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Grape Spotlight: Riesling

I scream, You scream, We all scream for……Riesling! 

As you may have heard, the earliest documentation of Riesling dates back to March 13, 1435 in Germany when the first Riesling vines were officially recorded. As a result, March 13th has been officially designated as Riesling Birthday. This promotion is to celebrate Riesling’s Birthday and highlight the quality, versatility and diversity of German Rieslings to consumers. Germany has a deep history of winemaking, dating back before 50 BC, and Riesling has long been considered Germany’s most celebrated grape. 

Riesling (Rees-ling) is most associated with its native Germany, though it is now planted in many wine growing regions the world over.  This grape is often adored by sommeliers and abhorred by drinkers whose only experience with it happens to be with the cheap, over sulphured, sickly sweet versions.  However, not all Rieslings are alike; this grape can make geographically expressive wines with a broad spectrum of aromas and flavours and a variety of sweetness levels.  So open your mind and prepare to expand your sense perceptions as we explore this amazingly versatile grape.

The first thing to note is that there are essentially a few factors that determine the “style” of a wine; the inherent characteristics of the grape, the environmental influences that give the wine a sense of place (what in winespeak we call “terroir”) as well as both the vigneron and winemaker’s personal touch.

The Grape

Riesling makes pale, lemony-green coloured wines that deepen in intensity with age (yes – the best Rieslings can develop many years in the bottle).  Much of the pleasure of drinking Riesling comes from the experience of smelling the wine; in this case I don’t hesitate to refer to the wine’s nose as its “bouquet” (I term I usually find a kind of pretentious….), because it really does smell like flowers and reminds me of walking through an apple orchard.  In short: it is an intensely aromatic grape. When you taste the wine, you’ll notice how it makes you salivate; that’s the high natural acidity present in the grape and for this reason, so many Rieslings are made in an “off-dry” to “medium-dry” style, with low alcohol levels and some residual sugar to balance that zing.  Bone dry Rieslings can be balanced too if the grapes are completely ripe and their fruit character is developed at harvested.  


The wine’s aroma, mouthfeel and flavour also depend on where the grapes ripen.  Riesling grown in cool climates (parts of Germany, Canada) will have more fresh grape and green apple characteristics.  Across the German border in France, Alsace Rieslings are usually riper generally making the wines drier and weightier with more citrus, stone fruit and honeyed notes.  Warmer regions tend to produce softer style wines with ripe tropical fruit notes.  Each region has its own distinctive style.    

Vigneron and Winemaker Influences

Like Chardonnay, Riesling makes wines that reflect their location, though, unlike Chardonnay, it does not take well to oak ageing.  Richness and complexity is obtained by either late harvesting very ripe or even botrytis affected grapes. An uber ripe Riesling with enough vibrant acidity can age for many years in the bottle developing notes of honey, smoke and that classic petrol smell.  

Our shelves at Bishop’s Cellar have a great selection of Rieslings, made in a variety of styles and expressions. Browse through them here and take one home this week!


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