Chardonnay has won
the minds and hearts of the masses, but Riesling makes the wine
trade's favourite white wines. Jamie Goode tastes 18 of the finest
Rieslings from around the world, and discovers why the experts think
it's the noblest and most versatile of the white grapes.
'Riesling around the world', Handford Fine Wine tasting,
presented by Matthew Boucher, Tuesday 10th April 2001
While ugly sisters Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc get invited to
the ball, Riesling -- the Cinderella of grape varieties -- goes
unnoticed and neglected, despite possessing greater virtue and beauty.
That's how many influential wine critics see things, at least. The
great unwashed public clamours for more and more Chardonnay and
Sauvignon, but Riesling, often referred to as the wine trade's
favourite white grape, has a loyal but small band of followers.
Not so long ago I was fairly dismissive of Riesling, but after
being exposed at last to top quality examples from Germany and the
Alsace, I'm now convinced that Riesling is a truly great grape
variety. Why? Four main reasons:
- Terroir transparency
Possibly the greatest facet of Riesling is its ability to
express site-specific characteristics from the vineyard or region
it is grown in -- it's probably better at this than any other
grape variety. Rielsings made in exactly the same way by the same
producer from two vineyards with different soils or aspect will
usually show corresponding differences in flavour profile.
Riesling shows an amazing capacity to age. Even relatively
inexpensive Kabinett and Spatlese wines from Germany develop
gracefully for many years: I've had ten year old bottles tasting
unbelievably fresh and youthful. The drier Alsace styles can also
last for decades. And of the new world styles, Australian Riesling
has developed quite a reputation for longevity, especially when
compared with the relatively short life span of Aussie
As this tasting showed, Riesling can be made in a
variety of styles and textures, ranging from austerely dry to
lusciously sweet, with good examples showing widely differing
characters from a host of wine-making countries.
Great examples of Riesling are never going to be cheap.
But compare the prices for the best Rieslings with the current
prices of other fine wines, and they are remarkably affordable, no
doubt because of their (unexplainable) relative unpopularity.
Now to the wines. This was a tremendously interesting tasting of an
exceptional line-up of Rieslings, well chosen by Matthew Boucher. The
only slight regret for me was that many of these were tasted far too
young in their evolution. With some extra bottle age almost all of
them will gain a great deal of complexity, and it's only really the
new world examples that are showing anything near their best this
early in their development. The tasting itself was divided into four
flights: Germany, Austria, Alsace and the new world, with an extra
flight of two sweet wines to finish.