The versatile grape with a birthday
Vitis Vinifera is the Latin collective name for grapes. It is a plant that easily interbreeds and creates new variations. It is therefore difficult to say exactly how many different grape varieties there are, but it is said that there are more than 10 000 different varieties.
One of them, Riesling, has its own birthday!
The first time the Riesling grape is mentioned is in Count Johannes IV of Katzenelnbogen’s inventory of stocks in Rüsselsheim (a small principality on the Rhine, near today’s Rheingau) dated 13 March 1435. The neat list reads: “22 ß umb seczreben Rießlingen in die wingarten” (“22 shillings for Riesling vine cuttings for the vineyard”).
Today you can find Riesling almost everywhere where grapes are grown. The funny thing about this grape is that the character of the wine is very much influenced by the place where it is grown. In warmer climates such as Australia, the lime notes in the wine come out, while Riesling wines from Germany have a more pronounced tone of green apples and a noticeable acidity.
Another clear characteristic of Riesling is the first slight impression of petrolium. Someone once said that a good Riesling smells like a flowery meadow by the Autobahn, fruity, floral, fresh, but just as you open the bottle or pour the wine, there is a more or less distinct smell of petrolium or rubber.
Thanks to its high acidity, and in the case of grapes that are harvested late and therefore have a higher sugar content, a well-made Riesling can be stored for several years. There are examples of bottles that have been fully enjoyable well past the 50-year mark. However, this is mainly the so-called Trockenbeerenauslese, that is, wines made from overripe grapes that also have so-called noble rot. Normal dry Riesling has a storage potential of perhaps 5-10 years. But as always, it depends on the quality of the wine.
However, Trockenbeerenauslese has a funny background story. It is said that the practice of making wine from overripe grapes, which are also affected by noble rot, originated in the late 18th century at Schloss Johannisberg. The authorisation from the Abbey of Fulda, the owner of the vineyard, to pick the Riesling grapes came too late and the grapes had already started to rot. Nevertheless, they made wine from them (hoping for the best) and it turned out that the wine was of excellent quality and tasted extraordinary!
So although Riesling is grown all over the world, Germany is the country most associated with this grape. However, not all German Riesling tastes the same. As you remember, it very easily takes on the flavour and character of both soil and climate. So it’s well worth experimenting and trying different Rieslings from different parts of this country.
Why not celebrate this grape with a birthday dinner, starting of course with a sparkling Sekt (German sparkling wine), continuing with a fresh Riesling from the Mosel, perhaps with a well-prepared fish dish, and finishing with a sweet Auslese for dessert?