Is Riesling a Wine or a Grape? Why the Petrol Aromas?

14th January 2021

What exactly is Riesling Reece Ling

For those who are quite new to wine or simply enjoy a drop of plonk (as our dear Keith Floyd used to refer to it as) without paying too much attention to what you are drinking, then maybe you might question Riesling being a wine or a grape. Some will see Riesling as simply meaning a German wine or a place in Germany, I have heard people think the word is the name of the producer and some consider it to mean the style of wine in that it is sweeter.

So what is Riesling?

Hopefully, this is not where you will stop reading, but I need to declare now that Riesling is a grape. Here are some facts about Riesling:

  • White (green) grape variety
  • Used in the making mostly of still white wines and also sparkling
  • Commonly grown in Germany and France (Alsace)
  • It is stated as being an aromatic grape (floral aroma)
  • It’s history dates back to the early 15th century
  • It originated in the Rhine region
  • It is a cooler climate grape though can be grown with care in warmer climates

How do I pronounce the word Riesling?


What does a Riesling wine taste like?

As I write this my mouth is watering thinking about all the great Riesling wines I have enjoyed and that unmistakable character it holds. Of course, the end result in your glass can vary due to the winemaker, the style, the age, the region, the country and where the Riesling wine originates from, though in most occasions it will be highly recognisable from aromas and flavours such as:

  • Aromas – Floral, peach, green fruits, jasmine/honeysuckle/honey, gasoline/petrol.
  • Flavours – Green fruits, lime, floral, honeysuckle, tropical fruits, peach, apricot


Why does Riesling smell like petrol?

Many people will gather aromas and a taste of ‘petrol’ from a Riesling wine – Do not fear that your wine tasting skills are poor as I get this also as do many other wine connoisseurs. It is not a fault, neither does it mean that additional chemicals have been added to the wine – Petrol aromas from Riesling is due to a natural cause of the compound 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene (TDN) that comes about from the wine juice ageing process.

Are all Riesling wines sweet?

Typically a Riesling wine will share the characters of the grape in that it gives a sweeter expression of floral and complex fruits. There are though different ‘sweetness’ styles to suit many palates. The styles include:

  • Dry
  • Medium Dry
  • Medium Sweet
  • Sweet

Riesling – Sparkling Wines:

The Riesling grape is used in the making of many sparkling wines. Mostly these originate from Germany (Sekt) and in France via the Alsace region (Crémant). The grape can also be seen used in other parts of the old world and new world wine regions. Wines can be 100% Riesling or have a percentage of Riesling added to the blend. Still and sparkling wines are also grown and produced in the following countries: Luxembourg, Austria, Slovakia, Slovenia, Croatia, Italy, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, United States and Canada.

Sparkling Wines made from Riesling are always a refreshing and fun tasting experience. The great fight in the palate between the vibrant floral and fruit flavours against the striking acidity makes for an exciting glass of bubbly. Certainly Germany with their Sekt leads the way, but other countries are coming up with fine examples.Christopher Walkey

Is Riesling a Wine or a Grape

Is Riesling a Wine or a Grape?


Award winning Riesling sparkling wines:

The proof is in the pudding, or should I say the bottle, so with this in mind I wanted to take a look at some sparkling wines that contain Riesling to see what the tasting experience is like and to tell you a little more about the wineries they originate from.


Ca’ d’Or – Blanc de Blancs Millesimato – Italy: (90% Riesling Italico & 10% Riesling Renano)

Ca d Or Blanc de Blancs Millesimato

Ca’ d’Or Blanc de Blancs Millesimato


Tasting notes: “Fruity and zesty aromas with both yellow and green fruits expressed. Flavours show a good acidity with fresh green fruits, plenty of zestiness (lemon) and a touch of honeysuckle/pastry at the close. Young and fresh in style.

The brand Ca’ D’or is Italian with a range of Franciacorta and spumante sparkling wines. Franciacorta is this main focus and what they are famous for, though hold many medals for their wines and export globally. Their winery can be found in the village of Timoline di Cortefranca and just a very short drive away from the regions’ famous Lake Iseo.


Spielberg – Brut 2013 – Czech Republic: (Riesling & Pinot Blanc)

Crémant de Spielberg Brut 2013

Crémant de Spielberg Brut 2013


Tasting notes: “Soft creamy apricot and green fruits on the nose. Drier flavours with a good crispness from yellow fruits and a dash of lemon zest at the close.

Spielberg winery is located in the Czech Republic with the nearest main town being Brna and a short drive away from the borders of Austria and Slovakia.

They produce a small selection of traditional champenoise method sparkling wines with Riesling and Riesling and Pinot Blanc blends. Wines are left on lees for 48 months allowing them to acquire very fine and long-lasting elegant notes of butter brioche with an undertone of ripe apples.


Motzenbäcker – Riesling Brut 2015 – Germany: (100% Riesling)

Motzenbacker Riesling Brut 2015

Motzenbäcker Riesling Brut 2015


Tasting notes: “Touch of petroleum, green oaky, citrus, floral notes on the nose. Good acidity and zestiness initially then calms down to show dry green fruits, more petroleum with a mouth watering fresh citrus close.

Motzenbäcker is a famous German winery known for its splendid selection of sparkling wines (sekt) expressing all that is great about German fizz. Located south of Frankfurt and just a 45 minute drive from the French border, led by a lady winemaker and owner Marie Menger-Krug.

Christopher Walkey

Christopher Walkey

Co-founder of Glass of Bubbly. Journalist and author focused on Champagne & Sparkling Wines and pairing them with foods.