Riesling is one of my favourite grapes. It also happens to be one of the oldest and finest white wines in the world. It is both adored and misunderstood by many wine drinkers. It is one of the most versatile grape varieties producing wines that can be sweet or bone dry but notable for its high acidity. What you need to look for in a good Riesling is a wine that is well balanced.
From Germany Riesling spread to the surrounding grape growing countries, which included Austria and France. More recently, Riesling reached the new world wine countries, including Australia, New Zealand, South Africa,United States, Argentina and Spain, where it can also be found in small quantities.
There is not one definitive style of Riesling. It is one of the most aromatic grape varieties. You will find primary fruit aromas of white fruits such as apples, pears, apricot, tropical aromas and honey or rose petals also it can have a distinctive minerality. At the same time Riesling is often describes as smelling like petrol, particularly in older wines. They style is strongly influenced by where the grapes are grown; the local climate and soils.
I mentioned earlier it is a misunderstood grape variety. This is in part due to the german wine laws governing how wines are labelled. It is not easy to know what you are getting as it requires a bit of work to familiarise yourself with the differences between a Trocken, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese and Trockenberenauselse.
Basically these terms refer to the ripeness of the grapes when they are harvested not necessarily the sweetness of the wine. Kabinett grapes are picked early when the grapes have just ripened, Spatlese grapes are picket later when the grapes are riper with more nature sugar and Auslese even later.
The misunderstanding comes when consumers think that the hierarchy of names always means better quality, which is not necessarily the case.
Alsace in France is also famous for its Rieslings. The late harvest sweet wines will say ‘Vendage Tardive’ on the label. In fact Trimbach produce one of the most sought after and famous Rieslings, ‘Clos Ste. Hune’.
New World Rieslings from Australia, New Zealand, USA tend to drier in style with pronounced ripe fruit aromas and flavours. The Clare Valley in South Australia and Western Australia are producing world class Rieslings. Washington State in the USA also has a good reputation. Not forgetting Marlborough in New Zealand where the Rieslings can be outstanding.
Riesling pairs well with all food types, but where it really excel is an off dry wine with spicy food, a great combination. The touch of sweetness, balanced with the crisp acidity works well with the heat from the spicy food.
Next time you are in a restaurant or wine bar you can impress the sommelier by asking for glass of Riesling from any one of the countries mentioned above.