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Riesling grapes and quality wine

By Julia Jenkins, 21st August 2020

To many people wines made from the Riesling grape, especially those from Germany, are that they are not worth bothering about and are bland and sugary sweet. It is true that there have been wines like this in the past from this classic grape variety. However, the reality is very different as growers of Riesling now concentrate on quality not quantity leaving the latter mass-produced wines mostly to different varieties.

Riesling wines are very refreshing with a naturally low level of alcohol, a high level of fruity acidity and a unique aroma that is both floral and grapy with honey, herbs, and spices. Many are capable of aging well in bottle for many years. It produces a very diverse range of wine styles from minerally trocken or dry through halb trocken or half dry and increasing levels of sweetness and richness through to luscious beerenauslese and dessert richness in many parts of the world.

In Germany there are some superb Riesling wines produced by growers such as Ernie Loosen, aka the ‘Prince of Riesling’ and S A Prumm making stylish wines across the sweetness bands from Trocken to Auslese, Beerenauslese dessert wines. The Mosel and Pfalz regions are main growers of this grape on the steep stony hillsides. Mosel Rieslings have lovely minerally overtones whereas those of the Pfalz and Rheingau are fleshier with richer peachy notes. Austria is gaining a widely held reputation for their Riesling wines made by contemporary producers such as Weingut Pfaffle and Eschenhof Holzer and can be dry and elegant or fuller and more textured on the palate though still with the instantly recognizable Riesling floral grapey aromas.

Alsace is also a quality Riesling with dry yet full styles with a less obvious acidity that ages beautifully gaining in complexity. This is especially evident in the Turckheim Cooperative’s Grand Cru Brand Riesling amongst others. Many Riesling based honeyed dessert wines are produced in Alsace such as those from A Metz. They are produced when the fruit is attacked by noble rot and labelled as Vendanges Tardive or Late Harvest or Selection des Grains Nobles where the shrivelled grapes have high levels of sugar and capable of making luscious nectar like wine.

Australia’s heat is too intense for the floral aromatics of Riesling though it grows well in Tasmania, Western Australia in Great Southern & in Eden Valley and Clare Valley of South Australia. Their cooler climates result in an intense fruit aroma. They are higher in alcohol and body than those of northern Europe but gain distinctive aromas and flavours that are limey and zesty. The wines are dry to off-dry in style and the finest can withstand a decade or more in bottle, gaining complexity.

New Zealand offers a real opportunity for Riesling, the cooler climate well-suited to enabling slow ripening and flavour development. The very best examples possess the intensity and weight of European examples with vibrant flavours. Marlborough has successfully made Riesling wines with have crisp, high acidity, balanced alcohol, delicate fruit aromas such as those from Zephyr and Clark Estates. In general, the wines are lighter than those of Australia but more perfumed than their European counterparts.

My latest ‘find’ is the Nachbil Riesling from Romania, an appealing zingy white wine, with mouth-watering acidity, limey fruit and a long complex finish. Great with food, great on its own. Proving Riesling makes some real stars.

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