How long can Riesling age? Some Rieslings, it seems, can age almost indefinitely. It is possible to taste German Rieslings from the 1940s and 1950s that are still in fine fettle and, curiously, these are not always wines from the best vintages. Sometimes the high acidity levels that go hand-in-hand with cooler vintages have helped to preserve the wines into old age.
How long can Riesling age?
The question of aging Riesling is tied up with that of acidity. The acidity of many German Rieslings (in particular those of the cooler regions like the Saar) makes them taste lean and ungenerous in extreme youth. Taste them at this stage and you may well decide that Riesling is not for you. It is impossible to emphasize too strongly that good Rieslings should have bottle age: four to five years for a Kabinett, five to seven for a Spätlese, six to 10 for an Auslese, and 10 years plus for Beerenauslesen, Trockenbeerenauslesen and Eisweine. Simple QbA wines can be drunk a year or two after the vintage.
Dry (trocken) German Rieslings have a slightly different aging profile. They don’t last as long as Rieslings with residual sugar, and become drinkable a little earlier.
Alsace Rieslings similarly need age – three or four years for simple AC wines, four or five years or more for Grands Crus, and at least five – ideally 10 or more – for Vendange Tardive wines. Austrian Rieslings are drunk young in Austria, though the best wines of the Wachau can improve for six or eight years. Top Australian Rieslings from the Clare or Eden Valleys will improve for perhaps 10 years, and last for 20.
The taste of Riesling
The adjectives that can be used to describe the flavour of this grape are as varied as the terroirs in which it grows. Slate soil gives it a characteristic smoky tang; in other soils it may taste minerally, steely, tarry, earthy, flowery or slightly spicy. Peaches and green apples are common descriptors; quince is also found, as is honey and citrus peel. Riper wines may taste of apricot or even pineapple. Australian Riesling often tastes of ripe limes and toast. Aged Riesling may acquire a characteristic smell of petrol or kerosene; this may not sound appetizing but is delicious. Look also for honey and marzipan and uncooked buttery shortbread, and buttered toast.
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Good German Spätlese Rieslings have the acidity to counteract the richness of, say, goose or duck, but the endless permutations of sweetness, dryness and weight in German wines mean that you do have to think out your food and wine combinations rather carefully.
For example, a well-aged Mosel Kabinett or Spätlese will be perfect with trout, or with smoked fish pâté.
The Rheingau Halbtrocken equivalent will be good with fish in creamy sauces, though a traditionally sweet Rheingau Spätlese may well be too sweet for most dishes. But only the weightiest Auslesen and upwards should be attempted with desserts, and then only with desserts that are not oversweet. An Auslese from the Mosel will be too light for almost all desserts, and will be best drunk on its own.
Alsace Rieslings are far more food-friendly, and will partner everything from onion tart to spicy chicken dishes – and both Alsace and Australian Rieslings are perfect with Chinese and Thai food. Any dry Riesling with crisp apple or lime acidity will be a good match for salads.