This most noble of white wine grapes is said to be as unfashionable as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are fashionable, but it gives a very versatile performance on the ‘world wine stage’
Styles of Riesling Wines
So what do we look for in a good example of Riesling?
On the Eye: Pale straw of the lighter drier wines to golden honey hues of the denser sweeter wines.
On the Nose: Nearly always displays the aromas of fresh limes, more citrus for the dry wines moving to ‘sweetened lime juice’ across the spectrum. Soft ripe peaches with floral fragrances and fresh apples can also be present with a slight ‘whiff’ of petrol.
On the Palate: Peach, apple, spice and smoke growing with more intensity for sweeter wines which may also display hints of wild honey. Well balanced with acidity is paramount for success in every Riesling wine of quality.
The only fine wine grape variety that originated outside of France, Riesling can produce classic sweet wines and also crisp dry, fruity whites of immense quality. It is the King of German wine production and its only base in France is in the Alsace region where it produces delicious wines in typical Germanic style but with a strong French influence. Its neighbour Austria has held a long and lasting relationship with Riesling although not as popular as possibly should be.
In its ancestral home of Germany with its cool northerly climate, Riesling is very much at its best in this environment. The wines can vary so much, from the luscious sweet wines affected by ‘noble rot’ [Botrytis – a fungus that attacks the grape and in doing so, concentrates the juice] to the more elegant bone-dry wines of the modern style.
With improved methods of production and new countries enjoying success with this variety, Riesling on its own has all but shaken off its historical mantle of only being associated with Liebfraumilch, although Germany as a wine producing country still hasn’t yet achieved this important step to settle its future in quality wine production. It is still a sad but inescapable fact that Liebfraumilch will still sit alongside the finer style Riesling creations on the shelves in the same shaped brown and green glass bottles, thus taking away the importance of the difference in quality and style between them. Trial by association and more often than not, found guilty! The power of presentation has never been more appropriate than in this example.
New World Riesling
Other countries that are now experiencing growing success with Riesling include Australia. In fact there once was more Riesling produced here than Chardonnay, but because Riesling does not bond well with oak and is only suitable to the cooler climates of regions such as Clare Valley in southern Australia and western Australia’s Mount Barker, Chardonnay has taken over in terms of volume production, but not necessarily in relevant quality. The Australian style Riesling is very much fuller in body, richer and fatter with more pronounced fruit and a slightly oily texture that when made well, show a good balance of acidity that is so important to this grape variety. Some sweeter wines are made here also with the influence of Botrytis giving marmalade and lemony flavours to this rich style.
New Zealand is experimenting with Riesling with the South Island taking the lead, although there is some way yet to go it seems to catch up with its Australasian neighbour.
California is also trying to make headway with Riesling and again not really yet achieving wines of great note.
Matching Riesling Wines with Food
A great partner to all white meats such as grilled or roasted pork and chicken. Try pasta dishes with light garlic touched sauces and of course any fish and seafood dishes such as ‘Mussels in White Wine [Riesling of course] finished in Cream!
Alan Hunter AIWS,