How do you like your riesling?
Sweet and sticky with dessert?
How about with a hit of sweetness to balance out that tart green apple acid? Or are you more of a bone dry, ‘no sugar for me, please’ kind of riesling fan?
Either way, there are some great rieslings coming from the new world to rival those with the more traditional origins of Germany and Alsace. Wines that have plenty of poise and a sophistication to please and to remind us how glad we are that there are more riesling options now than in decades past.
The modern wave of new world riesling really started at the turn of the Millennium when the Australian producers from the Clare Valley started to release their rieslings under screw cap as a statement of their commitment to freshness. Watched closely by the rest of the world, this initiative drew the line in the sand to stop the continued decline of sales while dramatically increasing the awareness of Clare Valley riesling around the world, as well as in Australia.
Incidentally, they have not been totally successful long term with this task with Wine Business Monthly reporting in April 2012 that riesling dropped out of the Top 10 varietal wine sales in the Australian off-trade (as per Value Sales MAT October 2011). It had been overtaken by the voracious appetite for the softer style of the Pinot Gris/Grigio wines. However, there was still growth seen in the categories laying between $15 – $30 meaning that drinkers are still interested in the quality riesling story. Particularly, the synergistic relationship that riesling shares with food.
Of course, the initiative then continued to be phenomenally successful in changing consumer perception of screw caps to the point where there are many households that no longer have a cork screw.
With zesty, bordering on feisty, acid balanced by a fresh squirt of fruit intensity, sometimes smoothed out with some residual sugare, it is a variety that whatever its guise, loves food. As a crisp drier style, it is good company for fresh seafood, sushi or other more delicate dishes. Even aromatic Asian meals. Although an off-dry or medium sweet version will cope with the chilli heat better, even if there is chill in the air.
These sweeter styles, including the half dry wines and forty grammers (ie. those having 40 grammes of residual sugar) are versatile performers at the table and will be good with foods that have a touch of sweetness or saltiness. That’s why one of these juicy treats, well chilled, with salt and pepper squid, fresh battered fish and hot salty chips wrapped in yesterday’s news on the beach is an irresistible combination.
Well, almost as irresistible as a pairing of a dessert style riesling and a fruit tart. For dessert, go for either an unctuous botrytis riesling or a syrupy but not cloying ice wine or cut cane wine with their pure fruit flavours.
Australia has plenty of regions producing notable rieslings, such as the well known Clare Valley and Eden Valley. Some of the other regions to look for are Frankland River (particularly Frankland Estate), Canberra, Orange and Tasmania. New Zealand has some great rieslings for those in the know, and there are some interesting wines coming from South Africa and Chile. The USA has some great rieslings from the cooler sites in the Napa Valley, Washington and Willamette Valley and keep an eye on Finger Lakes as these wines gain distribution. Canada has some drier styles of the variety but much of it is used for Ice Wine production.
Five new world rieslings to choose from are:
(prices are in AUD unless stated)
Henschke Julius Riesling 2013 ($32 – Australia)
Coming from one of Henschke’s fine riesling vineyards in Eden Valley, 2013 was a very good vintage for them. This riesling is one to enjoy now or to cellar over the coming decade. There is some mineral limestone savouriness to the ripe stonefruit and abundant floral and spicy perfumed notes on the nose that I associate with riesling from Eden Valley. Dry and crisp, the acid is soft but drives the line along the palate to extend the finish. Just one of Henschke’s riesling line up – this one proudly sports the Eden Valley embossed bottle. (11.5% ABV)
Trefethen Family Vineyards Dry Riesling 2012 (USD $23)
This one might be harder to find outside the USA, but is a good one if you are stateside. It calls Oak Knoll, Napa Valley home, providing some lighter relief and interest to the bigger bolder whites coming out of the Valley. A pretty wine with zesty lime, blossom and talc aromas that are joined by a long line of juicy citrus along the palate. It is dry and rounded out with 6 g/L residual sugar but still zingy on the acid. The finish is clean and lightly resonant. (12.5% ABV)
Framingham 2011 Select Riesling (~$40 – NZ)
Framingham’s philosophy is all about food – what is not to like about that as a starting place? One of the Marlborough’s highlights is their rieslings and this one is a spatlese style with crystalline purity of fruit. A riper style of riesling of juicy stonefruit, orange coloured citrus and a smoky minerality. The fresh acid balances the sugar so well that you are left with the mere impression of sweetness as this wine finishes drier. Light on the alcohol at 8.5%.
Eroica Riesling 2011 ($40+)
This is an ongoing collaboration between Chateau Ste Michelle (USA) and Dr Loosen (Germany), one of Germany’s best wine exports. A medium sweet riesling with 22 g/L residual sugar to smooth out the palate, leaving the lemon and lime fruit pure and zesty on the nose, underlined with some sweet blossom notes. There is honey on the palate along with savoury spice and peel on the finish. The balance of this wine is impressive and the finish is long and lean. It is well worth seeking out if you are in Australia. It is quite a departure from the bone dry Clare & Eden Valley Rieslings.
Brown Brothers Patricia Noble Riesling 2008 ($34 half bottle)
From the pioneering, Northern Victorian, Brown family that produces the iconic Orange Muscat & Flora and has a history entwined with botrytis wines in Australia. This vintage of Patricia is one that is rich and very sweet and that is delicately balanced with fresh acid – leaving it luscious but not cloying. With 215g/L of sugar it was a great year for botrytis in Milawa in 2008. Offering all the honeyed marmalade and citrus that you could expect, it shapes the mouth with flavours that last probably longer than that dessert that you are eating with it.
The article has also been published on Harpers.co.uk, November 2013