Riesling is a bit like Marmite – you either love it or hate it. Most of us in the wine business love Riesling, indeed many of us would class it as one of our favourite grapes, right up there with Pinot Noir.
Ask most consumers to list their favourite grapes, however and it is pretty unusual for Riesling to feature at all.
Personally I love Riesling, I find it a grape that I can get passionate about. What is more I seem to like all styles of Riesling, whether steely dry, off-dry, medium-dry or richly sweet – all can be wonderful in their place and make refreshing Summer wines.
Why do I love it so much? I think because it is such a fragile and nervy grape with inherently delicate flavours that do not mask the minerality, or the terroir nearly as much as most other varieties. Therefore the winemaking involved is usually minimal with no oak used – so, perhaps more than any other grape Riesling is expressing the site on which the grapes are grown. Which can be very exciting as it makes quite small variations seem vivid and clear.
I believe that Riesling can make the most restrained and elegant dry white wines in the world and that they can partner a wide array of food styles from spicy to classic as well as making great aperitifs.
The grape has a long history with written references going back to the 15th century. It was long thought to have begun life as a wild vine in the Rhine Valley, possibly in Roman times, but we now know that it is yet another of the many grapes that has Gouais Blanc as one of its parents. The other being a cross between an unknown grape and Traminer, which must be why it can be quite a perfumed and aromatic variety.
Riesling is a grape that many people profess not to love, but that is often for reasons that do not withstand examination.
When they start out many of my students assume that all Riesling is sweet and that Riesling and Liebfraumilch, Piesporter et al are the same thing.
In truth very little Riesling is sweet – it is true that some is not bone dry, but that is a very different thing.
I freely own up to liking wines that are not bone dry, or are off-dry – a little residual sugar (sugar left after fermentation) can bring balance and pleasure to a wine that would otherwise consist of rampant acidity. After all this is what they do with Champagne to make it pleasurable, they add sugar to balance the acidity.
Also Liebfraumilch, as well as wines such as Piesporter, is usually made from a grape called Müller-Thurgau, which is often, but not always, pretty dull.
Riesling usually has high acidity, I like acidity though, I need acidity from a white wine for balance. I enjoy that feeling of crispness and a clean finish that acidity brings to a wine – it can also make the wine very refreshing which I enjoy too. I always think that people who like great Chablis or Loire Sauvignon Blanc should like dry Riesling, because of the acidity.
Just like in a Chablis or fine Loire Sauvignon I also enjoy the tight, lean mineral quality that good Riesling has.
It would be great if everyone who reads this, who is not a Riesling fan already, goes out, tastes a Riesling and rethinks their relationship to this wonderful and beguiling grape.
Recently I presented a very well received tasting of Rieslings from around the world and they really gave a great illustration of what lovely wines this grape can produce in very different settings. It always needs a cool climate, but of course there are relatively cool climates – like South Australia and absolute cool climates – like Germany or New York State:
Dönhoff is one of the great estates of the Nahe and the class really showed with this lovely wine.
The aromas were soft and richly fruity with peach and cream notes.
The palate was soft and round with a gentle fruity sweetness making it seem easy and fun, but all the time there was a nagging awareness of much more lurking beneath. Nice rich peachy fruit, mineral notes and a long balanced finish.
Everything was in lovely balance making it absurdly easy to drink – 90/100 points
Prüm is quite simply one of the greatest producers of Rieslings from some of the best and most famous vineyards in the Mosel. The steep south facing schist slopes really do produce startlingly good wines, by capturing all the sun available to them.
The nose was enticing, floral and apples with a rocky minerality shining through.
The palate was taut and tense with dessert apples, mingling with more acidic green apples, slate and honey. It was clean and fresh and offered just a touch of sweetness to round out the refreshing acidity.
A glorious wine to drink on a sun-drenched terrace – 92/100 points
Wehlen by the way is one of the great wine villages of the world and on the route of the new Mosel Bridge, one of the worst examples of cultural barbarism. A huge, and admittedly stunning, modern bridge will be built across the Mosel River at its most beautiful and iconic spot ripping through some of the greatest vineyards in the world and spoiling this amazing view for ever – join the campaign against this bizarre act: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=164781313243
Trimbach is one of the grand old wine houses of Alscae with a history going back to 1626. They grow all the Alsace grapes, but I think of them as Riesling specialists as they produce two of the finest examples. This is their standard wine and it is a humdinger.
The nose was quite mineral and green with a generosity of fruit that leant towards the white peach with some little wafts of citrus too.
The palate was tight and bone dry with ripe white peach, lighter citrus and a long clean finish.
A lovely wine to go with fish – 90/100 points
£9.99 a bottle from Majestic
The nose was rich and stony and mineral as well as fragrant.
The palate was quite full and concentrated with a rich mineral character and lees character adding to the texture and complexity. It was bone dry and really lovely with some good citrus and appley fruit – much richer and more full than most people imagine Riesling to be.
Would be superb with a wide array of cheeses as well as a nice trout – 90/100 points.
£9.99 a bottle from Majestic
The nose was lifted and fragrant with lime, mandarin and grapefruit notes.
The palate was fresh, clean and dry with lovely ripe citrus and grassy characters as well as a pure seam of minerality and fresh acidity. Again it was long.
Not outclassed at all by the other more aristocratic examples and carries its high alcohol very well – I would love this with a Thai meal – 90/100 points
£9.99 a bottle from Majestic
2006 Torzi Matthews The Frost Dodger Riesling
The Barossa’s cooler neighbour, the Eden Valley produces some wonderful Australian Rieslings and this example from artisan winemakers Domenic Torzi and Tracy Matthews is made from seriously old vines.
An amazing wine with lime drenched aromas and palate as well as richer pithy citrus characters together with clean minerality and some developed petrol-like notes and one of the longest finishes I have ever experienced.
A great aperitif, or perfect with Pacific Rim cuisine – 91/100 points
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There was a clear relationship between the dry examples above, as the wines were all tight & poised with crisp citrus and appley acidity, stoney minerality & delicate fruit.
Recently I was able to extend my experience of Luxembourg wines with a tasting of five different Rieslings from the Grand Duchy and these seem very different, they all felt much softer and supple with less emphasis on acidity and more on richness, succulence even:
The nose offered apples and dried citrus fruits.
The palate was quite rounded for a Riesling with medium acidity and a soft apple-like character.
A very enjoyable straightforward and enjoyable dry Riesling – 87/100 points
More classic with some minerality as well as sweet apple aromas.
The palate was quite concentrated with some stone-like minerality and very soft ripe fruit.
Again a very agreeable general purpose dry Riesling – 87/100 points
The nose was very fresh with steely mineral, apple and peach notes.
The palate was pretty fleshy with white peach and cooked apple laced with a touch of pepper and a twist of softish acidity on the finish.
A very soft easy drinking style of dry Riesling – 88/100 points
A very vibrant nose with piercing aromatics, mineral notes, stoney fruit balanced by soft apple.
The palate was fleshy and even creamy and succulent – like a custard apple or cherimoya. It was very clean and lively with good, fresh acidity and a little flourish of spicy white pepper on the long finish.
A good, classic Riesling with lots of acidity and quite a rich body – 90/100 points
The nose was stony and intense with apple notes and pastry nuances as well as some floral notes and delicate spice.
The palate had a core of fresh, crisp acidity encased in a fleshy, fruity peach-like shell with apple and pear notes. The finish was stony and ever so slightly creamy and leesy with some clean minerality too.
A good, long, quite full-bodied dry Riesling – 90/100 points
I decanted the last two wines and kept them open for three days, going back to them from time to time to retaste – they kept opening up and getting better.
In addition to these wines I have also recently tasted some excellent Rieslings from New York’s Finger Lakes region, California, South Africa, New Zealand and even Israel. I believe that Riesling really is a grape that can appeal to many drinkers who want elegant, subtle, sophisticated and classy dry or off-dry white wine that you can enjoy with many different foods.
Riesling can be used to create such an amazing array of different wines – there really is a Riesling for everyone from slightly sweet to bone dry with rapier-like acidity and dry with generous soft fruit and real richness.
Let us know about your Riesling experiences?