Poor Riesling is unloved on this island, just like on the island to our east. Ask any serious wine enthusiast about Riesling and they will wax lyrical about it for hours, but such praise falls on deaf ears when talking to the average consumer. Why such disparity?
A few reasons; many people see a tall thin bottle and involuntarily shudder with ‘Nam-like flashbacks to drinking Black Tower and Blue Nun at 80’s dinner parties. They remember the sweet, flaccid liquid that people liked (or pretended to like) at the time, but now firmly disavow. It’s the opposite of Woodstock, where more people claim to have been there than the venue held.
Then there are the labels, some of which are frighteningly Gothic and contain longer words than any right-minded language should. A wine isn’t approachable if you’re intimidated by the label before you’ve even popped the cork. But it doesn’t have to be like that! While some Rieslings are austere and hard to love in their youth, there are so many gorgeous fresh and fruity bottles out there that you really need to try. It’s possibly the most food friendly of all wines – if you’re looking for something to pair with Thai, Japanese or milder Indian dishes then Riesling really is Nirvana.
Here are some fantastic Rieslings available from O’Briens, many of which were open for tasting at their Autumn and Spring Wine Fairs.
The steep slopes (hence “Incline”) running down to the Mosel river in north western Germany are the spiritual home of the Riesling grape. Mosel wines are rarely seen cheap, so this is something of a bargain. The vines are grown on steep, slate rich soils and the grapes are vinified in an ultra-modern stainless steel winery, all the better for preserving fruitiness and freshness. This is a remarkable introduction to the Mosel, dangerously easy to drink with a hint of fruity sweetness on the finish. 11.5%
A new vintage brings a new name to Rabl’s Steinhaus – it’s now known as Langenlois (no I don’t know what that means either, but the wine’s fab so I don’t mind). Austrian Rieslings usually have a little more body and alcohol than their German counterparts, with a corresponding dryness. Belying its origin, this rabble-rouser has lovely fresh acidity and racy lemon notes, but also a tiny kiss of sweetness at the finish to keep it balanced. 12.5%
A slow, cool ripening season makes Marlborough perfect for Riesling as well as the standard bearer Sauvignon. Insight’s home is tucked away in the low hills of the Waihopai (pronounced Why-hoppy) Valley which is even cooler than the main Wairau plains, and has well drained stony soils. The result in the glass is an amazing depth of flavour, with refreshing lemon and lime zip that seems to go on for ever. 13.0%
Astrolabe Province Dry Riesling 2009 €19.99 (New Zealand – Marlborough)
From one of the best Sauvignon producers in New Zealand comes this dry but expressive Marlborough Riesling. All the grapes are hand-picked and vinified in stainless steel to preserve freshness and delicate flavours.Flowers greet the nose then lime, lemon, apple and a sensuous minerality entice the palate. This 2009 is starting to develop nicely in bottle but is still fresh and vibrant. 13.0%
Did you know that much of South Australia was settled by German immigrants? This beautiful Barossa Riesling lets the cat out of the bag, made by sixth generation Geoff Shrapel.
The Barossa zone is actually made up of two adjoining valleys, the warmer Barossa Valley and cooler Eden Valley, giving some body and fruitiness plus freshness and a little round sweetness at the end – just perfectly balanced. This style is a pleasure to drink on its own but try it with Thai! 11.5%
Trimbach Alsace Riesling 2011 (€19.49) (France – Alsace)
From the charming town of Ribeauvillé in the heart of Alsace, a stone’s throw from the border with Germany, Trimbach is one of the region’s two yellow-labelled Titans. Their Riesling is dry and mineral in style, so is likely to find favour with lovers of Chablis.
Apples are the dominant fruit here – not your Pink Lady or even Golden Delicious, we’re talking the full-on, almost-wince-when-you-take-a-bite Granny Smiths.
This 2011 has had a few years to mellow out a bit, but would still be a big hit with seafood. 12.5%
While the little brother Incline is a great drop, this Gothic sounding bigger brother has a different hand to play. It’s firmly on the top half of the German wine quality ladder! Auslese means “selected harvest” as in only the best grapes were picked for this wine. The alcohol is very modest at 8.5% as fermentation was stopped before all the sugar turned into alcohol (no Holsten Pils here). This means that plenty of sugar is left, but although it’s sweet it’s in no way cloying – fresh acidity is a perfect counterpoint. On first sip there’s almost a fizz on your tongue, then layer upon layer of delicious fruit seduces you…until you realise you’re staying into the distance licking your lips. An absolute treat!
And just in case you wondered about the inspiration for the title, check out the lyrics on Portishead’s Glory Box.
Frankie caught the wine bug living in France in the 90s and has been sharing his love of wine ever since. He also writes for his own blog Frankly Wines and Glass Of Bubbly magazine and runs private wine tasting events.