The Riesling grape variety is quite unique in that it preserves its identity wherever it is grown, unlike many other varieties. Not only is it grown in Germany, from where it originated, but also in neighbouring Alsace and Austria, Italy, California, cooler parts of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Chile.
Most wine drinkers would give the Riesling a wide berth in the supermarket aisles when searching out a white wine, aiming for the highly over rated Chardonnay or the safer Sauvignon Blanc. But, very few people would consider a Riesling dry wine to be of interest, and there are several reasons why it is considered by some professionals, to be the queen of wines.
Unfortunately, most wine drinkers have come across those dreadful sweeter Rieslings produced in Germany, in the 1970’s and later, for a very unsuspected mainly British market. These wnes were produced for consumers who only wanted one thing from a wine, low cost. The word ‘quality’ was not really big in the vocabulary then, so quantity certainly outstripped quality. Many drinkers indulged on those insipid, sickly sweet, uncharacterful wines – but how things have changed for the better.
Nowadays, wine drinkers have become much more perceptive about what type of wine and style they drink. This in turn has meant that winemakers have put quality to the forefront of production in order to make what the supermarkets demand on behalf of their more knowledgeable public. So, not only do we have a wine drinking public who are most interested in their choice of wines, we also have winemakers who have raised their game to produce wonderful, interesting wines to match. This is good for both parties, and is why the Riesling variety is getting more of a look in.
So why do I think that a well made dry Riesling is the best white wine?
- Firstly, if the growing year is good with lots of sun, plenty of natural sugars will be produced to create that desired amount of natural sweetness to balance the higher acid content of this variety. (Note: Natural sweetness is very different to artificial sweetness).
- Riesling produces a good acidity level which is vital for its ageing potential, (low acid wines don’t age well). Therefore as the wine ages it will soften and display all of its hidden characteristics. This is absolutely vital for any wine that is to be laid down for many years.
- It is full of lovely delicate citrus flavours and aromas with tasting note examples like:
- “with tropical fruit and lychee characteristic”
- “grassy lemon, lime and some underlying sweet melon”
- “peach, apricot and green apple fruit aromas”
- A slight petillance or spritz (carbon dioxide bubbles) makes the wine crisp and refreshing acting like a sorbet to cleanse the palate before the rest of the flavours are detected. This slight fizz tends to happen more in wines made in stainless steel tanks where the hygiene is excellent. The CO2 bubbles are the captured remains of the fermentation – a sign of good winemaking.
- After detecting the spritz, the taste buds will now find a few more complex flavours such as rich honey and oily aromas giving the wine a long steely finish. These flavours will change slightly with time, and that is why this is such an interesting, versatile variety.
Are there any good sweeter Rieslings nowadays?
Absolutely. There are numerous attractive sweet wines like the Auslese and Eiswein styles which are affected by botrytis, or ‘noble rot’. This rot is considered ‘noble’ as it encourages a high concentration of sweetness from the fungus affected ripe grape, which is highly desirable.
The long history of Riesling has meant that it has been used in stock grafting with over 40 crosses being made in the last 100 years. This has enabled its strong characteristics to be passed on to the subsequent stock. A typical example is:
- Riesling x Sylvaner = Muller Thurgau
- Riesling x Trollinger = Kerner
Matching Riesling with food: It is excellent with a cheese fondu, fennel baked with Parmesan, globe artichokes or a beef Stroganof. Alternately, enjoy it on its own as an aperitif.
The acclaimed wine writer and Master of Wine, Jancis Robinson, says,
“Riesling is so clearly one of the world’s great vines, arguably that which produces the finest white wines of all”
from her book ‘Vines, Grapes and Wines’.
So, is Riesling the best white wine? Well, if grown and ripened well – it sure is a contender!