Riesling: A Grape Variety of Elegance and Complexity

Apr 30, 2024Piergiorgio Borgogno
Riesling nell'Oltrepò pavese

Riesling, with its origins in the Rhine valley in Germany, represents one of the most elegant and complex grape varieties in the world wine scene. This grape, known for its aromatic bouquet, varies from dry to lush sweet, standing out for its persistent acidity and characteristic aromatic profile. But let's see some specific details about this wine.

Aromatic Profile and Characteristics of Riesling


Riesling wines are known for their intense and complex bouquet. Aromas can vary greatly based on the age of the wine and the specific growing conditions of the grapes. In younger wines, it is common to detect notes of fresh fruit such as green apple, lime and apricot. With aging, more evolved aromas often emerge such as beeswax and the characteristic smell of petroleum, due to the chemical compound TDN that forms in the wine during aging .


The flavor profile of Riesling is equally varied. Wines can range from dry to very sweet, with a body ranging from light to full. The lively acidity of Riesling is a constant that contributes to the freshness of the wine, making it pleasantly drinkable. In dry wines, mineral flavors and a crunchiness reminiscent of green apples are often perceived, while sweeter wines can have an intense taste of ripe fruit and honey.

Structure and Body

Riesling stands out for its high acidity, which gives it a lively freshness, making it extremely pleasant on the palate. It is a light to medium bodied wine, with alcohol levels generally moderate, although they can vary depending on the winemaking style and region of production. Dry Rieslings tend to have a lighter body and a more direct flavor profile, while sweet or partially wood-aged Rieslings can have a fuller and more complex body.

Terroir and Cultivation

Riesling grows best in cool climates, and its best examples often come from regions with rocky or shale soils, which help give the wine a marked minerality. These characteristics are particularly evident in wines from the Moselle river valleys of Germany, while those from Alsace often have a rounder body and greater aromatic complexity. In Australia and New Zealand, Riesling develops lime flavors and toasted characteristics over time. Riesling's ability to reflect terroir is one of its most celebrated qualities, allowing winemakers to express the uniqueness of each region's soil and climate through wine.

Regional contrasts: Riesling Renano and Riesling Italico

The world of Riesling is vast and varied, with two main subtypes that stand out particularly for their unique characteristics: Rhenish Riesling and Italian Riesling.

Rhenish Riesling: German Elegance

Rhenish Riesling, known for its origins in Germany's fertile river valleys such as the Moselle, Rheingau and Pfalz, is celebrated for its complexity and ability to age. These wines deeply reflect the terroir from which they come, often highlighting a strong minerality derived from the shale and slate soils of the regions in which they are grown. The most distinctive characteristic of Rhenish Riesling may be its "petroleum" aroma that develops in aged wines, a trait appreciated by connoisseurs. This phenomenon is attributed to the presence of TDN, which emerges naturally as the wine ages. Furthermore, Renano Riesling wines are known for their high acidity, which contributes to their longevity and freshness, making them particularly suitable for long aging.

Italic Riesling: Italian Accessibility

On the other hand, Italic Riesling, which despite its name is of French origin and widespread especially in Italy, tends to produce lighter and more immediate wines. It prefers the alpine and subalpine climates of northern Italy, with a strong presence in Lombardy, Veneto, and Trentino-Alto Adige. Compared to its German cousin, Italian Riesling has a less intense aromatic profile and lower acidity, characteristics that make it more accessible and suitable for young consumption. This variety often produces less complex wines, ideal for those seeking a fresh, straightforward drinking experience without the need for extensive aging.

In summary, while Riesling Renano offers a complexity and aging capacity that fascinate lovers of meditation wines, Riesling Italico presents itself as a more accessible option ready for immediate consumption, while still maintaining a pleasant freshness and drinkability.

History of Riesling

Riesling is a grape variety that has a rich and complex history, with its origins rooted deeply in the winemaking traditions of Germany. This grape has witnessed significant developments in wine production and has had a notable impact on global wine culture.

Origins and Diffusion

Riesling originates from Germany, with records dating back to the 15th century. The first mentions of this grape variety are found in the records of the Abbey of St. Peter in Alto in 1435, highlighting its historical presence and importance for the Rhine region. From there, it spread not only to other regions of Germany, such as the Moselle, the Rheingau, and the Pfalz, but also to several other parts of the world, such as Alsace in France, and later to Australia, New Zealand, and North America .

Evolution in the World

Over the centuries, Riesling has played a crucial role in the development of winemaking techniques, adapting to various climates and soils. This adaptability has allowed the grape variety to thrive in several global wine-growing areas, each of which has developed a unique style based on the local characteristics of the terroir. In Australia and New Zealand, for example, Riesling has found an ideal climate to express a distinctive flavor profile, while in cooler regions such as Alsace and parts of the United States, it produces wines with excellent acidity and mineral notes. .

Riesling wines in Italy

Italy, despite being less known than Germany or Alsace for the production of Riesling, offers some distinctive interpretations of this grape variety, especially in northern regions such as Trentino-Alto Adige and Lombardy, particularly in the Oltrepò area Pavese.

Regions and Characteristics

Trentino-Alto Adige is renowned for its Rieslings which show great freshness and liveliness, influenced by the Alpine climatic conditions which favor marked acidity and intense aromas. These wines often reflect a minerality derived from the rocky soils and scrupulous management of the vineyards in this mountain region.

Oltrepò Pavese in Lombardy, on the other hand, is emerging as a new hub for high-quality Riesling in Italy. This area benefits from a wide temperature difference between day and night and limestone-rich soils, ideal conditions for developing the aromatic complexity and body of Riesling. Here, Renano Riesling is particularly appreciated for its structure and alcohol intensity, often with a greater expression of ripe fruit than lighter versions from north-eastern Italy. ​.

Styles and Innovations

In Italian wines, Riesling is expressed in styles ranging from dry to sweet, always maintaining a notable freshness thanks to the high acidity typical of the grape. The Oltrepò Pavese, with its particular climate and the innovation of local producers, is exploring new possibilities for Riesling, seeking to optimize the unique characteristics of the local terroir to further differentiate their wines in the global market.

Aromatic profile

Italian Riesling is known for its intriguing aromatic profile, which can include notes of tropical fruit, citrus and, in riper wines, even that touch of kerosene that is so appreciated by lovers of this grape variety. These characteristics are particularly evident in the Rieslings of the Langhe in Piedmont, where the microclimate and diversified soils contribute to a unique and highly distinctive aromatic expression.

In conclusion, Riesling in Italy may not enjoy the same fame as German or Alsatian, but it offers a fascinating range of styles and expressions that reflect the richness and diversity of Italian terroirs. With a growing interest in wines that are authentic and representative of their origins, Italian Riesling is gaining international recognition and appreciation.

Ideal dishes for Riesling

  1. Asian and Spicy Cuisine : Riesling, especially in its semi-sweet or sweet versions, is excellent with spicy dishes. Its natural sweetness and lively acidity perfectly balance the heat of the spices, making it ideal for accompanying Indian, Thai or Chinese dishes, such as Thai green curry or tandoori chicken​ ​.

  2. Seafood and Fish : Dry Rieslings, with their strong acidity and mineral profiles, pair beautifully with seafood. They are particularly suitable for dishes such as fresh oysters, grilled scampi or sushi and sashimi, where the freshness of the wine combines with the delicacy of the seafood. ​.

  3. White Meats and Gravy Dishes : Rieslings, thanks to their structure and freshness, can accompany various white meat dishes, such as roast chicken, turkey or veal, especially if served with cream or citrus-based sauces. The wine helps cut through the richness of the dish, balancing the flavors and adding an aromatic dimension .

  4. Cheeses : Sweet Rieslings are particularly suitable for pairing with strong, mature cheeses, such as gorgonzola or Roquefort. The sweetness of the wine contrasts pleasantly with the intense flavor of the blue cheeses, creating a pleasant taste balance. ​.

Pairing Tips

  • Consider the sweetness level of the Riesling : Make sure to match the sweetness level of the wine with the dish. For example, a dry Riesling goes well with lighter, less spicy dishes, while a sweet Riesling can support more intense, spicier flavors.
  • Serving temperature : Serve the Riesling very cold to enhance its freshness, especially when paired with spicy or rich dishes.
  • Experiment with local pairings : Don't hesitate to try pairings with local dishes from your region, taking advantage of the versatility of Riesling to explore new flavor combinations.

In summary, Riesling is an exceptionally adaptable grape variety that can enrich a wide variety of dishes thanks to its aromatic complexity and lively acidity. Whether in dry, semi-sweet or sweet versions, it offers multiple possibilities to enhance and complement the flavors of global cuisine.

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