Okay, I admit it: for me, ‘Riesling’ equated to syrupy sweet wine. However, with wine-connoisseurs speaking eloquently about its aromatic delights, I had long wanted to reconsider my palate. The opportunity came during a visit to Rheingau, a designated wine region in Germany, where almost 80% of the grape grown is Riesling.
What I instantly experienced at the Riesling tastings was the aroma — a strong bouquet, ranging from tangy lemon to rich apricot in the late harvests, with lots of fruit notes in-between. That Riesling can only be a sweet wine was a preconception that stood on its head. Rheingau winemakers have responded to the market demand for drier wines, with Rieslings that carry the descriptions trocken and halbtrocken, the German classification for dry and off-dry wines. These Rieslings selection have a finely balanced acidity, leaving a clean finish on the palate.
It is important to note that ‘sweetness’ in the Riesling context does not mean an inferior wine at all. On the contrary, Riesling is a grape variety that lends itself delightfully to sweeter, fruit-forward wines. Which one prefers is just a matter of taste. However, Rheingau is the perfect place to sample the sweeter range of Rieslings, because this style of wine-making originated here, specifically at the famous Schloss Johannisberg. The 50th parallel — or circle of latitude — that cuts through the area, is marked. It serves as a reminder of Rheingau’s special micro climate and influential terroir, that is perhaps responsible for the term ‘minerality’ applied to many Rieslings here.
At Domdechant Werner’sches Weingut, another Rheingau winery, I had the opportunity to attend the estate’s spring presentation, a tasting of their complete programme of wines. This ranges from the powerful dry wines, Erstes Gewächs (the German equivalent of the French Grand Cru), to the world-famous fruit-driven dessert wines; of the latter, we did a vertical tasting of 10 Auslese wines. “Sweet” is an inadequate description of these opulent brews, whose clean acidity so elegantly balances out the velvety notes of honey and dried fruits.
Dr Franz Werner Michel’s family has harvested Riesling at Domdechant Werner since 1780. He talked of how the wine is already in the grape, their job is to “allow it to realise its full potential”. Painstaking care is lavished on the process, from the harvesting, the steeper slopes of the vineyards necessitating that the grapes are hand-picked. It is said that many man-hours of picking are required to produce a bottle of top-end dessert wine such as Trockenbeerenauslese. Apparently, many easily last 50 to a 100 years; Riesling is a rare white wine that fares well in the bottle over long periods.
Those who like theirs bubbly will be happy with the Riesling Sekt Brut or the fresh German sparkling wine. The Reisling, as it turns out, is a pretty versatile grape — it even worked well in the wine schorle, a refreshing mixture of wine and sparkling water.
It is important to note that ‘sweetness’ in the Riesling context does not mean an inferior wine at all
Hic hic hurray
The grapes from which white wine is produced are typically green or yellow. Some varieties are well-known, such as the Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Riesling.