Riesling is a source of endless fascination because the wines of this grape precisely reflect where they grew and who made them, making them more diverse than those of any other white wine grape.
Stuart Pigott, British wine critic
Choosing a sweet wine can be like selecting toppings on a burger. If you were given a delicious burger with the wrong toppings, you probably wouldn’t like it. Botrytis affected wines are delicious, but following suit with burger toppings, you have to discover what style of sweetness best suits you.
Germany has its own type of classification scheme that might help you decide what type of botrytis affected Riesling tickles your fancy.
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), or dried berry selection, is an intensely sweet wine made from entirely botrytis affected grapes, with each grape having been picked individually. It is rare to find — often incredibly expensive — and is a great alternative to dessert.
Beerenauslese (BA), or selected of harvest berries, is similar to TBA, where the berries are picked individually and, although very sweet, is not as sweet as TBA wines created mainly from botrytis affected bunches.
Auslese is on the sweeter side but is not as sweet as Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese. It is from hand harvested grapes which may have a portion of the wines being botrytis affected.
As grapes ripen In the vineyard and clouds and fog roll in, those bunches are at a fork in the road. Like a choose your own adventure book, they have the potential to become the hero or the villain. If the moist conditions clear up and the grapes become dehydrated, noble rot is formed. Alternately, if the wetness persists, another kind of rot — the not so noble sounding grey rot —sets in and formerly beautiful bunches are ruined.
What makes one rot beneficial? So-called noble rot (aka Botrytis Cinerea) shrivels the berries. That loss of water means the grape’s other components, such as sugar and acidity, become more concentrated, creating the ingredients for a deliciously, decadent sweet wine.
Although noblely rotten grapes can be used to create different wines, we like to think of Riesling as the grape that raises the bar for botrytis. Because of its super power of high acidity, it can effectively balance the highly concentrated sugar contained in the shrivelled grapes.
“Riesling is rowing back. After years of repetition (especially by Jancis and me) that Riesling is the best white wine grape of all – or at least equal first with Chardonnay – it’s getting a grudging acceptance in a market super-saturated with Sauvignon Blanc.
What Rieslings are we buying, though? Not the crystal-pure, infinitely varied interpretations from its natural home, but strangely typecast versions from Australia, a slightly bizarre blend (or so it seems) of lime juice and kerosene.
Does the reason lie, perhaps, in the infinitely varied interpretations? ‘I thought it would be sweet’ is what I hear nine times out of 10 when I trick a friend (yes, it’s that bad) into tasting one of my favourites from the Mosel or Rhine.”
Hugh Johnson (Decanter Magazine, August 2010)
You gotta know when to hold them and know when to drink them.
The new issue of VINES includes a feature about talented Niagara winemakers who are working outside of the established norm. They don’t own vineyards. They don’t own wineries. But they have figured out ways to follow their passion and produce stellar Ontario wines. One of the four, Charles Baker Wines, only makes Riesling. Here is an excerpt of the article, explaining how Baker is making it work.
“There is a big difference between myself and the other three being featured (in the article),” Charles Baker said on a break from our photo shoot. “They are bona fide winemakers… I am enabling these vineyards to be put into bottle. I am the one facilitating the introduction of somebody’s vineyard to a bottle and, after that, to somebody’s glass.”
All four of them share the same desire to find new ways of putting Niagara into a bottle, he added. Baker has just bottled the seventh vintage of the Picone Vineyard Riesling. Two years ago, he added a second site to his portfolio – the Ivan Vineyard, located near Tawse Winery in the Twenty Mile Bench sub-appellation.
“The ambition is to capture Riesling from different vineyards from across the peninsula,” Baker says.
“I only work in Niagara. I have to work within the parameters of my daily life. I have to work within the building where I am employed at Stratus, who are amazingly generous to allow me to do this. But I am not stopping it at two vineyards. The idea is to look for different expressions from different appellations.”
Baker doesn’t have a timeline for expanding his network of superior Riesling sites. He hopes that serendipity will play a role. “I think in time I will meet other grape growers who will want to work in the same vein.”
Charles Baker Wines 2010 Picone Vineyard Riesling Vinemount Ridge $35 The warmth of Niagara’s 2010 vintage is evident in this ripe, concentrated Riesling that still manages to showcase the expressive mineral, floral and savoury notes common to the Picone Vineyard. Ripe citrus and a hint of honey on the palate are nicely balanced by the wine’s natural acidity and a slightly minty/herbal note that lingers on the finish. The wine comes across as dry, which is a significant departure from the 2009 release, but is merely a reaction to the weather conditions of the growing season. 440 cases.
Read more at vinesmag.com
As the 31 days of German Riesling continue, we want to honour the country for its incredible grape. Germany dedicates a considerable amount of their vineyards to the crisp white, producing 61.4% (http://www.germanwineusa.com/pdf/riesling-vineyards-worldwide.pdf) of the world’s Riesling. No other country can come close to their production.
Next up is Australia (12.1%), followed by France (9.9%), the United States (4.9%), Austria (4.8%), New Zealand (2.5%) and Canada (1.3%).
Germany’s long-standing history with the fabulous grape and creative winemaking practices has rightfully given the country the reputation of being experts and ambassadors for the crisp white wine.
The country’s rocky soils, diverse vineyards and cool climate have produced some of our favourite bottles of Riesling and we hope you’ve embraced the Motherland and its wine queens just as much as we have. And if you haven’t then hurry up, there are only 11 days left in the 31 days of Germany Riesling!
The summer of Riesling is now a global phenomenon and many restaurants are getting involved by showcasing the grape’s versatility by making multiple Rieslings available by the glass. Some are extremely dedicated to the crisp, balanced white wine, and are celebrating its roots in July with the 31 days of German Riesling and providing at least two German Rieslings by the glass.
With so many different styles of German Rieslings available, we wanted to point out a winning entry that is well priced, flavourful and cheery. Moselland 2011 Bernkasteler Kurfurstlay Riesling ($9.95, 015875) offers aromas of peach, apricot and apple, while the palate has flavours of melon and honey. The finish has finesse, leaving a lingering lime zest flavour on the tip of your tongue.
If the summerlicious grape is one of your favourites, pick up a bottle from the Motherland, slip on a pair of Birkenstocks (socks or no socks), listen to “99 Luftballons” and you might just get some balance back in your life.