One of life’s humbling moments happens when we think we are domain experts in an area of interest, only to find out later that what we know is but a tiny fraction. In wine, as in life, there have been many instances when I was caught out by different interpretations of a subject matter that I thought I knew very well.
One of the varietals that still stumps me today is Riesling. If we consider that Riesling is planted widely in the world and is hardly ever blended with other varietals, it logically follows that Riesling ought not to be hard to understand at all…. like Sauvignon Blanc. We can broadly categorise Sauvignon Blanc into two styles; fresh and aromatic New World style characterised by New Zealand, and flinty, mineral like interpretations from Sancerre and Pouilly Fume.
Yet, if we walk into a well-stocked bottle shop, we will be amazed by the many Riesling selections and styles available. For me, the most interesting thing about this varietal is its sponge like quality. Riesling soaks up very well the essence of location and climate, what wine people call “Terroir”, and makes Riesling from each geographical location distinctly different from one another. As a result, there is no singular taste profile anyone can point at and say that that’s how a great Riesling should taste like.
Because of its palate diversity, ranging from bone dry to sweet, and lively, acidic to oily and glyceric, Riesling is one of the most versatile varietals for food pairing. Depending on the type of Riesling, we can pair it with dishes across a wide spectrum. I have often paired local dishes with different types of Rieslings to very interesting effect.
So what are some of the common Riesling styles and where do we find them?
1. Lively, bone dry Rieslings with high acid profile
These types of Rieslings can be found in many parts of the New World, but you can find really good ones in Clare Valley, Australia. Clare is a renowned region for making cool climate, cutting edge Rieslings with nice minerality to boot. There is little of the kerosene like notes and oily texture in these wines. This is a style that is often overlooked by diehard German Riesling fans, but if you have an open mind, these lively Rieslings are a class of their own. Grosset and Mount Horrocks make amazing Rieslings of this style. They are great to drink with fresh oysters or the humble fish and chips. Just imagine whatever dishes that benefit from a squeeze of the lemon will do well with a Clare Riesling.
2. Off dry, medium bodied Rieslings with moderate alcohol
If there is an old world Riesling outside of Germany that catches my attention, it will most likely be from Alsace. Alsace often ranks as an afterthought in Singapore, mostly because its wines have to contend with Italy for Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio), and Germany for Riesling and Gewurztraminer for consumer attention. Some of the best Alsace Rieslings I have had come from established producers such as Hugel and Weinbach, as well as smaller producers like Andre Kientzler. You get aromatic notes of flowers and peaches with many of these wines. I find Alsace Rieslings to be versatile and pair well with the most unlikely dishes, such as roast chicken and Chinese style roast pork belly.
3. Low alcohol, sweeter Rieslings
The most popular interpretation of Riesling and definitely the one that gets hardcore Riesling followers excited, you can find these wines in Germany. Because of the cold, it is very difficult to get grapes to ripen sufficiently here. As a result, German Rieslings tend to be sweeter with lower alcohol. A caveat though. Because German wines are classified according to sugar ripeness at the point the grapes are harvested rather than the residual sugar in the wine, any of the classifications e.g. Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese etc can yield wines that range from dry to intensely sweet.
The Spatlese and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) classifications most times are consistent with the style I mentioned here but the key to really knowing German Rieslings is to drink from different producers and identifying the producers you like. Often, the producer’s name tells you more about the wine style than the classification shown on the label. Some of my favourite producers are Fritz Haag and Hermann Donnhoff. You can easily drink them on their own or even with aromatic dishes like Thai green curry.
There is much fun to be had when we put on our explorer hats and sieve out the different gems. Rieslings are guaranteed to surprise you by their many faces and versatility. Do share with us what Rieslings you have enjoyed in the last year. Have fun.
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