Samui Wining & Dining
Rising Riesling

23The ‘other’ white wine is now gaining in popularity around the world.

 

In the past, I’ve tried to predict wine trends, with varying degrees of success. One such prediction was the rise of Riesling. And, to a certain extent, this wine has now come into vogue. But, to be honest, not with the broad enthusiasm I was expecting. I have a sneaky suspicion this variety is destined to fall into the ‘love it or hate it’ category. And, unfortunately for the growers, it does seem to split opinions amongst critics and wine anoraks.

A few years ago, Riesling was one of those ‘old fashioned’ wines that, in my humble opinion, was ripe for re-discovery by the new generation of wine lovers. Especially as, at around the same period, the ‘ABC’ (Anything But Chardonnay) trend was unfairly viral amongst fickle wine drinkers. But, regardless of the supposed need for new wine trends, Riesling is a fabulous wine grape in its own right. It’s the most versatile, complex and food-friendly of all the noble grapes. Indeed, some of the ‘love it’ wine experts go so far as to call Riesling the ‘Uncrowned King of Grapes’. For anyone who enjoys discovering new wines that inspire the palate, Riesling is the ideal wine to try. Its crisp, vibrant characteristics are a fresh alternative to heavier, oak-laden white wines. No other varietal can be crafted to express so many different and wondrous characteristics, from bone-dry with floral aromas to dessert-sweet with spicy aromas.

As we all know, Riesling’s roots are in Germany. But, today, Riesling grapes and wines are produced in many countries and regions around the world. France and Austria are the other major Old World producers, whilst major New World regions include Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States.

As you can probably tell, I am a huge fan of most of the Rieslings that I’ve tried lately. And I have to admit to being old enough to have been exposed to Riesling when, along with flared trousers, it was fashionable in the 1970s. It was one of the first wines I learnt about and tasted at Hotel School. Around that time, there was a lot of light, slightly sweet commercial German white wine about. Remember the iconic Blue Nun? And those ridiculously tall-stemmed coloured wine glasses for all the different German Hocks and Mosels? Unfortunately, my memory banks filed Riesling in together with all those lightweight Teutonic white wines. And, for years, I had forgotten what a great wine Riesling really is.

The grapes originate from the Rhine region and have sweet fruity flavors and aromas of flowers and fruits. Other characteristics of wines made from Riesling grapes include high acidity and petrol notes if aged. Growers claim the grapes are very ‘terroir expressive’ and have the ability to absorb a great deal from their environment when they grow. Because Riesling grows best in rocky ground, especially soil dominated by slate and flint, mineral aromas and flavours generally characterize Rieslings. In fact, you can often tell that you’re drinking a Riesling, as opposed to some other wine, because of its mineral characteristics. Many people tend to associate it with sweet dessert wines, and it is true that some Rieslings can be sweet. But they are much more complex than that. So much so that it’s one of the most compatible wines you’ll find in terms of its affinity with a broad range of foods. Riesling is good with seafood, fish, chicken and pork dishes, and amazingly good with the vibrant flavours of Asian and Pacific Rim cuisines. And, happily for those of us fortunate enough to be here in Thailand, it’s one of the few wines that really works well with fiery fare. Just be sure to chill it as much as possible and to pour small amounts at a time to make sure it remains cool. What’s more, it’s usually relatively low in alcohol, making it a sensible option when you want a glass with your lunch.

Conventional wisdom used to be that Riesling was a hard sell to people outside of Germany because the labels were so difficult to understand. And there may have been some truth in that. Start with the naturally polysyllabic nature of German family names, like von Bassermann-Jordan or Assmannshausen. Add tongue-twisting place names like Schlossbockelheim or Gimmeldingen, spice with some wine-law language along the lines of Gutsabfullung (estate-bottled) and such grape variety names as the strangling Gewurztraminer or the amusing Scheurebe, and you might as well stuff your mouth with cotton wool as try to ask for these wines in an English-speaking shop!

These days, however, as with much wine labeling, the marketing people have been at work to make them more user-friendly to English speakers. The Germans are obliging, with many limiting the main label to relatively clear terms, craftily placing the hard-to-pronounce bits in fine print on the back. Rieslings from German-speaking Austria and Alsace bear simpler labels. And, obviously, those from Australia, New Zealand, the U.S. West Coast or New York’s Finger Lakes and Ontario, Canada, are downright easy to pronounce for us linguistically challenged Anglo Saxons.

On occasions, I have encountered Riesling resistance from some diners. Based I believe, more on the simple reality that Riesling is different than anything rational. I suppose it takes a paradigm shift, to use a current buzzword, to move an ‘old school’ wine buff over from the familiar flavour profiles of dry French and Italian table wines to their New World descendants and jump again to the entirely different ‘retro-style’ of Riesling. But it’s a jump worth making; at least for an occasional change of pace. And now is the time, with plenty of gorgeous wine out there waiting to be drunk. The New World, in particular, has been making some Riesling gems. The two best examples I have tasted are Pikes from Australia and the wonderful Waipara Springs Premo Riesling from New Zealand.

Finally, from the standpoint of value-hunting, bear in mind that popularity and price in wine tend to be proportional. Until the world fully discovers Riesling, it tends to be priced deliciously low.

 


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