A NEW WORLD OF RIESLING
For the first time in decades the demand for fine Riesling – that golden infusion of sunshine and soil, with its ravishing fruit and lingering smack of acidity is picking up. Connoisseurs have always known Riesling’s transcendent qualities and rewarded the efforts of growers and winemakers, particularly those of Germany and Alsace.
In the past, great Riesling meant “Old World “ traditional regions – Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Palatinate, Hessia, Krems an der Donau, Wachau and Alsace, but now some “New World“ wine producers have also learned the intricacies of growing fine Riesling.
Ontario, New York State’s Finger Lake Region, Washington State, Oregon, New Zealand (South Island), South Africa and Tasmania in Australia have attracted attention to their Rieslings.
There are also several international Riesling collaborations underway. Most notable of them all is that of Dr Loosen (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) and Chateau Ste Michelle in Washington State; the wine called Eroica.
Randal Graham of Bonny Doon fame in California imports Riesling wine from Johannes Selbach in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and blends it with his own to create a remarkable wine.
The emergence of wine awareness in the affluent middle class in the late 20th century resulted in demand for particular wine styles and this was anticipated by savvy New World wine producers (notably wineries in California) that concluded Riesling to be the next “big“ varietal in North America. (Remember Mondavi made Fume Blanc what it is today. Before he decided to call Sauvignon Blanc Fume Blanc and age it, the grape was not even heard of in North America)
Riesling has a remarkable capacity for ravishing the senses while also engaging the intellect. In youth, in seduces with delicious fruit flavours and an inimitable perfume that displays peach, apple and lime. Its bracing acidity provided the fruit was grown on appropriate terroir, and vinified dry or off-dry complements all types of foods. It provides, a wide range of expressions from easy-drinking fruity wines, to liquid conundrums that startle the senses with their fruit-inflected impressions of sun-baked stone.
Riesling wines age better than any other white wine, and develop astonishing complexity over decades without losing their vibrant freshness that makes them so appealing in their youth.
This grape likes cool climates, is highly cold-resistant, and can develop mature aromas and flavours at relatively early stages of the ripening process, particularly in regions like Mosel-Saar-Ruwer enjoying long growing seasons.
Ontario also enjoys a long growing season, as does the Finger Lake’s region in upper New York State. Both produce very fine Rieslings.
The question needs to be posed whether New World wine regions can compare favourably to those fabled Rieslings from Germany, Alsace in France and Wachau in Austria.
On the Mosel River the same vineyard can produce Kabinett, Spaetlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and even Trockenbeerenauslese wines, all of which can be captivating as German wine law is based on natural sugar content of the fruit. Most people conveniently forget that what matters most are two components – terroir and yield. You can taste a range of Rieslings from the same vineyard managed by two growers and vinified by competent winemakers only to discover that the difference will be striking, although there would be a clear commonality of fruit expression among them. Beautifully honeyed fruit underlying mineral flavours will come through in Mosel wines, but display differences of fruit, balance, depth and concentration of a range of taste components.
Riesling grown in Mosel and Rheigau regions are distinguished and elegant. A Riesling icewine from these regions is an “experience“.
Vineland Estates, Henry of Pelham, Konzelmann, Hernder, and Pelee Island Winery produce noteworthy Rieslings in Ontario.
In the Finger Lake’s region of New York State Herman Wiemer, Dr. K Frank Vinifera Cellars; in Washington State Chateau Ste Michelle, Ecole No 41, Polish Hill River, Frankland River, in Australia Henschke, and in New Zealand Wairau and Nobilo are known to produce fine Rieslings.
If you are an icewine aficionado, rest assured that Riesling is always more elegant. The price differential between it and Vidal, or many other varieties for that matter is well worth it. Riesling is king and the future will prove it!
For additional information and resources about Riesling wines visit the New York Times: Times Topics: Riesling
Article contributed by Hrayr Berberoglu, a Professor Emeritus of Hospitality and Tourism Management specializing in Food and Beverage. Books by H. Berberoglu