What’s happening with German Riesling?


As far back as I can remember, Riesling was & is one of the world’s most under appreciated grape varieties.  Absolute bewilderment!

Back in the 80’s, 90’s & early 2000’s, it seems whenever I asked a Californian winemaker what grape variety they wish they could do well, it seems the word Riesling regularly popped up.  I could say the same when I asked sommeliers & wine professionals, what wine (& therefore grape variety) really wows them, especially at the dinner table.

Then why hasn’t/doesn’t this kind of buzz filter down to the general public?

There must be some kind of conspiracy or something of the sorts going on to supress Riesling’s success, otherwise I cannot & have not been able to figure out why more & more people just don’t jump on the Riesling bandwagon.

When you mention the word Riesling, wine tasters make their funny faces, a way of saying, “ohhh…..I don’t like sweet wine”.

Why is it then that most people look for a pineapple, a tomato, an orange or a lychee to be “sweet”?  In fact, in these cases, if the fruit is NOT sweet, then it is a disappointment.  The sweet-sour teeter totter, especially when done well, is part of the magic of a good tomato, lemonade or shave ice.  Why not with wine?

Another thought to consider is maybe you are having the Riesling too young.  I have had many winetasters over the years, proclaim to me how their once apparently sweet Kabinett, now tastes dry after 30 years of proper cellaring!  Yes, I am continually amazed how the once apparent sweetness of a wine seems to “dry out” & actually create a more creamy viscosity in its texture, along with allowing the minerality to once again step forward.

Interestingly, especially in the past 20 or so years, many of the top producers of German Riesling also seemingly ramped up their production of dry & medium dry wines in addition to their fruity, slightly sweet (lower alcohol) renditions.  Although clearly marked as “trocken” (dry) or “halbtrocken” (medium dry) & all of the attempts to help educate tasters & especially professionals, adding more categories just seem to create further confusion for the general public.

Furthermore, especially at the top echelon, producers looking to gain world wide prominance & esteem, added yet another quality layer–Grosse Gewach (or Estes Gewachs for some).  For the lay person this just added to their confusion.  For the true connoisseur, this was Germany’s attempt to establish a Grand Cru stature, along the lines of what Burgundy has been able to accomplish.

In my humble opinion, the way to better appreciate & therefore at least somewhat understand the true potential of these dry & medium dry wines, I would suggest you try one 15 years old from a venerable estate–a 2001 Fritz Haag Riesling Spatlese trocken (dry), for instance.  In short, slightly aged Rieslings like this gets glorious because of the additional cellar time.  Glorious in perfume AND glorious in taste…….with a much rounder, viscous, creamy mouthfeel & blossoming to the point of being gorgeously harmonious & breathtaking.

One just has to be patient.

Interestingly, the conversion curve from youthful/primary to glorious is VERY different for more fruity, slightly sweet to sweet Riesling.  AND, it is so different wine to wine, producer to producer…..vintage to vintage.

The dangling carrot, however, is how incredibly glorious aged Riesling can ultimately become.

The current “curve ball” for wine professionals is how the global climate change has greaty affected the ripening of the Riesling grape variety, even in Germany.  It wasn’t that long ago, when Germany was lucky to fully ripen their Rieslings 2 or 3 vintages out of every 10.  Since 1988, however, we have essentially had a “ripe” vintage virtually every year.  Yes, that is a very drastic change!

FYI–Germany measures the sugar in the grapes by öchsle.  20 years ago, good Mosel River Kabinett level wines were harvested at somehwere between 67 & 82 degrees öchsle.  3 weeks ago, I tasted three 2013 Mosel River Kabinetts & each were above 92 degrees öchsle (which would have been considered 2 levels higher-Auslese-20 years ago).  The point being, the wines are riper, bigger & more dramatic today.  For the wine consumer this a great thing.  One can get an even higher quality wine more so now than ever before.  For the sommelier, however, one now has to change/recaliberate their window of foods to pair these wines with, and/or then look to change the wines they have been buying accordingly.

For the German wine producer this is usually also a great thing.  They now get 9 or 10 vintages out of 10 where they can make quality wines to sell.  Plus, their wines, at least at the top echelon, get higher scores than ever.  They therefore can now make more money.

Is this the virtual end of an era, although some would say otherwise–the beginning of a new, great era?

Categories : Wine

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