German vs. Australian Rieslings – let the games begin!
Question from Gillian: I am in love with German Rieslings! Why does Germany rock in the Riesling department? But I would love to buy and support local, can you recommend a great local off-dry Riesling? Love your work by the way.
In a nut shell: Germany rocks in the Riesling department because of its dynamic microclimate and location which allows for a longer ripening period than most other countries. This extended sunshine ensures the perfect level of sugar and acidity (the two most important elements in a good Riesling). Also, the unique soil of slate rock produces distinctive aromas and flavours found nowhere else. Lastly, Germany produces high quality wines because, by law, they must be made naturally with no additives or chemicals. With that said, Australia produces some amazing Rieslings too which I’ll get into later…
In a clam shell: Poor old Riesling! It’s gone from the most popular grape variety (pre 1970s) to the very misunderstood wine that it is today. It’s because as Riesling increased in popularity Germany started mass producing some pretty ordinary drops which tainted its stellar reputation.
A good Riesling is life changing (and don’t you know it Gillian – we just have to convince everyone else)! It’s an aromatic grape variety with a flavour spectrum ranging from lemon and lime (less ripe) to pineapple, apricot and honey (more ripe). It’s also very high in acid and can leave you with that tart feeling in your mouth like you’ve just had a glass of homemade lemonade.
What gets Riesling into trouble is its spectrum of sweetness and when you accidently buy a sweet Riesling expecting a dry one you’re probably not going to go back anytime soon. Traditionally Riesling is a touch sweet although most Australia Rieslings are actually dry. Germany, on the other hand, is known for Rieslings that range from bone dry to sickly sweet.
Germany has six different classes of Riesling. Kabinett and Spätlese are typically semi-sweet (sometimes dry). Next you’ve got Auslese which is getting sweeter and then Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein which are super sweet, thick dessert wines. The German system for classifying wine sweetness makes purchasing slightly sweet Rieslings easy as it appears on the bottle with the names above. It gets a little harder if you are picking Australia Rieslings (especially if you are after something sweet) because there is no official labelling system. You need to look at the amount of ‘residual sugar’ or ‘RS’ which should be identified on the back of the bottle. If the words ‘residual sugar’ or ‘RS’ are not on the bottle then assume it’s dry. But Gillian you said you liked an off-dry wine (which in plain English is semi-sweet) so you’re going to have to pay close attention to the bottle. Dry wines contain about 0.2-0.3% RS. Semi-sweet wines contain 1-5% RS and dessert wines are 5-15% RS. The other thing to look out for are the words ‘late harvest’ or ‘late picked’ – this means the grapes have stayed on the vine a little longer and have therefore an increased amount of sugar.
Australia is actually one of the largest producers of Riesling in the world with most of those quality drops coming from Clare Valley and Eden Valley in South Australia. The bad news for you Gillian is that Australia produces mostly dry Rieslings. The good news is that semi-sweet Rieslings are becoming increasingly trendy and more drops are being produced each year. Your best bet with Aussie drops is to ask your friendly wine shop assistant for some help. That’ll save you guessing and potentially getting it wrong. If there is no assistant on hand or you want to do it all by yourself I have found a few semi-sweet drops that you might like. I know you are after Australian wines but like I said most Aussie Rieslings are dry so I’ve included New Zealand in the mix (they’re family right?!?).
If you can make it to the City Wine Shop on Spring Street in Melbourne CBD I found a few there that’ll tickle your fancy…
Pegasus Bay ARIA Late Picked Riesling 2012 (New Zealand) – This drop has been made with grapes affected by botrytis (a mold that concentrates the sugar level) – subtle sweetness with crisp acidity.
Crawford River Noble Dry Riesling 2011 (Victoria) – This has been made in a dry style but with grapes partially affected by botrytis so you’re going to get sweetness without the sugar.
Rockford Hand Picked Riesling 2012 (Eden Valley, South Australia) – slight amount of residual sugar
Clonakilla Riesling 2014 (Canberra) – slight amount of residual sugar