Riesling - The King of Grapes

Published by Peter Gordon-Smith on 22/11/2017

I’m going to stick my neck out here and say Riesling is the best white grape out there. I’m sure some will find this controversial, but hear me out.

Yes, I grant you Chardonnay at its very best in the Côte de Beaune and latterly, California, can be beyond glorious. Yes, there are some wonderfully expressive Italian grape varieties out there. For some a cool crisp Marlborough Sauvignon is unbeatable, but as Jancis Robinson says (she beat me to it) “Wine made from Riesling is quite unlike any other.”

Versatility: Riesling's Strength and weakness?

Is there another grape variety that is quite so versatile? This is a grape that always expresses its soil and climate. From the steeliness of a bone-dry Clare Valley, to the sumptuous complexity of an Alsatian Grand Cru; from the gentle minerality of a Mosel Kabinett, to the pure lushness of a Niagara Ice-wine, Riesling has versatility in spades.

At home in cooler climates, Riesling is also found in regions perhaps better known for other grape varieties. For example, Napa Valley (Smith Madrone), Austria’s home of Grüner Veltliner, the Weinviertel (Ebner-Ebenauer), Santa Barbara (Tatomer) on the central Californian coast, which is usually associated with Pinot Noirs, Syrahs and Chardonnays.

Perhaps this wide range of growing regions and styles is why those working in the wine trade can’t get enough. There’s always a new Riesling to seek out; and the play-off between acidity and sweetness, and the characteristics from different regions mean each bottle always offers something new.

For food lovers, Riesling provides options to match starters, mains and desserts. A dry style will pair well with old-school roast pork, while an off-dry style is the perfect match with the spice of Thai or Vietnamese dishes.

Maybe having such a wide range of expressions has also worked to its detriment. After all, with this grape it’s not always clear what style you’re going to get, something one can’t say of Sauvignon Blanc. To the uninitiated drinker, those Rieslings from its native country of Germany can be particularly confusing thanks to a bewildering number of wine classifications, whose complexity is only enhanced by the many geographic classifications.

So how do you find a Riesling you'll like?

Happily, the internet has made researching your next bottle of Riesling much easier. Enter the name of a wine into the search engine of your choice, and the resulting tasting notes and reviews will give you a good idea of its style and taste.

If this isn’t an option, then a very basic rule of thumb is to look at the alcohol level; the higher it is, the more likely it is going to be a dry style, whereas an ABV of 10% or lower will almost certainly be off-dry or sweeter (Spätlese or Auslese on a German label may be indicative of this as well).

Or if you are buying from a reputable wine merchant then simply ask for some advice.

Whatever you do, try more Riesling, you won’t regret it.

Oh, and it’s Reece-ling, not Rice-ling.

Peter

Peter Gordon-Smith

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