Time to make friends with a riesling


Given the collective efforts of wine-writers to awaken their readers to the many charms of riesling, sales should have risen spectacularly over the past few years. But alas. They have not.

And, despite our efforts and those of others who champion the variety, they show no sign of doing so yet.

Not in New Zealand anyway.


A couple of reasons.

Most people still think that riesling equals sweet when the fashion is for dry white wines; much of the riesling that is given the chance to impress is opened before it has developed the gorgeously rich and honeyed, toasty characters that are its reward.

The fact is that riesling comes in more variants or flavours than just about any other wine: Bone dry which is self explanatory; medium-dry with just a sliver of sweetness; medium sweet, which is even sweeter; and just plain sweet.

Unfortunately some producers still do not adequately explain which category their various wines fall into, in spite of the development by the International Riesling Federation of an easy- to- understand taste profile that can be reproduced on the back labels of their wines to help consumers.

As the federation points out, the natural grape sugar left in the wine is just one of the factors defining the taste. The natural acid and pH offset the sugar, and the interplay of these elements ultimately determines what you will taste. For example, a riesling with more residual sugar but high acid may well taste drier than one with less sugar and low acid.

Which all adds up to this (and the International Reisling Federation quite naturally agrees): Whatever you prefer, there is a riesling for you. Preferably a New Zealand riesling, because we do it very well. In some cases exceptionally well.

And that includes a relatively new style of riesling in this part of the world -- one that is neither dry nor overly alcoholic, a style that producers assumed was not what consumers wanted.

It turns out that this more Germanic style of riesling is exactly what the market did want, particularly newcomers to the variety. They are attracted by its markedly lower alcohol levels, lighter, more delicate texture and by a level of sweetness that has been counter-balanced by acid to make the wine seem drier than technically it is.

It is to do with "perceptible dryness" and all that stuff.

Just as the ageing ability of riesling, which in some case is greater than red wines, is all to do with sweetness and acidity, with the potential determined mostly by sugar levels, dessert -style riesling have the ability to survive for 100 years, though precious little is likely to do so given our lack of interest.

It is a pity, because riesling is a classic cool climate grape and ours is a climate which matches that description, particularly in Marlborough and other parts of the South Island, including Central Otago. I think it's time we all made friends with this great grape by looking for a riesling that will suit our tastes.

Some suggestions:

Felton Road 2013 Bannockburn Riesling, $28:

One of New Zealand's finest Mosel- style rieslings. Only 8.5 percent alcohol but lovely rich citrus- driven flavour. Already a pleasure to drink and will become even more so over the next 10 years. Sweet but fresh. A stunning Central Otago wine.

Neudorf 2012 Moutere Riesling, $30:

The 2011 was aptly described by winewriter Michael Cooper as a copybook cool-climate riesling . Likewise the medium-sweet 2012, which has only 9 percent alcohol with marmalade and honey already mingling with the citrus.

Carrick 2013 Central Otago Riesling, $24:

The second excellent vintage in a row of this very palatable, pure and and persistent organic riesling. Gently sweet (medium) with vibrant citrus/stonefruit flavour. Excellent value for money.

Pegasus Bay 2010 Waipara Riesling, $28:

From one of New Zealand's top producers. A crisp and intense stonefruit and citrus riesling that includes some botrytised fruit, hence the honey. Has just broken into stride and will continue to develop.

The Southland Times