This blog almost feels like an antidote to the previous one on Chardonnay – in that I wanted to look at a grape which has all the qualities of one of the world’s greatest white wines, but has been poorly understood (until recently), falsely maligned and unfairly targeted.
To try and put this into context, if you asked a cross section of wine professionals in the UK trade what their favourite white grape is a good proportion would say “Riesling” (pronounced Rees-ling by the way). One of several reasons for this is its amazing presence in the glass, its incredible vitality and versatility, and that it can be enjoyed in every style from dry, off-dry, medium dry to lusciously sweet.
And it is a grape for the modern day – always crisp, clean and very aromatic and fruity, uncluttered by any oak and always low(er) in alcohol. Such is its resurgence that many younger wine drinkers are making it their number 1 white wine choice. By let’s please start by slaying a few myths about its image.
I am amazed how many people still refer to the 1970s and the rather cheap and cheerless bulk medium dry German wines which populated the trade at the time, mainly under the “brand” name Liebfraumilch. The most famous of these brands at the time was Blue Nun – please see the lovely retro advert below!
What is unfair though is to a) write off all German wine because of the wine of that era and b) castigate Riesling when this noble grape was never ever used in those wines in the first place. And finally – sorry blog rant nearly over – the tall narrow shouldered bottle (called a Flute bottle in the trade) is also not synonymous with ordinary quality wine just because of the shape of the bottle.
Spoiler Alert! Liebfraumilch never ever had any Riesling in it – ever
Riesling is though Germany’s most famous and best grape and all its finest white wines are made from this variety – and in all styles these days. As well as the traditional off to medium dry styles you can also find these days much drier and very food friendly versions under the “Trocken” – meaning dry labelling. These wines work especially well with all Oriental and Asian cooking for example.
In general, wines from the Mosel are the most delicate and those from the Rhein river-based areas such as Rheingau, Pfalz and Nahe are slightly riper and more rounded. Riesling is also found – not unsurprisingly – in Austria where is makes a richer, very fruity and delicately spiced style. By contrast, Riesling is only found in one area in France – the Alsace in the north-east corner, on the German border. Historically this area has been owned/occupied by Germany so maybe no surprise that the grape has made its way there over the centuries. This warm, sheltered enclave makes quite robust styles of Riesling – never heavy – but textural and quite steely with a touch of spice.
And in all these countries and areas styles are from bone dry, to off-dry, medium dry and lusciously sweet which amplifies the fantastic flavours and panache that Riesling has. When it comes to the New World the one country that has adopted and championed Riesling to great effect and style is Australia, and especially so in South Australia regions of Eden and Clare Valleys. Here superb bone-dry citric styles are made with real personality and zest. So, what are the typical smells and flavours of a classic Riesling?
Two fruit types dominate Riesling – citric and stone fruits. In addition, it is very aromatic with additional notes of flowers, slatey mineral notes and as it ages a kerosene quasi petrol note! Sweeter styles also develop the most remarkable honey and ginger notes with bottle age.
Ideal food matches – especially with the drier styles – include oily fish such as salmon, sea trout and mackerel; also smoked examples. Also, the perfect match with dressed crab, with lime, coriander, and a hint of chilli. Also, any white meat, fish or vegetable based Asian dishes, including ones with some chilli heat. The sweeter Riesling styles work brilliantly with any fruit-based desserts, pastries, and crumbles.
Wine Trust has a plethora of Rieslings and styles to choose from – here are a few of the many highlights:
Lawson’s Dry Hills Marlborough New Zealand
Really lovely steely and crisply citric, off dry style with weight and texture – perfect with Asian cuisine
Rolly Gassmann Alsace France
A ripe and slightly richer style with honey, stone fruit and spice notes – would even work with a pâté starter
Grosset Polish Hills Clare Valley Australia
Bone dry, steely and very citric – considered by many to be the greatest New World dry Riesling of all – perfect with your oily fish
And to finish with one of the most spectacular dessert wines in the world – made from desiccated, late harvested grapes (please see the amazing picture) – perfect with any fruit-based dessert – superb balance between sweetness and freshness which you really only get from Riesling
Mount Horrocks Cordon Cut Clare Valley Australia
NA FGWS 2020 08