Significance of factors making Riesling an iconic grape variety

Riesling is the iconic grape variety of Germany and accounts for 23% of the German viticulture acreage, which comprises 45% of the worldwide Riesling plantings. Riesling wines offer a wide array of styles from crisp sparkling wines to highly concentrated and sweet Trockenbeerenauslese or Icewines. However, its thin berry skin makes Riesling more vulnerable to detrimental environmental threats than other white wine varieties.  

Trying to adapt Riesling to climate change we investigate how to mitigate premature Botrytis infections, the loss of quality and yield due to sunburn or increasing levels of TDN, which causes the unique petrol off-flavor. Weather variation from year to year necessitates an active acidity management, either diminishing acidity by skin maceration or use of lactic acid bacteria but also more recently lowering pH by ion exchange resins or malic acid producing yeast. A strong focus is to enhance intensity and diversity of Riesling aroma by viticultural and oenological measures, which are controlled by sophisticated chemical analysis including a measure of odorless precursors. 

Riesling is a highly transparent variety in respect to terroir, deviating strongly in odor and taste due to different bed rocks and soil types, micro climates and inclination of individual vineyards. Applying comprehensive stable isotope dilution analysis of volatiles and sensory evaluation we could demonstrate not only the sensory relevance of terroir, but also how stable these patterns were over five vintages and even individual winemaking measures. Using next generation gen- sequencing techniques to study spontaneous fermentations, we could also reveal the significant impact of site specific microbiomes. 

Riesling wines are highly acclaimed for their longevity due to their exciting balance of acidity and sweetness. Re-tasting terroir defined Riesling wines again after four years revealed the expected modification in sensory terms due to aging, but prove that the general differences among the specific terroir expressions were conserved through the maturation process.

Many of these scientific puzzle pieces were successfully implemented by the Riesling producers over the last two decades and they succeeded to improve Riesling wines in each of its multitude of stylistic facets. However, it will be a challenge to preserve their unique and diverse characters in the course of progressive climate change.

Author: Ulrich Fischer1*

1Institute for Viticulture and Oenology, DLR Rheinpfalz, Breitenweg 71, 67435 Neustadt, Germany

*corresponding author: ulrich.fischer@dlr.rlp.de

Keywords : Riesling, aroma compounds and precursors, sensory evaluation, terroir, acidity management, ageing of wine

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