, and of what the French call ‘terroir’. It is literally sunlight and poetry, bottled.
So go on, why not treat yourself? Pick up a bottle of Riesling today, and see what all the fuss is about.