The Riesling grape variety is quite unique because it retains its identity where it is grown, unlike many other varieties. It is grown not only in Germany, where it originated, but also in neighboring Alsace and Austria, Italy, California, cooler parts of Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and Chile.
Most wine drinkers would give Riesling ample space in supermarket aisles when looking for a white wine, targeting the highly rated Chardonnay or the safest Sauvignon Blanc. But very few people would consider a Riesling dry wine of interest, and there are several reasons why some professionals consider it the queen of wines.
Unfortunately, most wine drinkers have come across those terribly sweeter Rieslings produced in Germany, in the 1970s and later, for a largely unsuspected mainly British market. These wines were produced for consumers who only wanted one thing from a wine, low cost. The word “quality” was not very big in the vocabulary at the time, so quantity certainly outweighed quality. Many drinkers reveled in those bland, sickly sweet and uncharacteristic wines, but how things have changed for the better.
Today, wine drinkers have become much more perceptive about the type of wine and the style they drink. This, in turn, has meant that winemakers have put quality at the forefront of production to do what supermarkets demand on behalf of their more informed audiences. So not only do we have a wine drinking public that is more interested in your choice of wines, we also have winemakers who have upped their game to produce wonderful and interesting wines to pair with. This is good for both parties, and that is why the Riesling variety is being seen more and more.
So why do I think a well-made dry Riesling is the best white wine?
- First of all, if the growing year is good with lots of sun, lots of natural sugars will be produced to create the desired amount of natural sweetness to balance the higher acid content of this variety. (Note: natural sweetness is very different from artificial sweetness.)
- Riesling produces a good level of acidity which is vital to its aging potential (low acid wines do not age well). Therefore, as the wine ages, it will soften and show all its hidden characteristics. This is absolutely vital for any wine that must be deposited for many years.
- It is full of lovely delicate citrus flavors and aromas with examples of tasting notes such as:
- “with the characteristic of tropical fruits and lychee”
- “lemongrass, lime and some underlying honeydew melon”
- “aromas of peach, apricot and green apple”
- A light touch or spray (carbon dioxide bubbles) makes the wine crisp and refreshing, acting like a straw to cleanse the palate before the other flavors are detected. This slight effervescence usually occurs more in wines made in stainless steel tanks where hygiene is excellent. CO2 bubbles are the remains captured from fermentation, a sign of good winemaking.
- After detecting the dew, the taste buds will now encounter some more complex flavors, such as rich honey and oily aromas that give the wine a long, steely finish. These flavors will change slightly over time, which is why it is such an interesting and versatile strain.
Are there any good sweeter Rieslings nowadays?
Absolutely. There are numerous attractive sweet wines such as the Auslese and Eiswein styles that are affected by botrytis or ‘noble rot’. This rot is considered “noble” as it encourages a high concentration of sweetness in the ripe grape affected by the fungus, which is highly desirable.
Riesling’s long history has meant that it has been used in stock grafts with over 40 crosses made in the last 100 years. This has allowed its strong characteristics to be transferred to the subsequent stock. A typical example is:
- Riesling x Sylvaner = Muller Thurgau
- Riesling x Trollinger = Kerner
Pairing the Riesling with the food: It is excellent with a cheese fondu, baked fennel with Parmesan, artichokes or beef stroganof. Alternatively, enjoy it just as a snack.
Acclaimed Wine Writer and Master of Wine Jancis Robinson says:
“Riesling is clearly one of the best vines in the world, possibly the one that produces the best white wines of all”
from his book ‘Vines, Grapes and Wines’.
So is Riesling the best white wine? Well, if it grows and matures well, it sure is a competitor!