Whenever I mention to my students or friends that we are going to try a Riesling, their response often seems to be in line with what I would expect if I had said we were going to drink expired milk. ‘Riesling’s gross’..’It’s too sweet and I don’t drink sweet wine’…These are just a few of many similar responses and it reminds me of the whining I use to lavish on my parents when they were getting me to eat my carrots as a toddler.
However, I ignore their plea for a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio and use my powers of persuasion, sometimes with a side of bribery, to continue with the Riesling sampling.
The thing with Riesling is, it’s not all sweet. And the magic of sweet Riesling is quite often you don’t perceive the full sweetness. There is the wonderful component of acidity in these wines which refreshes the palate, by making your mouth water and cleansing away much of the residual sugar. And the most amazing Riesling’s have tonnes of mouth-watering acidity which just makes you want to delve back into the bottle for more!
Now, there are some excellent Riesling’s out there from New Zealand and Australia, but I do have to give Germany the first mention as they do (in my and many others opinions) produce the best.
I was very fortunate to sample a range of Riesling’s from Joh Jos Prum recently, whose estate has been producing wine from the Mosel in Germany since 1911. After sampling a range of vintages from 1985 to 2008, the pick of the bunch for me was the 1996 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett. Even though it was 16 years old, this wine tasted fresh with a prickly zing on the tongue. Juicy lime, marmalade and mango were the main flavours along with superb minerality.
During an early Spring evening, at The White Horse in Fulham, I tried The Doctors’ Riesling by Forrest Wines from Marlborough, N.Z. Even though this wine had over 40 grams per litre of residual sugar, this was only mildly detectable through the mouth-watering acidity and vibrant citrus flavours that dominated the wine. A great wine for long summers days and at only 8.5% abv you can enjoy a good few glasses and feel fresh the next morning.
A drier style of Riesling is produced by Vidal, also from Marlborough. This is a wine we often use in our classes at West London Wine School and it converts many students into Riesling drinkers. There is very little residual sugar in this wine, it is all about fresh citrus fruit with a touch of peach and again there is that great acidity. Perfect with seafood and salads and widely available for around £8.
As a wee hint on how to tell if you’re purchasing a dry or sweet style – as this is not always clear on the label – just check the alcohol percentage. In general, the higher the alcohol level, the drier the wine. So look for 12 – 13% abv for a dry style. The only exceptions to this are German Riesling that have auslese, beerenauslese or trockenbeerenauslese on the label. These wines will pretty much always be sweet even at 13%abv.
Riesling has so much to offer and it is a tragedy that many people dismiss all wines made from this variety. Get out there and give it a go people. I will be making this my summer of Riesling, I hope you do too.