Thursday, May 28, 2009

Riesling made Simple

[REEZ-ling, REES-ling]

Riesling is considered to be one of the world's greatest white-wine varietals and produces some of the very best and long lived white wines with up to a 50 year cellaring potential. The riesling grape's ability to retain its acidity while achieving high sugar levels is what creates wines with considerable aging potential. Riesling is a variety which is highly "terroir-expressive", meaning that the character of Riesling wines is clearly influenced by the wine's place of origin. These wines are delicate but complex and can be characterized by wine descriptors in the fruit category such as honey, apricot, lemons, tropical fruits (banana, pinapple, mango), green apple and peaches. The complexity becomes apparent when the terroir really comes through with notes such as floral, flint, steel, petrol and minerality. Petrol is a character that comes out as the wine ages, and is actually desireable. Riesling is vinified in a variety of styles ranging from DRY to SWEET. The vine is a native of Germany and has been cultivated for thousands of years to best results in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheingau regions. Mosel Riesling tends to more steely, flint and mineral whereas Rheingau Rieslings are all about tropical fruit. California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Ontario, British Columbia, Australia (Eden and Clare Valley), France (Alsace), Italy (Alto Adige) have extensive plantings of this grape and produce high-quality results.

What is in a Name?

A bottle of riesling is one of the most complex labels you will ever encounter, but as inconceivable as it seems, the Germans do have a system. The German wine classification system is dubbed Qualitatswein or ‘quality wine’ (Qba) similar to France’s Applelation Origin Controlee (AOC). You may also see Qualitatswein mit Pradikat for even more stringent wine making rules (QmP). This system tells you through a rating chart what the sugar levels of the picked grapes were at harvest. The higher the sugar levels the better the wine quality is the general rule of thumb. Note that higher sugar content in the grapes does NOT mean that the end wine will be sweet, just better concentration of flavour from them hanging on the vine longer.

K S A B E T is the acronym I use to remember the quality levels of German wine. Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswine, Trockenbeerenauslese from least to most in measure of must weight or sugar levels (Oe).

In other regions around the world, they have taken to making things harder for Riesling lovers everywhere. California, South Africa, Australia and even in Germany itself have used the word ‘riesling’ on bottles that do not necessarily contain true Riesling. The worst case scenario is in Australia where riesling can mean any white wine! Sylvanner can be mistaken for Riesling in California as they call this varietal by many names such as Franken Riesling or Sonoma Riesling. In Germany, Schwarzriesling is actually a red grape, France’s Pinot Meunier. Mostly, countries have done this to note wines with riesling like qualities. Luckily for us, BC produces some of the best true rieslings I’ve ever tasted and they are labelled… Riesling.

Notes from a recent Riesling tasting:

1. Stoneleigh, Marlborough, NZ, 2007, $17.50
2. Lingenfelder, Pflaz, Germany, 2007, $22
3. Alexandria Nicole, Columbia Valley, WA, Late Harvest Riesling, 2008, $22
4. Gunderloch, Fritz's Riesling, Rheinhessen, Germany, 2007, $17
5. Pikes, Clare Valley, Australia, 2007, $25
6. Hugel, Alsace, France, 2007, $25
7. St.Urbans-Hof, Mosel, Germany, 2007, $20
8. Prinz von Preussen, Rheingau, Germany, 2006, $19
9. Schloss Reinhartshausen, Rheingau, Germany, $20

I should note from this tasting that there was no clear favourite and most bottles were very enjoyable summer sippers. People tended towards the classic German rieslings rather than the more dry and lemony, less complex on the palette New World bottles. Prinz von Preussen, tasted at the end of the night, was by far the best in my mind, finessed stoney, citrus, green apple minerality, if you can ever find a bottle good luck. Fritz's Riesling and Stoneleigh were the best value of the show. St.Urbans-Hof is widely available and rated high for it's strong flinty, green apple palette. Lingenfelder was another favourite, if you want a clear example of a quality Rheingau this is your buy. If you want to try a great BC riesling, Tantalus Old Vine Riesling is A-mazing!

Riesling is one of my favourite all round wines, great with food, great for easy drinking and a nose/palette complexity and price point that forces you to take notice.

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