Celebrate Riesling – The Winemaker’s Wine
Mon, 25 August 2014
It’s no secret that for years Riesling suffered a bit of a PR nightmare, with an undeserved reputation for too much sweetness. It seemed for a time that only winemakers appreciated its true beauty. But as you probably know, here we’re pretty crazy about this elegant white, which ranges in style from deliciously fruity, to crisp and dry. To understand the complex aspects and rich history of the Riesling, we thought we’d start with a wander down the Rhine…
A brief history
When not praying devoutly, monks across the ages have been well-known makers and imbibers of good wine. So it’s probably no real surprise that a medieval Cistercian monastery in the Rheingau region of Germany is generally recognised as the starting point of the aromatic Riesling varietal. As the Rhine winds its way northwest across Germany, its steep sloping banks with rather questionable soil produce a white wine of notable clarity, zest and longevity.
The 15th century saw this popular wine pop up in Austria and across in Alsace, with the latter wine district adding a little French-infused je ne sais quoi to the production of the popular white. The grape continued to grow in popularity across Western Europe, as vintners discovered and celebrated Riesling’s characteristic freshness.
The parentage of the Riesling grape is not entirely clear – a form of Traminer might well have bred with a local wild German vine, but there’s also the theory that the rather obscure Heunisch grape plays a part in Riesling’s DNA. In any case, a white of gentle acidic balance and light floral distinction luckily came about.
Riesling arrives in Australia
A bit like our monks, pioneering travellers from the Middle Ages and beyond also tended to take their wine pretty seriously. Vine cuttings were often transported to parts of the New World to ensure the quick establishment of wine in new climes. And aren’t we lucky in Australia that Riesling was one of the originals?
German immigrants brought Riesling vines with them when they arrived in Australia in the 19th century. With travel of course comes new terrain, and Riesling began to show an extraordinary tendency to absorb and reflect the unique mineral characteristics of local vineyards. The Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia were found to be particularly suited to Riesling’s requirements. As for those soft mineral tendencies, there’s one theory that the poorer soils upon which Riesling thrives tend to lead to more probing root systems, ensuring that the local terroir is never forgotten in the subtle Riesling palate. Beautiful stuff.
Complex and vibrant
Often loved for a dominance of citrus and floral notes while young, one of the best features of the Riesling is in the fantastic rewards of cellaring.
Depending on the vintage, it’s not unexpected to discover musky rewards of smoke, honey and warm spice in the older Riesling. Give it a couple of years and you’ll find the earlier pale straw hue will tend to relax into a peachy, autumnal affair – yet still with a refreshing lift.
Some people get famously put-off by the idea of the ‘petrol’ or ‘kerosene’ – these words often used to describe the character that can come in the latter years of a fine Australian Riesling. We prefer to describe this lovely aged character as ‘toasty marmalade’. It’s the reward you get at the end of a well-cellared Riesling and we think it’s fantastic.
A quick note on cellaring
The key to sourcing an excellent Riesling for cellaring purposes is in the quality of the vintage while still young. As the Riesling Report notes, ripeness at bottling combined with a fundamentally sound acidic structure can both help to ensure a “wine for the ages.”
Riesling should certainly be put centre stage, especially when food pairing calls for a dexterous and adaptable number. When sweetness and acidity are in balance, the refreshing citrus tones of a Riesling that is less than two years old are hard to beat for even the most challenging food partners, while older Rieslings can impart a wonderfully deep flavour and aroma.
There’s no vegetable dish known to man that can fail to pair perfectly with the clarity of a lovely Riesling – think antipasto, stuffed capsicum, spicy tomato soup or vegetable moussaka – all perfect cool weather matches for this versatile white. Our Taylors Estate Riesling 2013 puts forward fresh lime and lemon notes that will compliment antipasto, or even a spicy winter curry to perfection.
And when summer rolls around again Riesling, no matter its age, tends to provide a perfectly refreshing foil to the Australian heat, whatever the menu. We think that maybe somewhere, the heavens must have foretold of the long Aussie verandas, the pan-Asian table influences and of course the easy-going outdoor life that was to typify modern Australian summer weekends – and solemnly declared: “This place shall have Riesling!” Let’s picture a seared and spicy pork number… Or your favourite chilli chicken salad… Maybe that whole ginger snapper? These and so many more summery dishes all fall beautifully under the spell of Riesling.
About those rumours
Just in case you’re still undecided about the brilliant balance of modern Rieslings, a brief word on the famed sweetness rumour. Yes it’s true that Riesling was once undeservedly mauled and modified in the bad old days. All that inexcusable residual sugar weighed down any possibility for pure citrus tones and luscious acidic complexities to arise.
But we’re so very glad that the times of getting Riesling wrong in production are long gone. And we’re proud to be part of Riesling’s well-deserved resurgence as a noble white.
Whether sipping a crisp, lime-inspired refresher beside the Spring Racing track, or nibbling antipasto by your winter fire with a soft, smoky older number – we’re pretty sure that Riesling will become one of your new best friends – if it isn’t already! Enjoy…