Kann ich mehr Riesling bitte? Our first taste of a well-aged Kabinett, with that intoxicating petrol scent, sparked a sudden sense of Torschlusspanik (fear that time is running out).
If it had taken us THIS long to understand that Riesling is not necessarily sweet, and altogether incredible, what else might we be missing out on? We decided not to be Schattenparkers (wimps) and set about finding more Riesling, AND learn German, if only to learn how to say ‘more wine please?’.
Riesling, despite its many detractors is a highly collected, debated and complicated white wine (hence our late, happy discovery). While characteristically sweet, these days Rieslings are more frequently made in a dry to off dry style, which we prefer. Because there is such a wide selection of Rieslings, and it can also be categorised into a variety of designations such as Qualitätswein or Prädikatswein in Germany, you’re better off scanning the back label to ensure you’re not getting a sweet wine (or to ensure you DO if that’s what you’re after). The maximum sugar levels allowed in dry Riesling is 9 to 18 grams per litre, and the wine is mostly characterised by low alcohol and high acidity which also help the sweeter wines age in the bottle; beautifully, just in case you’re wondering.
Unlike other European wines, Rieslings from Germany are labeled not only with the grape varietal, but also with the region and the Prädikatswein category (the German designation based on sugar levels). This classification is divided into five groups: Kabinett which is marked by its high acidity, medium to no sweetness and low alcohol; Spätlese (meaning late-harvest) with a bit more body and tells of citrus and exotic fruit; Auslese Rieslings are usually medium to sweet and have even more body; Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese are sweet wines made from noble rot and lastly; Eiswein, a sweet wine produced from grapes frozen on the vine. It can get more complicated, but for our purposes, as an introduction, this will do.
NOW. If you’re buying new world Rieslings we would suggest looking for cool climate regions such as Clare Valley and Eden Valley in Australia and Elgin and Sutherland in South Africa. Why cool? The lower temperatures allow the grapes to ripen slowly and so winemakers have better control of the sugars in the grape, which as you may have surmised, greatly influences the wine. Based on what we’ve just told you, we have a fingerspitzengefühl (intuition) that this might just disavow you of your sehnsucht (an intense yearning for something indefinable); it may well have been Riesling all along. (If not, then at least that’s one more thing you can tick off your list of things to try.) We suggest you try them all just in case you find it.