The first thing one must do when dealing with this particular grape is to sort through the various synonyms it is planted under. These synonyms fall into three broad categories:
1) The Welschriesling group. This group consists of the names Welschriesling (as it is known in Austria, Canada, parts of Germany and Switzerland), Wälschriesling (Germany), Laški Rizling (Slovenia, Croatia and parts of Serbia), Rizling Vlašský (Slovakia), or Ryzlink Vlašský (Czech Republic). In this group, Welsch, Wälsch, Laški and Vlašský all come from the same root word, but it isn't totally clear what that root word might be. The most likely explanation is that they come from the German word welsch which means "foreigner," and that the name of the grape therefore means something like "foreign Riesling," meaning that it probably came into Germany or Austria from abroad. Why and how the grape came to be identified with Riesling is unclear since Welschriesling bears no genetic, ampelographic or vinous relationship or similarity to Riesling. It has also been suggested that the Welsch- prefix means "from Wallachia," which is a wine-making region in Romania. This would be a possibility except for one thing...
2) In Romania, the grape is known as Italian Riesling, and variations on this name are found in a handful of other countries as well. In northeastern Italy, it is known as Riesling Italico and the Hungarian name Olaszrizling simply translates as "Italian Riesling." The grape was introduced into Italy in the 19th Century, but it has been grown elsewhere for longer than that. Since it is known as Italian Riesling in Romania, it seems reasonable to assume that the grape came into Romania from Italy, which would have had to have happened in the 19th Century or later. Given that the grape was known as Welschriesling before this time, it seems unlikely that the grape originated in Wallachia in Romania.
3) In Croatia, the grape is known as Graševina, or sometimes Graševina Bijela. I don't read or speak Croatian, but when I enter the word Graševina into Google translate, it is translated into the word "Riesling," which is really interesting (Bijela just means "white"). If Graševina translates as Riesling, then it would make sense for Germans to refer to it as "foreign Riesling" to differentiate it from their Riesling. Furthermore, Graševina is the most widely planted grape in Croatia, with over 21,000 acres devoted to the grape as of 2009. Wine Grapes concludes from all of this that Welschriesling likely originated from Croatia, and the evidence seems fairly convincing to me.
Welschriesling is shockingly widely planted throughout central Europe, but wines made from it are still difficult to find in the US. As mentioned above, it is Croatia's most widely planted grape, but it is also the most widely planted white grape of Hungary as well, accounting for just over 12,000 acres in 2008. It is the second most widely planted grape in Austria (behind Grüner Veltliner) with nearly 9,000 acres under vine, which is almost twice the amount of regular Riesling grown in that country. There are over 17,000 acres planted to the grape in Romania, 7,700 acres in Slovakia, 6,000 acres in Slovenia, 5,000 acres in Italy, and 3,000 acres in the Czech Republic. Somewhat surprsingly, a grape called Borba in Spain is genetically identical to Welschriesling, but there is only about 20 acres planted there.
Welschriesling is made into a wide range of styles, but the two most common are dry table wines and late harvest/botrytized sweet wines. I was able to try a variety of wines made from the grape from several different areas and in different styles. The first wine was the 2011 Gere Attila Pincészete Olaszrizling from the Villány region of Hungary (area 15 in red on this map). I picked this wine up from my friends at Blue Danube Wine for around $13. In the glass the wine was a fairly pale silvery lemon color. The nose was fairly intense with aromas of apricot, pink grapefruit, pear and orange peel. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with medium acidity. There were flavors of lemon peel, lemon water and pear. It was mild, delicate and subtle, but finished with a really strong, clean mineral note. It was light and fresh and just the kind of thing that I would reach for on a screaming hot summer's day. It's not going to blow your mind, but it does have its subtle charms.
The second Vino z Czech Welschriesling was the 2011 Galant, also from Moravia, which retails for around $27 per bottle (about $24 with the case discount through their online retailer). You do have to really read the back labels with these wines since all of them look very similar to one another. Vino z Czech is a kind of umbrella brand that these guys are using, but all of the wines that they put out are from individual producers. Spielberg and Galant are two of the producers that they are working with, and the producer information is usually found on the foil cap and the back labels of these wines. In the glass, this wine was a medium lemon gold color. The nose was fairly intense with aromas of white pear, orange peel, pineapple, Meyer lemon and cantaloupe. On the palate the wine was medium bodied with fairly high acidity. It was dry with flavors of white pear, lemon water, golden apple and river stones. Like the Hungarian wine above, this wine was subtle and delicate. My tasting note calls it "a light, lean wine with quiet citrus and white fruit wrapped around a clean, subtle mineral core." It wasn't as sharp and austere as its fellow countryman, but was still bright and zippy. It is just a lovely little wine that's shy and a little flirty at the same time.
The final wine that I tried was the 2006 Kracher Beerenauslese from the Burgenland region of Austria. This wine is made from 70% Welschriesling and 30% Chardonnay grapes that have been botrytized, and it cost about $25 for a half bottle (from my friends at the Spirited Gourmet). In the glasss the wine was a medium bronze gold color. The nose was intensely aromatic with beautiful aromas of honey, orange marmalade, pineapple, grapefruit, and mango. On the palate the wine was on the fuller side of medium with fairly high acidity. It was very sweet with flavors of honey, candied pineapple, grapefruit curd, and orange marmalade. It had a curious bitter citrus pith kind of finish that was a bit unpleasant and unwelcome. It's a very good wine, but it really wasn't anything exceptionally exciting, though it is a decent value. Welschriesling isn't much of a blockbuster grape and I found that I enjoyed its subtle delicacy more in dry table wine form than in this more concentrated style. It felt a little bit like if the cute librarian you had a crush on showed up one day in a leather mini skirt and a tube top. She's still a lovely woman, but she doesn't strike your fancy in quite the same way.