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Happy birthday to Riesling…586 years young.

You probably don’t know but this Saturday the 13th of March is the 586th birthday of the Riesling Grape. Now how can a grape variety have a birth? I’m glad you asked.

For those that may not be aware Riesling is a white grape variety that can make a range of wines from dry to sweet. Probably most famous for making sickly sweet Liebfraumilch wines in the 1980s, under brands such as Blue Nun, which people still avoid today. It is common for me to introduce Riesling and for people to say they don’t like sweet wine, not realising that since the 1980s most Riesling has been bone dry.

Many of you will know that I a great fan of the Riesling grape, in fact, it is one of my two favourite wines along with Pinot Noir. I love it young and fresh but also aged when it takes on honeyed and sometimes kerosene properties. And Australia is home to some of the best dry Riesling in the world from the Clare Valley in South Australia.

So how can Riesling have a birthday? To understand that you need to understand grape vines and varieties. Grape vines are the plant structure that allows grape seeds, contained in the grape berries, to grow and reproduce. In fact, wine grape vines have evolved to be Hermaphroditic – simultaneously possessing the reproductive organs of both sexes…but more on that in another article.

So grape vines have been around for a long time with the purpose of growing and reproducing along with other life forms on this planet. Human beings cultivated the vines so that more of the growing effort went into the berry rather than the vine itself. Over time, the vines have become more contained or domesticated. At some point in history, the tamed Riesling vine as we know it today came into being, although we are not exactly sure when.

One of the earliest mentions of Riesling or Rießlingen  in the local German was from March 13, 1435, when the inventory of Count John IV of Katzenelnbogen lists “22 ß umb seczreben Rießlingen in die wingarten” i.e. “22 shillings for Riesling vine cuttings for the vineyard”. There are documents going back to as early as 1402 referring to “Rüssling” but it is not confirmed this was the Riesling grape they were referring too hence the 1435 dates is usually used as the “birthday of Reisling”.

Arguably the oldest continuous producer of wine in Germany, if not the world, is Schloss Vollrads from the Rheingau German wine region who has documented wine sales from 1211, which predates the birthday of Riesling by over 200 years. We are not sure if they were selling Riesling, but if they were, then Riesling is actually over 800 years old!

So regardless of its age on Saturday the 13th of March raise a glass of Riesling and celebrate one of the worlds oldest and best grape varieties. We have made it even easier to celebrate with our Riesling Retrospective looking at six aged Rieslings many taken from my personal cellar. This is a great opportunity to try older Riesling wines and please click on the link below for more information.

Please note that we also run corporate and personalised wine tastings and education in conjunction with our partnership with the Life’s Too Short Bar in East Melbourne. Please head to our website for more information or email me here.



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