Riesling Thoughts

I write this with a glass of 2010 Robert Weil Kiedricher Gräfenberg Riesling trocken on my table. Oh my, good wine is always so thought-provoking. This wine shows a slight sign of aging already but still very fresh and lively. Most impressed is the long and beautiful nutty finish. And I have to say it again, I’m lovin it!

Riesling in a glass


Transparent and Broad

Riesling is widely regarded as the most transparent grape variety. It requires longer ripening period which in turn means that the berries have a lot of time to slowly absorb the soil and the climate, or in a snobby wine terminology, the terroir of a specific site. Riesling is also a grape of many facets. It can be used to produced a wide range of wines, from bone dry to super (noble) sweet and this broad spectrum of taste find its peak in Germany. Here it is typical to find more than ten different styles of Riesling wines from just one winery in one vintage. On the dry-end, the top wines, which are called Grösses Gewaechs, are internationally highly regarded and are demanding increasing price. On the other end, noble sweet german wines are among the most expensive and sought-after wines in the world. Somewhere in between lies fruity off-dry wines likes traditional Kabinett and Spätlese which offer the drinker the superb play between acid and sweetness that cannot be found elsewhere.

Harmony and Balance are all that Count

Top German producers are crazy about harmony not extraction – above all, the balance between acid, residual sugar, fruit, and alcohol – and this is probably due to their passion for Riesling, a grape that transparently reflects everything that had happened in the vineyard and cellar. So in the cool regions, optimum ripeness is reached while the acidity is still high, more residual sugar is needed to balance the acid out. Great examples are the Mosel wines with its intense flavor, deep mineral note, tingle sweetness and sappy acid; yet at a very low alcohol. If we travel to the warmer regions like the Pfalz or Rheinhessen, the acidity is less pronounced and the wine can be fermented until dry to achieve the desired balance. Here drier and fuller body Rieslings with more intense fruit flavor are common. In specific sites, especially in the valleys filled with fog and mist, where Botrytis Cinerea or noble rot comes into play, the noble sweet wines like Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese are made.

Rather One Sip than Thousand Words

Regarding to the law, there are four levels of sweetness, dry (trocken), semi-dry (halb-trocken), semi-sweet (lieblich) and noble sweet. Beside these terms, there are predicate (Prädikat) terms like Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeeren-auslese and Eiswein which are used to categorized the level sugar or ripeness in the grape must before the fermentation. However, the first two terms are rarely an indication of the sweetness in the end wine since Kabinett and Spätlese grape can be fermented either until dry to achieve more complexity and rounder texture or left with residual sugar to retain the fruit and freshness. In rarer case, even Auslese can turn out to be dry. Here, it is often more useful to look for terms like trocken which means dry, or feinherb or lieblich which mean semi-dry and semi-sweet accordingly. Another good indication is the alcohol level. Anything below 11% is mostly off-dry while anything above 13% is dry. Between 11% and 13% lies the gray where one has to dig deeper. Here, the advice of the sommeliers or wine merchants are often useful since many factors, like the growing region, the characteristic of a specific site or the style of the producer, come into play. However, the best way is just to try different styles out and to discover the various taste of Riesling yourself. One sip is better than thousand words and once you are spelled with Riesling’s transparency and honesty, your palate (or taste buds) will experience a completly new and exciting sense-provoking enjoyment like me and many others.

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