Riesling - why not try it again?

Essence and Lodge Hill Rieslings.

Essence and Lodge Hill Rieslings. - Credit: Archant

The most widely-held view of wines made from the Riesling grape, especially those from Germany, are that they are definitely not worth bothering about and are bound to be bland and sugary sweet.

It’s true that the Germans have made some very poor quality wines from what is in reality their greatest wine-making asset, however, in truth, 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 the bottle for many years. It produces a very diverse range of wine styles from minerally trocken or dry through halbtrocken or half dry and increasing levels of sweetness and richness through to luscious beerenauslese and dessert richness in many parts of the world.

It is a hardy grape variety enabling it to cope with less hospitable cool stony German and Austrian hillsides as well as warmer conditions in Australia and New Zealand.

In Germany there are some superb Riesling wines produced by growers such as Ernie Loosen, aka the ‘Prince of Riesling’ and S A Prum.

The latter make Riesling-based wines that have the classic characteristics and retain that whether they are trocken, halbtrocken, standard or on the spatlese, auslese sweetness gradient.

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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 more fleshy with richer peachy notes. Neighbouring Austria is gaining a widely held reputation for the purity of their Riesling wines such as the contemporary wines from Weingut Pfaffle and Eschenhof Holzer.

Alsace, another German neighbor, is a master of 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 Vendnges Tardive, literally Late Harvest or Selection des Grains Nobles where the shriveled 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 and 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 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. Central Otago’s Two Paddocks is a great exponent of stylish Rielings. In general, the wines are lighter than those of Australia but more perfumed than their European counterparts.

Explore Riesling again and regain your confidence in, and pleasure from, this noble grape variety.