Riesling, Rocks, and Magic: The Effects of Soil on Aroma

Vinted on October 29, 2009 binned in german wine, wine books

At this point, most anyone who has listened to me speak (or read my blog posts) about Riesling for more than six seconds is (painfully) aware of my love-affair with the noble wine grape, I consider it probably the greatest white wine variety due to its uncanny ability to retain a signature while also elegantly translating a sense of place as purely as the best red wine grapes, blah blah blah…

Truth be told, even I’m getting sick of hearing about how great I think Riesling is.

Having said that… I cannot resist the temptation to relay some interesting facts about how Riesling is able to translate a sense of place so well.

You see, I’ve been sitting on a book (well, not literally sitting on it, just waiting to read it… ah, forget it…) that I received as a sample from the Wines of Germany folks during my trip to German wine country earlier this year.  The book is a bit of a sleeper – it’s dry reading, oscillates wildly between wine-geek information on Riesling, producer profiles, and beginner’s guide takes on how to enjoy Riesling wine.  It’s also translated a bit awkwardly from the German, which means the English version reads with an odd cadence and uses the word “indeed” multiple times in the same sentence – as in

Indeed, what I am about to write in this sentence is indeed going to reinforce what was stated in the sentence prior to this one!”

No surprise then that this book isn’t exactly lighting up the Amazon.com sales rank charts (currently, it’s at number 2,832,386).

But, that doesn’t stop the book, titled simply Riesling, by Chrstina Fischer and Ingo Swoboda, from delivering a masterstroke of Riesling wine appreciation.  At least, it did for me. (Indeed) Chapter three of Riesling is (indeed) so freakin’ awesome that I’m going to summarize a large section of it, because it provides what might be the most eloquent overview of the link between Riesling wine aromas and soil types that I’ve ever seen.

(Indeed) It’s like the f—king Rosetta Stone for translating Riesling soil types!

And that is enough to get any Riesling wine geek’s mouth watering (Indeed!)…

I don’t know where/when/how Swoboda and Fischer performed the research to draw their conclusions on how soil types link up to the aromas found in Riesling wines, but from my experience the conclusions found in Riesling are spot-on (at least when it comes to classic examples of the wine from Germany’ and Alsace).

Without further ado – here’s your Riesling to Soil translation table:

Soil Aroma
Blue Slate Green Apple
Red Shale Hayseed / Herbal
Sandstone Apricot
Muschelkalk Mango
Porphyry / Volcanic Minerals
Gneiss / Granite
(Primitive Rocks)
Quince / Smoke
Loess-Loem Grapefruit
(Claey Marl)

As for why those particular soil types impart those particular aromas in the finished wine – well, you’ll have to read Riesling to get that info. (as far as I’m aware, copyright laws still pertain despite liberal misuse of the word “Indeed”).

Cheers (indeed)!

(images: amazon.com)





  • Evan Dawson

    Fascinating stuff, Dude. Makes me want to make a purchase and see if I can lift that book out of the Amazon stratosphere.

    But I admit the science of it also interests me, and on the surface I have a hard time buying it. But empirically, it seems they're on to something, given your experience. I just guess I'd love to know why…

    Cheers, cool read.

    • 1WineDude

      They do actually get into it a bit, but not nearly enough on the scientific level. In any case, I'm going on the safe side and assuming that I can't reprint that portion. :-)


  • vinogirl

    In 'Uncorked' Hugh Johnson waxes lyrical many a time on the virtues of Riesling…so you are in great company: drink on my good man.
    In my college soils class, we concentrated on nutrient availability and mobility as required by the grape vine (I am a viticulture major after all), so one has to buy into the concept of terroir to fully grasp the consequences of different soil types. I think that the farming process is as equally as important as a soil type for finished flavours in the wine (e.g. the banishment of methoxypyrazines due to canopy management.)

  • 1WineDude

    Well, I should ring up Hugh and see if he wants to share a drink sometime… ;-)

    Interestingly, the book does go into some more detail on aromas/flavors imparted by Riesling in different climates, and those added during winemaking.

  • @winowithouta

    Cool Post INDEED!
    It's seems rather likely that different soil types and subtle subjective differences in biological and geological compounds could effect different flavor profiles along with the myriad other exogenous factors that go into wine making. I am just not smart enough to understand all the science behind it all.
    Therefore I shall drink and enjoy my Riesling in ignorance.


    • 1WineDude

      Well, you sure sound smart to me (indeed).

  • @kenmoorhead

    Awesome post! I love getting into the nerdy aspects… that table you compiled is a fantastic little cheat sheet.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks. Welcome to the ranks of wine geekiness!

    • 1WineDude

      One thing your comment has just made me consider is the reverse-lookup geekiness potential of the table.

      For example, if you get hints of apricot in a German Riesling, you can wax poetic about how the vineyard site is probably situated on variegated sandstone…

  • Rich

    Interesting! I am also a wine lover although I am not an expert yet. I am beginner and I knew I have a lot things to be learned about wine. I guess this book will be a big help for me. Thanks for the link and info. I would really consider buying it soon. Thanks again.

  • 1WineDude

    You're not 'missing' anything, my man. If your tastes tend towards wines that are bigger, or fleshier, or 'heftier', then Riesling probably isn't you bag at this time. And there is ZERO wrong with that.

    I was one of those people for whom Riesling just kept getting better and more exciting over the years. There are probably others on an opposite trajectory. No right answers – only right answers for you!

    Of course – I'm totally open to people arguing against the above and telling me I'm a doofus and that there really is a hierarchy of greatness when it comes to white wine grapes…


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