WSET® 2 Reading, Chapter 12: Riesling (Class Notes)

  • Riesling has a pronounced fruity, varietal character which is expressed in its wines wherever the grapes are grown, and whatever style (dry, medium, sweet) is made. However, different soil types and different ripeness levels emphasize the different aspects of this varietal character. Riesling has the ability, like Chardonnay, to express the nuances of individual vineyard sites and therefore it is common (especially in Germany, Alsace, and Austria) for producers to bottle their wines with the name of the vineyard on the label.


  • Color: In cooler climates, green fruit (green apple, grape) and citrus (lemon, lime). In moderate regions, stone fruit (white peach) and citrus. In sunny, dry, conditions, late-harvested Riesling, stone fruit and tropical fruit (peach, apricot, pineapple, mango). 
  • Fruit: Intense fruit.
  • Non-fruit: Floral (versus herbaceous like SB). Rieslings aged in bottle can develop honey and toast flavours. Smoky petrol-like aromas sometimes appear in old Riesling wines.
  • Aromatics: Aromatic.
  • Acid: High acid.
  • Oak: New oak is almost never used.
  • Climate: In cool climates, if the fruit is harvested when rope (rather than over-ripe), the wines have green fruit flavours (green apple, grape) with floral notes and sometimes a hint of citrus (lemon, lime). In moderate regions, stone fruit and citrus notes become dominant, and some wines van smell very strongly of fresh lime or white peach. These late-harvest styles can be dry, medium, or sweet in style. Riesling is very susceptible to noble rot, which concentrates sugars and acidity and makes this grape ideal for lusciously sweet wines.
  • Ageability: High acid and intense fruit help many Riesling wines age in the bottle, where they develop flavours of honey and toast. 
  • Note: As a variety that slowly builds up sugar and retains its acidity well, Riesling is suitable for late-harvesting in regions where there are stable, dry, sunny autumn conditions. 


  • Germany
    • Germany is the home of Riesling, producing wines in a wide range of styles. Basic Rieslings will be classified as Qualitätswein. These are usually light-bodied, dry, fruity, and refreshing. This category includes many of Germany’s best Rieslings.
    • In addition, there is a Prädikatswein category, in which wines are categorised according to the sugar levels in the grapes. These vary in style according to their particular Prädikat.
    • Kabinett Rieslings are light in body, with high acid and green fruit notes (apple, grape). They usually have medium sweetness and light alcohol, although they can be dry with medium alcohol.
    • Compared with Kabinett wines, Spätlese (late-harvest) Rieslings have a bit more body, with notes of citrus (lemon) and exotic fruit (pineapple).
    • Auslese Rieslings have even more body and exotic fruit notes (pineapple, mango). This is the highest category to appear as a dry wine, although most Riesling Auslese wines are either medium or sweet.
    • Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese Rieslings are sweet wines made from noble rot affected grapes.
    • Eiswein is a sweet wine made from frozen grapes.
    • The region of Mosel produces Germany’s lighest-bodied Rieslings. The Kabinett and Spätlese wines are almost always made with medium sweetness balanced by high acid. The most prestigious vineyards are on very steep slopes surrounding the villages of Piesport and Bernkastel.
    • Rheingau is a smaller region. Its Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese Riesling wines are usually drier in style and medium body.
    • Pfalz is a large, southerly region that lies close to Alsace. The Riesling wines from vineyards around Forst and Diedesheim are generally off-dry and medium-bodied. The region with the largest area under vines in Germany is the Rheinhessen, located to the north of Pfalz. Historically, the best vineyards are located on the west bank of the Rhine and produce some of the fullest-bodied Germany Rieslings. Today, quality wines come from a variety of sites.
  • France
  • Austria
  • Australia
  • New Zealand


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