Riesling is a white grape variety which originates in the Rhine region of Germany. Riesling wines are often consumed when young, when they make a fruity and aromatic wine which may have aromas of green or other apples, grapefruit, peach, honey, rose blossom, cut green grass, limes and usually a crisp taste due to the high acidity. However, Riesling's naturally high acidity and range of flavours make it suitable for extended ageing.
It is a versatile varietal being used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and even sparkling white wines. Riesling wines are usually varietally pure and are seldom oaked. In terms of importance for quality wines, Riesling is usually included in the 'top three' white wine varieties together with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Riesling is a variety which is highly 'terroir-expressive', meaning that the character of Riesling wines are clearly influenced by the wine's place of origin.
In 2009, Riesling was the most grown grape variety in Germany with 22,580 hectares, and in the French region of Alsace with 3,382 hectares. There are also significant plantings of Riesling in Austria, northern Italy, Australia, New Zealand, United States, Canada, China and Ukraine. In the countries where it is cultivated, Riesling is most commonly grown in colder regions and locations.
The most expensive wines made from Riesling are 'Late Harvest' dessert wines, produced by letting the grapes hang on the vines well past the normal picking time. Through evaporation caused by the fungus Botrytis cinerea ('noble rot') or by freezing, as in the case of Ice Wine (in German, Eiswein), water is removed from each berry and the resulting wine offers much richer layers on the palate.
These concentrated wines have more sugar (in extreme cases hundreds of grams per litre), more acid (to give balance to all that sugar), more flavour, and more complexity. These elements combine to make wines which are amongst the most long lived of all white wines. This said; there is nothing more refreshing on a hot day than a glass of Riesling.