jamie goode's wine blog: Riesling is hard to get, I reckon

Monday, June 22, 2009

Riesling is hard to get, I reckon

I'm drinking Riesling tonight, sitting outside just after the light has finally faded and the temperature has dipped into the late teens.

It has taken me a long time to 'get' Riesling, to the point where I actually really enjoy it, rather than just appreciate it. I've joked here before that Riesling is the one variety that, once you are in the wine trade, you have to like. Outside the trade, seemingly, no one buys it, no one drinks it. But as a writer, I must plug it because that's in my contract.

This year, though, I've passed the appreciation phase and entered the enjoyment phase. I've been buying Riesling, and drinking it through choice. Especially Mosel Kabinetts, which, with their beautiful tension between sweetness and acidity, tantalize the taste buds and leave you wanting more. But I'm also quite taken by the new generation of Trocken Rieslings from Germany, when they are made with ripe enough grapes.

Austria and Alsace are also great destinations for Riesling. Both seem to be able to do dry Riesling really well, without it being austere or awkward.

Australia is famous for its dry Rieslings, with both the Clare and Eden Valleys excelling. They're cheap, too, and can age well. I appreciate them (although sometimes they can be a bit austere and samey), but I'm also excited to see new styles emerging, including those where some residual sugar is left in to provide balance.

Tonight's wine, however, comes from New Zealand, and the Marlborough region. It's Spy Valley Marlborough Riesling 2007, and for the technically minded this has a pH of 3 and TA of 8 g/litre, weighing in at 12% alcohol. It's super fresh, with explosive flavours of lime and grapefruit, finishing with high acidity and a nice dollop of sweetness that serves to balance out the acidity without making the wine seem anything other than dry, fresh and minerally. There's nice delicacy here, even though there's also a lot of flavour, and a hint of grippiness about the palate. I really like it. In the UK it is available from Bibendum (http://www.bibendum-wine.co.uk/) and will be one of the wines in their forthcoming summer sale, when you'll be able to pick it up for a song. For me, this is an 89 point wine.

New Zealand is promising for Riesling. Here's a really informative post from Framingham winemaker Andrew Headley, published on the Caves de Pyrene Grapevine.

Is Riesling an accessible variety to you? Is it something you got pretty much straight away? Or, like me, did you have to warm to its charms over several years of relatively heavy drinking?

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At 10:42 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations on 'getting' Riesling Jamie. I'm a huge fan and have been for some time. Like Oz Clarke I love the sheer range of the stuff - dry to sweet - which compares with few other grape varieties. Its also SO food friendly.

The Spy Valley is excellent, similar, to Villa Maria 2008 which is about the same price but more widely available. I find that Villa Maria are consistently good with their private bin Rielsings, though they of course vary year on year. They did well with the 2008 considering it was a lousy Summer for them. Their 2005 was sensational, with that petroly nose that I guess puts so many people off! A cheaper, excellent value -off-dry - alternative I've found is Dr Loosen's The Naked Grape (£6.99 Waitrose). Over £10 stuff is special occasions only!

Why the rest of the country is still in love with bland, inoffenseive Pinot Grigio I find impossible to fathom and find myself on a one man crusade to persuade people of the virtues of riesling. After all, off-dry rielsing is one of the few white wines to pair well with the nation's favorite dish - Chicken Tikka Masala. Riesling is just great with Asian food full stop. I despair when I find myself having to search for it on the wine menus of Indian or Chinese restaurants (if it's there at all). And the drier stuff, like Knapstein's from Australia, is a terrific alternative for Sauvignon. Riesling deserves its place in the sun.

Surely people aren't still shunning it because of the bad reputation it got from the seventies and eighties with eg Blue Nun? That was so long ago, now. Whatever the reason, I recently returned from a holiday in New Zealand and it was a revelation to visit a country with such a well versed wine palate, one that really loves their riesling and their pinot gris'. I know they have the advantage of growing it there but if the new Zealanders can 'get it', why can't we? One day...

At 11:14 PM, Blogger Michael Pollard said...

I wouldn’t say I drink a lot of Riesling these days but it is the best represented white in my cellar. The cellared wines are mainly German but in the dim past I used to drink Aussie Riesling quite a lot including the old Kaiser Stuhl wines which are no longer made. On moving to the USA in the 1980’s it was a revelation to be exposed to German Riesling with their much sharper demarcation between sweetness and acidity – acidity that is a true palate cleanser. Whether I get Riesling is probably questionable. It does take a little bit of effort to come to grips with the dryness and sugar scales. Do I enjoy drinking it? Do I enjoy the vast differences in the styles? It is probably all summed up by a recent experience with a bottle of 2007 Monchhof Urziger Wurzgarten Kabinett. I suddenly realized that I was sitting there quaffing this wine as though it was water. I rarely ever do that with wine but here was a wine that was truly refreshing, spicy, pleasantly sweet and crisp. A quaffable Riesling is a good way to get Riesling.

At 11:43 PM, Anonymous Steve said...

I'm supping a glass of Hewitson Eden Valley 2006 right now, and it's changed from faintly bland (with a bowl of broad beans and pancetta) through a pleasant lemon-charged stage to a refreshingly acidic conclusion. I love the stuff, from sweet to searingly dry, maybe because I have a much stronger sense of taste than smell.

At 3:23 AM, Blogger Alex said...

It took me a long time to get Riesling. Growing up in Adelaide I spent a lot of time refusing to drink Riesling because it was all like the horrible stuff from Clare. That all changed when I tried a 10 year old JJ Prum Kabinett.

It's been downhill from then on in! Love the stuff - even the ones that come from Clare! :)

At 3:51 AM, Blogger Colman Stephenson said...

I've enjoyed Riesling for years but find it frustrating at the same time.

Riesling Pro's:
- A wonderful range of styles from searingly dry to intensely sweet with high quality examples at all points.
- Affordable wines (sub-30 quid) of extremely high quality from Alsace and Germany and unexpected places like Northern Italy.
- In the right hands that aroma can be both entrancing and thought provoking, as much as Pinot.
- A good one fills your mouth with a kalidescope of flavours. This is what brings me back time and again.
- Very rarely boring, even the poor examples

Riesling Con's
- The heart of Riesling (the Mosel) is frankly getting bigger and sweeter. Those wonderful puzzling wines which manage to be sweet AND dry? They used to be Spatlese. Now they are Kabinett. Yes that makes them cheaper but the scale seems to have shifted in the last 6-7 years.
- As a result it can be incredibly difficult to predict how dry/sweet an *impression* a Mosel is going to make, before you open it. that makes it harder to use for dinner parties. (but I guess is also part of the fascination for some of us).
- The Ozzie examples I have tried (mostly from Western Australia) have been too searingly dry. (pleased to hear that some are now leaving some residual sugar).

At 5:47 AM, Blogger le tasting room said...

I can't understand why Riesling is not more popular. Sure, I know it's a bit of a tradey thing but with the alchol levels so low particularly in the German examples, they are so perfect in a time when we are all aware that we probably drink too much and too regularly. I enjoyed an Ernie Loosen Kabinett the other day sitting in the garden at lunchtime. At 7.5% alcohol it was perfect, refreshing, elegant and what's more it didn't write the day off for later.

At 7:20 AM, Blogger Nick Oakley said...

Like you Jamie, I've struggled to get Riesling. It's light, pretty and sweet from Germany, or petrolly, heavy and limey from the New World (sorry for the sweeping generalisations). But the Rieslings from Austria's Wachau region are something to behold. Generally higher in alcohol (13 - 14% is not untyical) these are real terroir wines and have delicious combination of slatey minerality and a touch of sea salt when at their best.

At 7:58 AM, Anonymous Ralph said...

Riesling is the one white wine that never fails to satisfy, for me. Has been for the past 25 years. Chardonnay gets boring, Sauvignon gets boring, Viognier gets boring... Riesling never does. It is one of the go-to wines when you have a hard time making a choice.

And you know what is another overlooked gem? Chenin Blanc, from the Loire valley. But don't tell anybody else, or prices will go up.

At 9:48 AM, Blogger Tim said...

Good timing - I was just about to place an order for Spy Valley Riesling from The Wine Society (they have the 2008), but may wait now. Does anyone know exactly when this sale at Bibendum is happening?

I first tried Spy Valley in a pub in Wandsworth (The Hope http://www.thehopepub.co.uk.) They were selling it for £16 a bottle - what a bargain. We had a glass before dinner at Chez Bruce next door, and I liked the Spy Valley so much we went back to The Hope after dinner and had a bottle. Great stuff, and I've been waiting patiently to buy a case.

You can also get a version called Spy Mountain made specially for Tesco, but I didn't think it was as good, although the price is the same. Anyone else tried it?


At 10:09 AM, Anonymous keith prothero said...

riesling is a WIMPS wine but enjoyable in small doses

At 1:05 PM, Anonymous Gareth Groves said...

The Bibendum Sale will be from the 7th to 17th July.

Gareth Groves (Bibendum)

At 1:15 PM, Anonymous Lucy said...

Fantastic to see so much appreciation of Riesling - glad to see i'm not alone on this crusade! It certainly seems it's a grape that once you "get", you feel the need to convert others!
There does seem to be more and more young people getting into Riesling these days (as a 20-something who goes out drinking rather too regularly, i like to think i have the authority to say that!) so hopefully that means the outdated preconceptions about German Riesling in particular are dying out finally! And as le Tasting Room said, they are perfect in the current "health conscious" climate with their lower alcohol levels - so perfect for those of us who enjoy a glass of wine in the evening but not just any old rubbish (how depressing is it when you go to bar and are greeted with a choice between Pinot Grigio or Semillion Chardonnay?!)

At 1:48 PM, Blogger Eurocentric said...

I got it so bad I signed up to import 11 German producers to Australia! Now trying to convert people ... many do seem reluctant to try, but are usually wowed by the first glass.

At 6:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absolutely love Riesling.
Has bags of character, shows where it's from, and actually TASTES OF SOMETHING!

At 3:35 PM, OpenID ithacork said...

hi jamie:
i'm curious if you have had much riesling from the Finger Lakes region of New York.

At 1:12 PM, Blogger brian said...

Hi Jamie
Try our Riesling. From Kalgan River wines in WA. See web site at www.auswineonline.co.uk

At 1:03 AM, Blogger jjoak said...

I agree with every thing Ralph says Riesling then
Chenin.. the 2 greatest white Grapes I know of.. Both show in so many different styles and terroirs and truly express them.. Riesling, ,the greatest.

At 9:46 AM, Anonymous Jonathan C said...

Hi from Blenheim Jamie.
NZ are making some beautiful riesling - I recommend the 2007 Greenhough 'Hope' Riesling if you can get you hands on it. (It's about $21 a bottle over here which equates to roughly 8 quid in old money.) It is elegant, complex and deliciously long for such a young wine.
Cheers - Jonathan


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