Riesling is one of the world's most noble grape varieties. While its homeland is undoubtedly in Germany, it has had a long and significant history in Australia. Its debutant years were those of the 1970s when Australia experienced a period known as the 'white wine boom', where sweet, aromatic wines were the style of the day. It was Australia’s most important premium white variety, however in 1990 it lost its post as the most popular white grape variety to Chardonnay.
Riesling is an aromatic variety that produces intensely fragrant and flavoured wines of exceptional character. Notes of citrus, honeysuckle, blossoms, green apple and mineral are commonly seen. With concurrent high acidity and comparable low alcohol, the wines retain an enviable freshness which many other varieties lack. Oak is not used and the wines are very pure and clean. Today, Rieslings are invariably made as dry styles, making them suitable for serving as aperitifs. They partner a wide range of foods including garden salads, fish, shellfish, chicken and Asian influenced dishes.
Riesling has had some challenges over the years. The term ‘Riesling’ was historically adopted as a generic label, to describe white wine made from several different grape varieties, sometimes none of which were actually Riesling. Because of this, varietal wines were often referred to as ‘Rhine Riesling’. Today they are known simply as Riesling and the variety is grown across Australia. Its style ranges from the flavoursome and fruity wines of the Barossa, Padthaway and Coonawarra to the fine and delicate wines of Clare Valley, Eden Valley and Tasmania.
Riesling is a variety that is much loved by winemakers and wine connoisseurs due to its intense flavours and its defined palate structure. In recent years, there has been much noise in the press about the ‘great Riesling revival’, however in reality, there has only been a relatively small increase of 16% in national tonnages over the past five years. This is in contrast to the 90% surge in value of the national crush during the same period. There may not be that much more Riesling around, but we are certainly paying more for it, particularly for those wines coming from the more prestigious regions. This is probably justified as good Riesling has been notoriously undervalued for a long time.
Riesling is delightful when it is consumed young and fresh. However
it is one of the few white wines produced in Australia that has
the ability to age. High quality, well structured wines from the
Clare and Eden Valley have remarkable longevity and can transform
into appealing honeyed and toasty styles with time.
© Toni Paterson 2005