Viticulture’s Importance in the Middle Ages: Vine varieties

Appears in
Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

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Workaday wine was made everywhere from the elbling grape, by far the commonest medieval variety, with räuschling widely planted in Baden. silvaner, which arrived in Franconia only in 1659, was extensively grown, but rarely as a high-quality grape in its own right; until the 20th century, it was generally planted together with Traminer and Riesling (see gemischter satz). Of the better grapes, muscat (red and white) was grown on the Rhine and in Alsace, traminer chiefly in the latter. riesling is first documented at Rüsselsheim on the River Main just east of the modern Rheingau in 1435, though a century earlier a vineyard in Kinzheim in Alsace was known as ‘zu dem Russelinge’. The variant orthography of these early references, however, makes it difficult to determine whether the Riesling or the Räuschling grape is meant. There is every likelihood that Riesling had been established and recognized as a high-quality grape much earlier than the sources suggest, for in 1477 Duke René of Lorraine, in praising the red and white wines of Alsace, mentioned in particular its Riesling.