Possibly the greatest and certainly the most diverse and versatile of all the light-skinned varietals. Grown throughout the world in cooler climates, most notably Germany where it has been the undisputed king in terms of quality for over 300 years. Riesling buds late, ripens (relatively) early and can cope well with harsh winters. Her greatest attribute is the sum total of incredibly ripe fruit flavors, floral aromatics, bracing acidity and a well-defined expression of the terroir in which it is grown. No other varietal can match this, all the while creating versions that range from painfully dry and acidic to sublimely rich and sweet. Dry versions often are described as having a blend of minerals, flowers, peaches and lime zest. Sweet versions can be honeyed, floral, unctuous and dripping with ripe stone fruits. Riesling also has great longevity, with both sweet and dry versions improving in bottle for decades.
Germany has made Riesling famous and vice versa. Revered around the turn of the 20th century, the 1960s and '70s saw an increase in residual sugars and a drop in quality for the great German varietal as an attempt was made to corner more of the international market. Thankfully today less and less of this is available and quality levels are back to their former glory. Better examples of Rieslings from Germany carry a distinction of ripeness from Kabinett (most dry) through Spätlese and Auslese (more sweet) to the botrytised versions of Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese to Eiswein which is made from frozen grapes.
Great examples of Riesling can also be found in Austria in the Wachau, Kremstal and Kamptal regions, as well as Alsace in northeastern France. In the new world look to the cool climates of the Great Lakes and Finger Lakes areas of North America, as well as Washington and Ontario. Australia is now producing fine Rieslings as well in the cool Clare Valley region where the wines have a decided steeliness from the lime, minerals and heavy acidity therein.