During my time away I have been very busy on other matters, none good, but it has given me time to evaluate certain aspects of Riesling, personally and in the wider world of wine.
I don’t think there is any doubt that Riesling is on the up as a go to grape, yet the rise in interest is still largely confined here to those who are already purchasers of the wine and outside of those the rise is pretty small, yet abroad and in the USA in particular Riesling is increasing its sales to a much wider audience, and it is the dry wines that are making the difference, however wonderful sweet Rieslings can be they are like Sauternes a niche market, very few of us who like the grape would pull out a bottle of auslese every day even if we had the chance to, though it has to be said the Kabinett wines have been shown to err in many cases despite the residual sugar to a much more neutral semi dry style for many years.
It is a fact that the awful ‘sweet years’ of Riesling and cheap hock have tainted Riesling for far to long, and the German wine makers have not exactly gone out of their way to correct this blight on their wines until relatively recently, what is strange in all this is that 100 years ago dry Riesling was the bigger part of production, up until the early post war years, nothing is new.
Yet it is almost as though the answer was on their doorstep in Alsace which has always predominately made dry Riesling and the same goes for Australia and elsewhere, so much of any rise in German Riesling popularity can be charged to those others who have been selling more, albeit relatively small quantities, of the dry style on the world stage than if you like the ‘home’ of Riesling.
Having said that the renaissance in Germany has been remarkable, in around twenty years the few who made dry Riesling have been joined by a whole new generation of “Jungwinzer”, some of these new wave vintners were sons and daughters taking over from parents who let them have free rein, others from other wineries striking out on their own, many who did not have the monetary backing came out of the Giesenheim wine institute worked in other wineries in Germany and elsewhere and then managed to acquire or lease sites in either abandoned areas or unfashionable ones, and a small percentage didn’t even come from a wine background but had the passion to pursue the dream, a good example is German TV anchor Gunter Jauch who purchased the von Othegraven winery from his aunt and spent ten years building up the quality and reputation.
In his twenties Julian Haart set up the equivalent of a micro brewery producing just 10,000 bottles, and again within ten years gained an international reputation, Theo Haart of Rienhold Haart, a relation, has only 3 ½ acres yet again is producing two styles and is world wide known and sold.
Daniel Vollenwieder, a Swiss, only set up in 2000 and again is recognised for his quality wines produced from a site with no reputation at all the Wolfer Goldgrube, Tim Frolich took over the family winery in ‘95 and superb sweet wines were soon joined by a sextet of GGs Gross Gewachse wines that soon gained him a starring role in the Riesling firmament.
Someone who rivals Keller (see below) in producing year in year out top of the range Rieslings in the Mosel is Markus Molitor, he took over the family winery at the age of twenty in 1984, he may longer qualify as a Jungwinzer but he certainly did then, his holdings, nearly all in the middle Mosel and most of the great sites plus some land in the Saar now are in the region of 80 hectares, like Keller his top wines are sought after and fetch high prices but the range all of which are exemplary are reasonable, if you can find them, again demand makes that difficult sometimes, I have only a couple of bottles of his Urziger Wurtzgarten Kabinett in my cellar.
Molitor has also made the effort to make the choice of his wines easier by using different coloured capsules on his bottles, white for dry, green for semi/feinherb and gold for fruity, his dry wines are as good as any ones and the range is all to his constantly high standard.
In 2016 he purchased the undivided old Staatsdomane at Serrig on the Saar adding 22 hectares of one of the most prestigious and famous old vineyards in Germany to his portfolio, I had some of the wines from there in the early days when the Prussian eagle was dominant on the label but nothing since, time to return ?
There are many more Heymann-Lowenstein , Emrich- Schonleber, Van Volxem a totally run down estate that Roman Niewodniczanski, one of the 7th generation family that own the Bitburger Brewery, took over in 1999 and completely overhauled and rebuilt it, Gunter Kunstler of Franz Kunstler who proved dry Riesling could still be rich and stay vitalised, sometimes pushing the boundaries to far but succeeding in the end and many more, mainly in the Rhinelands, even the by now tourist areas that had sat on their laurels for so long got the message and new winemakers took over at the institutions such as Schloss Johannisberg, though they are still to expensive for what they offer, but at least the quality is up.
Georg Breur made great efforts to get the Rheingau area he was in up to scratch and produce great Riesling, it took some time but into the nineties he started to produce great dry Riesling, he died suddenly and his daughter Theresa just twenty at the time, took over and there was not even a hiccup, her long lived dry Rieslings are well worth sorting out.
Eva Fricke, see header, had a very small parcel of land on start up in 2006, she also concentrated on an area thought to be poor in the northern Rheingau were land was cheaper, yet she has made a go of it and the results are first class, most in the medium dry style from the Lorch area, there are many tales like this both in the Rhinelands and in the Mosel where abandoned or empty vineyards are being revived by passionate growers and wine makers.
Someone else who has transformed his fathers estate is Johannes Leitz, based mainly at vineyards round Rudesheim not far from the Giesenheim institute, he has made a big impact internationally, and along with Ernie Loosen has done so much to push German wines across the world, his wines can be found in supermarkets here quite easily, but do not dismiss them as entry level cheapies, far from it, his entry level wines must be as good as value can get in Riesling the cleverly worded Eins-Zwei-Dry is worth every penny of its around £12 a bottle
and that success has not stopped him from producing some very good top of the range wines from his state of the art winery.
But among them all the new wunderkind was Klaus-Peter Keller, Klaus-Peter and his wife Julia met at the Giesenheim institute, they were fortunate to take on Klaus -Peters parents vineyards that made very good sweet wines and continued along that path making dry wines as well, but it was when Julias parents made the Westhofen site available to them in 2002 that things took off with their range of now world acclaimed dry GG wines, the full range of Keller wines are all of a remarkably high standard, and consistently so, and cellar door prices are not exorbitant, it is the secondary market that has pushed them into the stratosphere, the entry level wines are worth the effort to find, a footnote on Keller is his family is from the Mosel and he recently purchased a site there soon to come on stream, it will be interesting to see if his magic can travel.
Most of this dry wine activity took place in the Rhinelands , not that the Mosel known for lighter floral subtle wines has stood back, all or nearly all have embraced the demand, especially at home for the dryer wines and superb examples are now available from the Mosel and its tributaries, with climate change along with advanced vineyard technology making the old adage of three years in ten being the maximum for good vintages a distant memory, it seems every year produces good wine or better these days.
The last time I visited the Rhinelands was in the late eighties, not a great time for the area and so it proved wine wise, perhaps if I can force myself time for another tour
There is often talk of petrolised Riesling, not something despite all that I have drunk over the years I have come across often and what causes it, a recent paper may have thrown a more plausible reason into the mix, it appears that tests with canopy cover has shown that reducing direct sunlight in long hot summers also reduces the incidence of petrol aromas, these have been proved to be more frequent in Australian Rieslings and the climate there is by nature giving a lot more direct sunlight and Riesling has been shown to react to that with the petrol aromas, by leaving more top canopy on the vines this has reduced that effect, good if it works as I have never apart from the novelty factor ever thought that does anything good for the wine.
This from the 2014 Int Symposium on Riesling, further research has come up with much the same.
“High temperature and sun exposure will increase TDN formation (Marais et al. 1992). Riesling grapes that are directly exposed to sunlight, when the leaves in the fruit zone have been plucked away, have much higher levels of TDN than shaded grapes (Sack et al. 2010). “
As I said at the beginning I have probably only come across this fault about five or six times in all the years I have been drinking Riesling and that is a very long time and an awful lot of bottles, yet wine enthusiasts in some cases talk as though every bottle has this aroma especially mature Riesling and if it hasn’t there is something wrong, either I am not very receptive to the petrol vapours, it could be the case, or people are telling porkies as it fits the current narrative to have petrol vapours pouring from your glass, ‘ah this is Riesling mmmm’ .
And if you read the dozens of articles on this phenomena you would be allowed to be confused as the opinion goes to from a fault that should be eradicated, to the ‘fact’ that mature Riesling is not great unless it has these aromas, all a bit strange as the aroma is a quirk not something that can be included by the winemaker and disparaged by all of them.
It is interesting that in Australia which appears to be the country that suffers most from petrol aromas, it is considered by the critics in competition to be a fault, of course those that make the wine with the same aromas differ on that, you can form your own opinions, I made mine up a long time ago, in the few I have encountered most blew off after a time but others persisted and to me were just unpleasant and undrinkable, after all If I wanted to drink a glass of 95 octane unleaded it would be a lot cheaper to go to the local gas station with a 5 litre container.
Whilst on the matter of opinion, there has always been the those that believe good Riesling should be aged for a long time, it has never been that simple, I have always found that in the very early years after bottling all of the Rieslings I have drunk have been in their own wayjust as enjoyable as later when they have evolved, true some , the very opulent sweet wines do take on a very different style with age and evolve into something else often glorious, but even the sweet ones can have a very different quality of freshness that is lost with age, so you takes your choice, this is from Hermann Donnhoff.
“‘I like it very young. It is wonderful to drink these wines young and fresh on a warm day. But don’t drink it all in the first two summers after the harvest. After 3 or 4 years the wine goes to sleep, and then after 6 or 7 it comes back. So I like it in the first two or three years and then after 10’. “
I haven’t purchased any Riesling from TWS, that is in no way an indictment to that on offer by the society, but simply I have purchased 95% of my Riesling from specialist importers over the years and know what I want, but the thought of that did make me peruse the Riesling list, something I haven’t done in depth just simply scanned in the past.
The society has had a few rather disdainful comments on its offerings on this blog, but I would actually defend most of it as a pretty broad based selection likely to appeal to the majority wanting to try this grape for the first time and enough ‘better’ wines to tempt you to venture up the scale should you get the taste for the grape.
The society cannot stock wine that will not sell and outside the aficionado’s, Riesling is still a niche player in the general scheme of things, it might well be the unwritten favourite white wine of all the wine writers and many others yet outside that bubble the truth is at this moment in time few are buying it, especially from Germany, you only have to see the meagre offerings on the supermarket shelves to know that Riesling is currently a long way down the pecking order.
In light of that what the WS has on it’s list is comprehensive if somewhat conservative which is about right.
However, two things, there are some gems to be had, the most obvious one is the Schloss Lieser Niederberg Helden Riesling Auslese Goldcap Schloss Lieser 2015 I can vouch for this, see my review on the site, brilliant winemaking in a great year, 2015 should be purchased by anyone who wants to drink Riesling, considered by many to be equal to the great ‘71 vintage and a wine with accolades across the board, for the quality and stature it provides this is cheap, where could you get a fine white Burgundy from a top producer for this money, you can’t.
And not far behind this one Rausch Riesling Auslese, Zilliken 2015
There is a Kanzemer Altenberg Riesling Spätlese Alte Reben, von Othegraven 2017 that is interesting though I have not drunk this particular wine, and a couple Kabinett wines that are top class, Saarburger Rausch Kabinett, Zilliken 2017 , plus Schloss Lieser again Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett, Schloss Lieser 2017 so reliable and always great value, a revitalised Maximiner Grünhäuser Herrenberg Kabinet 2017 a winery I purchased much of in the past, the Karthauserhof a neighbour of Grunhaus is interesting as there have been substantial changes to the cellar and winemaking facilities and a new winemaker in charge, the portents are very good as the vineyard has been ‘coasting’ for some time, such a unique site deserves better and it looks like it is on the way back.
An interesting ‘cheaper’ wine is the Riesling Trocken, Künstler 2017 , I have not sampled this one but Kunstler as above does push for these richer wines and it would be interesting to try a dry version.
The BAs and the TBAs are very much a niche product, by nature they are very expensive and difficult to compare for few have the resources to to purchase a selection or even one bottle, quite a few cheaper botrytised Rieslings from other countries come up for sale at lower prices and that may be a good way to introduce yourself to this category, a lot of money if you don’t like the product, or alternatively a really good Gold Cap Auslese will with, as many do have botrytised grapes in the mix, give you a fair indication of what its all about.
Others are perfectly good representatives of Riesling, a few duds but not many, if the list needs a boost I would suggest in the dry wine section it has to include some of the new top drawer GG wines, plus a few more new names, there is not a single GG in the listing, otherwise it is pretty well set for those that wish to dip their toes ! into Riesling, no listing in any wine area is going to please everyone, but the WS is not a Riesling specialist so there has to be a bit of elasticity in any comments, after all the same could be said of other regions and grapes.
I have consumed some Australian Rieslings in my absence, my knowledge of them is decent but not comprehensive but I wanted to give them a fair trial in the light of their success abroad, that success brings about a comment on wine awards, an old thorny subject on here and elsewhere.
I stopped taking Decanter at the beginning of the year, the main reason being a rise in price alongside asking for a premium for online content is a step to far and I just don’t need it, but I do get because I don’t pay for it a monthly copy of the DB and it has its own Masters competition for single grape varieties, to be honest I can’t see much point to another wine comp, they seem to be anywhere and everywhere, not that they don’t have a use but probably for me not in the way intended.
Anyway they had a Riesling Masters, looking at the results Australian Riesling took most of the awards, but looking further into the competition, only one hundred wines were put forward and they do not release the names of those that failed to win anything, plus on further inspection apart from the Australian entrants there did not seem to be a single name from Germany or the Alsace I recognised, if no vineyards that have international recognition put their wines up then two things, they don’t need to, they may be worried about not winning against supposed inferior wines or the competition is really not that important, I think mainly the latter as the winning wines apart from the Aus ones are mainly unknown even to me and are not available here anyway so all in all a bit pointless, not that it is unique to the DB, the big wine comps Decanter and Wine have the same problem in certain categories, Bordeaux for example, but this is a subject for another day and has been done to death anyway in the past.
Back finally to the Australian Rieslings, some very good wines even at lower prices, yet Australia does suffer from a one style suits all, like NZ and SB if it is commercially successful they are all inclined to follow, there is a distinct lack of diverse styles in Australian Riesling, certainly among those for sale here, much of that is because the big companies dominate they buy up so many smaller outfits and it shows.