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Will the Riesling Renaissance Ever Happen?


#1

I wrote this piece for a blog I contribute to, wine is an occasional subject and the articles I write are pretty basic appealing hopefully to the casual wine drinker.

This on Riesling was on reflection not suitable for the blog or for here in its original form, so I have a shortened version for here which I hope will stimulate some opinion.

As I have said elsewhere Riesling by chance was my introduction to fine wine back in the seventies when I purchased four cases of the wonderful ‘71s, and I have been buying Riesling ever since but I must stipulate I am not a Riesling only person , far from it, I purchase wine at all levels from the far flung corners of the globe, it is that never ending search for new grape varieties and what they bring or don’t to the table alongside the classic staples that make wine so fascinating.

But ever since that first purchase I have followed the changes in Germany both in the wines themselves and the legislation that continues to this day.

It is easy to forget that pre war Reisling or “Hock” was fetching higher prices than the likes of Ch Latour for example and the facts can be seen on old menus and wine lists, so why the fall from grace, the war itself undoubtedly had a big effect as all things German were not exactly at the head of the queue for post war buyers and wine of that quality was a niche as few people in the “lower” classes drank wine at all in this country.
The attempts when the general populace started wine drinking to re invent the brand were successful with the likes of blended Blue Nun types which became very popular as the go to white wine of the period, but at a long term cost as tastes changed and more variety in wines became available, resulting in German wines largely taking a back seat in the public eye right up to today.

Riesling has for the newly found become the cult white wine of the serious wine drinker and writer, it’s as if it never left their lips, but that of course is not true, it has become a trend that is all, the truth is that articles and reviews of Riesling are few and far between, it is only mentioned among wines “chattering” classes as a sign of knowledge about a grape they in reality have little contact with.

How many times have we heard the word renaissance when Riesling is mentioned to find later down the track nothing has changed, far to often deja vue comes to mind.
There is more hope now for the grape as the winemakers have mastered the drier versions of the grape which cancels out that “Riesling is always sweet” comment, the latest versions are magnificent examples of the winemakers art and now stand proudly alongside those sweeter stalwarts that the grape produces.

Yet even now the legislature doesn’t help the customer with the endless fiddling with the wine laws and the over explanatory labels, some producers have seen the light and cut much of it out and taken the simpler labeling route and are to be applauded , like Topsy the categories keep growing despite the assurance back in the seventies that they would be simplified, the new drier categories are themselves ridiculous being long winded and totally bewildering to all other than those in the know, the only one that should be widely recognised is G G the new cru class for Riesling.

On a personal level I hope that Rieslings popularity remains were it is, for purely selfish reasons, where else in the world can you buy such superb wines at such reasonable prices and have the choice of buying an introductory wine made with the same skill in in a winery in the top echelon for around £10-£15, the answer nowhere.
The quality being produced in the Mosel and its tributaries is now feeding through to a revival in the Rhine itself and Pfalz and Rheinheissen, and those names that have lived on their reputation from the past are also being revitalised, with the added attraction of endless good vintages, a huge range of stylistic types, the reasons to buy Riesling have never been better.


#2

Nice article.
If I had to pick one white grape to drink to the exclusion of all others it would be Riesling. I’ve had Rieslings from all over the world and IMHO no other country can do with Riesling what the Germans can, from dry to sweet.
The labelling system may be complex and disorganised (in an organised sort of way) but unlike any other country I can think of at least you can get a vast amount of information from it if you understand the rules and do your homework.


#3

The article above is not about Riesling per se, but about German Riesling.
The label used as illustration is pretty offp utting, both in the wording and the typeface…

But it is from 1985; are German labels still like this?

Seems to me that new-world Riesling, which doesn’t carry the baggage of German Rieslings’ history, stands a better chance of rehabilitating the variety amongst new drinkers, and the International Riesling Foundation’s profile scale which shows a wines sweetness/dryness on a scale, should be used by all producers serious about promoting the variety.

All the same, the year of the Riesling Renaissance has been this coming year or the year after for at least 20 years.

Me? It’s decades since I bought a German Riesling so I don’t think you need have any fears that I’ll be taking your share.

My most recent Riesling purchases have all been icewines – from Ontario. :slight_smile:


#4

The label above and several others were from the Staat Weinbaudomanen of the area government that owned them, they were sold off in the late nineties, Donnhof being one producer who purchased several plum sites.
The style of the labels and the script date back to the Prussian period in the early 1900s when they purchased the estates.
There are still several regional state owned wineries in Germany and of course the Giesenheim research facility, the Teutonic script on the labels is still used by many estates throughout Germany.
Schloss Vollrads on the Rhine is a historic monument and is indirectly funded by the state.

Many of the labels are changing but for the purpose of making the identification easier rather than changing for historic reasons
Riesling from Germany is distinct from other regions in the world even the neighbour Alsace, Hugh Johnson said in a recent article that no one comes near to the nuances and quality of Riesling that you get in Germany especially the Mosel area, he is right, despite some good efforts from elsewhere.
Whilst I appreciate your sentiment re the “baggage” that German Riesling may carry for some it has not stopped the general population from buying millions of German cars, so in this day and age that really can’t be the reason.


#5

Just been putting German 2015 Rieslings into my basket to see which ones I might like to give a few years of age to.




There are 2 same holder, one of which is TWS and this one from Alsace which has sometimes been German, of course.


#6

‘Don’t mention the war’ :wink:


#7

Which one? there have been many exchanges. As a young waiter working with a 6ft8in East Prussian head waiter, he was asked by a customer whether a German sparkling wine they were drinking was champagne- he said, in his very heavily accented baritone voice “No sir, we didn’t keep France long enough to call it Champagne” - he was John Cleese-esque and great fun.


#8

The baggage I was referring to was the hocks and liebfraumilches, Blue Nuns, Black Towers &etc of immense popularity in the 70s that fell completely out of fashion leaving a memory of German white wines ain their tall bottles as sweet and bland

Nothing to do with cars…


#9

"The baggage I was referring to was the hocks and liebfraumilches, Blue Nuns, Black Towers &etc "

you are quite right as I already said the same in my piece, but of course they were not Riesling but blends of inferior white grapes, and there lies a large part of the problem they created at the time by equating the Blue Nuns etc with Riesling in the public eye.
Having said that it was a long time ago and a new generation of wine drinkers is buying now.


#10

I love Riesling in all its wonderful manifestations. My introduction was via Alsace dry Riesling and the wonderful sweet 1976 Mosel Rieslings. Our wine tastes are varied so we don’t drink Riesling every week but we do enjoy them when we have them. We tasted some lovely NZ central otago Rieslings at the wineries whilst on holiday, with the Felton Road examples being top notch - with prices to match.


#11

The new generation of wine drinkers that you mention is also part of the problem for German wine of any sort.

Why would your average twenty or thirty something pick up one of these bottles in preference to any number of other wines from other countries when looking to try something new?

Wine to most people isn’t something geeky or to be intellectualised, it’s supposed to be fun and social. Judging by the austere, boring labels with baffling information and Gothic scripture most buyers would pass German wine by without a second glance and they’re the people who could make it popular again not the one in a thousand who really takes an interest and posts on forums or writes a blog.

It’s the same with sherry.

Every few years people go on about it’s great comeback being on the horizon, but it never happens because to the general public, it’s considered to be the old fashioned drink that your nana has one schooner of on Christmas day.

It’s a shame that people overlook great wine for such shallow reasons, but that’s why there is such a massive marketing industry within the wine world.


#12

I’ve always thought of German Wine labels as being the most helpful. Grape variety, town it comes from, vineyard, indication of how dry or sweet you can expect it to be. All with amazing typefaces. What’s not to love? Such a shame Hamburg is too far north to be a Wine town. I reckon any Wine called Hamburger would be a real hit with the yoof of today.


#13

“I’ve always thought of German Wine labels as being the most helpful.”

They are or they were for those of us who understood them, now they are going into reverse with little or no information as to the type of wine contained within, you can see the difference on the WS German offerings, Maximum Grunhauser, Muller Catoir, Burklin Wolf all with Gothic script labels and the reverse with those who have gone for the new ! Toni Jost is a good example of telling you nothing about what is within.
The Schloss Lieser label is a good example of how it should be done without going overboard, having said all that for me it would be a sad day if the likes of Grunhauser dumped that wonderful label in the name of being progressive !
There is probably room for a label like Grunhaus in the same way that Mouton Rothschild has a quirky label, it doesnt have to be all or nothing, but there is certainly enormous scope for the marketing people to get stuck in with German Riesling.

Just as an afterthought Schloss Lieser Kabinett’s are a superb example of that great quality for little money in Riesling and they keep for years without losing their freshness.


#14

The changes I have noticed in the twenty odd years I have been into wine (and German wine was one of my first loves) is that there has been a massive improvement of the non- prädikat, drier styles of Riesling on offer. Germany has caught up (and in some cases surpassed) the best offerings from Alsace and Austria.

I love the old Gothic script German labels. I don’t think that any of the top producers have a problem selling their best wines, regardless of how cryptic the labels seem to the uninitiated. Newer more up and coming German producers tend to be a bit more modern in labeling their wines, and even Muller Catoir have simplified labels for their more basic range.

The increasing consumption of Asian food in the UK should lend itself to people drinking more Riesling (and other Germanic styles), its one of the few wines that copes well with really spicy food.

I hope that Riesling doesn’t get too popular, as I don’t want it too see the massive price hikes that have happened elsewhere. Its not a grape that does well on mediocre sites and I think German wine producers have learned from the past to aim for quality over quantity.


#15

“is that there has been a massive improvement of the non- prädikat, drier styles of Riesling on offer.”

Precisely, the original trocken wines were pretty awful in the main but as you say they have caught up and then some, I sampled the 2011 of this wine and it changed that earlier memory, and have just had a delivery of the 2016 and that from Heymann-Lowenstein also a GG drier wine, Tim Frohlich is one of those new winemakers that have taken over an old site and transformed it.
I would not have made these purchases ten years ago though I still buy the standard products if I can call them that.!


#16

I managed to bring my dad around to Riesling as he always always put off by thinking that it was sweet - now he really enjoys Riesling :smiley:


#17

I have a few bottles left of the 2011 Donnhoff Oberhauser Leistenberg Tonschiefer, which is fabulous at the £16.50 a bottle I paid a while ago. I’ve not tried any dry wines from Schafer Frohlich, but the Spatlese I sampled a while back was top drawer!


#18

Here’s hoping it doesn’t become too popular though…I am slowly working my way through a WS mixed case of 2015s…all excellent so far, and my wife who ‘doesn’t like German wine’ commented how much she enjoyed a Burklin Wolf from it…


#19

We were discussing this at my WSET session - My suggestion is that many German labels are simply indecipherable! Even a wine nerd can find them a bit tricky, so what chance has the general supermarket or even wine merchant class of consumer got?! Go and ask 100 people in the street what Pradikatswein means, then ask them if they’ve had a NZ Sauvignon, Oz Shiraz or other varietal.

I’d also extend this to the French and Italians who do themselves no favours with ‘traditional labelling’ and certainly the supermarket selling them is usually pretty poor too.

Traditional wine producers and authorities are genuinely their own worst enemy at appealing to new consumers. There will always be the winos who enjoy the discovery of terminology and reading up on regions, but seriously, if you’re a customer looking for a bottle like you pick out a bottle of milk, bread and apples etc, why are you going to pick a bottle with no knowledge or at best a guess of what’s in it?


#20

Partly true, the better quality Rieslings in the £10 - £15 bracket in supermarkets do have simple labels so there should be no problem, ie Dr Loosen.
Once you get into the £15 and above bracket you have the labels such as the Schaefer- Frohlich above which are straightforward and then the traditional such as Maximin Grunhauser that are unlikely to be purchased by the same people anyhow, I would guarantee that if Riesling become “fashionable” again the likes of Grunhauser with their stand out labels would be a plus when marketing as they are unique and no one would read the small print anyway.
What is also forgotten is the bottle is also unique, well almost to Riesling and that is a standout on the shelves, the nomenclature on the labels is a problem for those who understand a little of wine that is where the problem lies as many would give up trying to decipher, the problem when all the labels had all this confusing information on them is largely past, in the past it was a problem for sales as even Qba wines would have all the long and to most meaningless words on them.