What a way to start the epic Guzzling Grapes challenge! Riesling is the greatest grape ever to be planted on this earth. There, I said it, straightforward. I don’t want to sugar-coat with words like probably, one of the, amongst the, etc. I simply have confidence with this one. You don’t have anything to eat with your wine? No problem, grab a Riesling. You want a crunching refreshment for the summer? No problem, grab a Riesling. You want to pair it with arugula salad, jalapeno peppers or apple tart? No problem, man, grab a Riesling.
Before I go on with all the pros (the cons are kept to a minimum), let’s get one thing straight. Riesling is not an essentially sweet wine. Yes, some of the German specimens can have a bit of residual sugar, but that’s ok. Now, I don’t want to switch the blame over to the Americans, but in my eight years of experience working with wine, the “I don’t like Riesling ‘cause it’s too sweet” phrase echoed solely from Team USA. So, let me take you on a journey far beyond the sweetness, to a place where acid meets sugar meets minerality, forming a liquid like nothing else you’ve tried in the course of your drinking days.
You do not need a diehard toasted oak barrel supplied with juice from a grape that starts with “chard” and ends with “nay” to have a great wine. You only need the equation: acid + minerality + sugar = balance. This equation can further have a sweet version, an off-dry one or even something bone-dry, but if you automatically dislike a wine just because it is sweet, then you’re missing the point. Remember, acid is your friend, and together with harmony and delicacy it has the ability to create divine juice that can age for a century. But clarity and purity coming from regions and winemakers will only go so far. Emotions aside, the market calls the shots for every single bottle (or box) of wine it possesses. Once more expensive than top-notch clarets, the Rieslings of today are constantly struggling to make it on the tables of consumers. Could this be because of endless name confusion with Laški Rizling/Welschriesling (Slovenia) which is totally unrelated to the grape I’m covering in this article or due to the flute-shaped bottles that give an impression of a cheap and overly sweet wine? We know that only time will tell, but on the other hand, this unfair brawl with reputation has opened up massive opportunities to taste some of the most perfect, well-balanced, utterly transcendent wines possible for a very good price.
The reflection of terroir, the pristine mouthfeel, the flexibility for food pairings and the immense aging potential which gives way to unusual notes of petrol and wax are all things that should attract you to Riesling. Rudolf Steiner urged us to become aware of one’s humanity. By drinking Riesling, you strive towards becoming the best version of yourself. That said, I urge you to start tasting samples from the holy temples, Mosel and Alsace, where the ideally cool climate contributes to the natural trademark of the grape – the zingy acidity. If you want to go exploring, try wines from Clare Valley (Australia), Finger Lakes (New York), Nelson (New Zealand), Niagara (Ontario) and Wachau (Austria). Below are my tasting notes followed by subjective scores to help you get a better idea of the diversity of regions and terroirs in which this grape succeeds.
Mount Horrocks Riesling Watervale 2015
Clare Valley, Australia
Pale lemon green. Aromas of citrus/green fruit bathing in a pool of minerality. Dry, medium (+) acidity and medium alcohol. Tones of citrus fruit and green tea highlighted on the palate. Medium body with a long, refreshing aftertaste. Nice, everyday version of an Australian Riesling – lacking complexity, but has an excellent balanced structure.
GN score: 89/100
Average price: 17 EUR
Axel Pauly Riesling Purist Kabinett 2014
Pale lemon. Medium nose with notes of stone fruit (peach, apricot, nectarine), lime zest and steely undertones. Dry with a luscious oily texture backed up by strong acidity and medium (-) alcohol. Fruit missing on the mid-palate, but comes back in the aftertaste which is wrapped up by the trademark of the wine and variety – the grand acidity. An awesome example of what Mosel and tradition can do. The wine is a Kabinett, meaning that it was harvested slightly later in the season, resulting in riper fruit (more sugar) and a fuller palate.
GN score: 87/100
Average price: 15 EUR
Bolfan Eco Riesling 2012
Now for something from the middle ground – an aged Riesling from Zlatar, Croatia. Golden yellow color, showing immediate signs of bottle aging. Strong kerosene nose, followed by tones of ripe nectarine, yellow apple and citrus fruit. Dry and elegant in the mouth. Medium (+) acidity, low alcohol and luscious fruit character. Misses strength on the mid palate and kind of waters down approaching the finish. Lacks complexity and structure for further aging.
GN score: 85/100
Average price: 15 EUR
Written by Aleksandar Draganić.
I’m a WSET certified grape juice drinker, and yes, I’m that 1% of people that love their job. I drink wine, write about it, preach about it, even take pictures of it. Find me at @grapenomad