Let me introduce you to my favourite white grape, Riesling. Riesling is a fruity and aromatic grape which typically has low alcohol and high acidity, which is balanced by varying degrees of residual sugar. It produces great wines in a range of styles from dry and off dry to semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling. It can grow in a range of climates, but it always prefers moderately cool areas. Germany is Riesling’s ancestral home, but it also thrives in many countries, with Alsace, Austria, California, New Zealand and Australia producing fine examples.
One of the intriguing characteristics of Riesling is the way it is influenced by where it is grown - wine buffs use the term “terroir-expressive”. In Germany it can have fresh grape and green apple characteristics, whereas in Australia’s Clare Valley it can reveal citrus and peach notes. Some of the richest, most concentrated Rieslings are produced in Alsace, but that area can also craft some of the most tinglingly dry wines – it’s all down to where and how it’s grown.
Germany’s complex system of designating the various styles of Riesling equates quality with ripeness and illustrates the many styles of the wine. The different designations reflect the grapes’ sugar levels:
Kabinett wines are typically light bodied, semi-sweet, but can be dry, with crisp acidity.
Donnhoff Kreuz Kroten Ries Kab
£18.50 / €25.50
Grapes harvested a little later are labelled Spatlese (late harvest). Typically semi-sweet, these wines will have a more concentrated ripe flavours and more body than Kabinetts. Confusingly, Spatleses can also be dry.
Leitz Rud Magdalenen Ries Spat 2011
£19.99 / €27.45
Auslese (selected harvest) wines are made from hand selected very ripe grapes. They are semi-sweet to sweet with flavours of honey, apricot and peach. Ausleses can occasionally be made into a powerful dry wine.
Loosen Weh Sonnenuhr Ries Aus 2010
£29.95 / €41.00
By leaving the grapes on the vines longer, and given the right conditions, (does not happen every year) the grapes can become infected by noble rot, also known as botrytis. Noble rot affects the grape by shrinking and drying out the grape, but all the sugar is retained. The grapes are pressed multiple times to get all the juice from them and the resulting wines are dense and concentrated, golden in colour and very sweet. When fermented, this typically leaves a wine with considerable residual sugar. Wines made this way are labelled Beerenauslese (selected harvest of berries) and Trockenbeerenauslese (dried berries selection).
Beerenauslese wines are individually picked and are sweet with very rich intensive flavours. As they keep their acidity and rich ripeness they can age for decades.
Trockenbeerenauslese wines are made from grapes that are dried on the vines until they are almost raisin-like. The resulting wine is very sweet, rich with honey-like flavours. Top quality Trockenbeerenauslese wines are some of the most expensive in the world.
£19.99 / €26.24
Eiswein (ice wine) is made from grapes that have been naturally frozen on the vine. Freezing concentrates not just the sugar in the grapes, but also acidity and extract, and Riesling Eiswein is always the highest in acid of any German wines. For best results, a frost of at least −8 °C is required. Harvesting generally takes place between five and eight in the morning in the first sufficiently cold days in November or December. Eiswein is a very sweet, highly concentrated wine, the sweetness moderated by vigorous acidity. It is always in short supply and is hugely expensive.
Hopler Gruner Veltliner Eiswein
£24.95 / €29.75