Feature Variety ➺ Riesling
A Winemaker’s Wine
Riesling is often regarded as a ‘winemaker’s wine’. They love to make it and love to drink it, and whilst Riesling is definitely on every wine drinker’s radar, it isn’t always their first choice. At Sometimes Always, we’re trying to change this and shed light on why Rieslings are worth your attention.
Firstly, Riesling is actually supposed to be pronounced ‘Reece-ling’, being Germany’s hallmark variety, originating in the Rhine region. Given Germany’s cool climate, it’s traditionally a cool climate variety, widely planted in Germany’s Mosel, Rheingau and Pfalz regions, yet can also grow in other climates that are warmer by comparison, such as Clare Valley. Riesling has been embraced by much of the New and Old World, with famous versions being made across Europe, as well as Canada, South Africa, Australia and even China.
Like many other cool climate varieties, Riesling is high in acid, aromatic and relatively lower in alcohol. A high acid wine lends itself to being cellared, with many high quality German Rieslings in particular being coveted for their long cellaring potential, especially when compared to other white wine varieties. Similar to how a tannic red being drunk too young can be off putting, drinking some Rieslings too early won’t do the wine justice. A mistake that has surely scorned a few in their time.
Another strike some would place against Riesling is its versatility. Besides being almost always high in acid and aromatic, it can be made into dry, off-dry, sweet and sparkling wines. While particular regions will have specialties, the resulting wine is very much up to the winemaker, which is why they tend to like producing them so much. However, again, without properly understanding some labelling terms or styles, an unsuspecting consumer may be stung with a style of Riesling they weren’t banking on. It pays to do your homework.
Another key point is that Rieslings are often varietally pure, meaning they are rarely blended or oaked. The reason for this is that simply the fruit doesn’t often benefit from oak flavours or blending. Although, there are, of course, always exceptions. Instead, winemakers use their techniques to best balance the acid and sugar levels in the wine to make a wine that is most pleasant to drink and don’t rely on other winemaking aspects, such as oak maturation, to bring flavour to the wine. This means that the success of the wine is often the result of the winemaker’s skill, and not the type of oak they use.
Perhaps the secret weapon of Riesling is that they are one of the rare varieties that are so good at expressing terroir. Simplistically, terroir is the word used to describe how a wine can express the specific site of a particular wine. Someone with an exceptional palate can describe not only the flavours of the wine or the variety, but also the region, soil, elevation, vintage and often producer and vineyard, just from smelling and tasting the wine. Since Riesling is one of the best varieties to be able to pinpoint these nuances, it’s become a favourite amongst wine industry enthusiasts to test their skills and knowledge. A very simple example would be that nearly all good Eden and Clare Valley Rieslings should have lime notes – it’s a characteristic of the variety grown in the region. Similarly, aged German Riesling aficionados chase a much-desired unique ‘kerosene’ character. Again, this note may be off-putting to many except experienced drinkers and while some young Rieslings do exhibit the kerosene character, it isn’t as highly regarded as if the wine were aged. Again, these aren’t rules, just the complicated politics of the global wine industry.
More In The Glass
So, to summarize, there is much to explore in Riesling other than a mouthwatering refreshing drink to quench your thirst on a hot afternoon. There are so many styles, regions and nuances to discover, each with their own unique characters and attributes to unearth. The same producer – or vineyard – can produce Rieslings of varying style based on the winemaker’s decisions, so it’s often advantageous to pick up multiples if there is a range. Given that there is so much that a Riesling can teach you about wine in general, our best advice is just to give a few a crack and really focus on what you can see, smell and taste.
Chances are there’s a lot more going on in the glass than you first imagine.