We’re having a great summer of gold medals and, dare I say it, a great summer for weather, but summer isn’t summer without Riesling.
For those of you who gave up drinking Riesling dozens of years ago when the shelves were crammed with delicious Chardonnays, Sauvignons and Pinot Grigios, think again.
Riesling has come a long way since then and now represents some of the most vibrant, lively, zesty, mouth-watering wines around and while you may not want to drink it everyday there are enough styles and flavours to make this a Riesling summer.
There was a time when Riesling just came from Germany. Back in the mists of time the top Riesling wines from vineyards in the Mosel and Rheingau commanded higher prices than top Bordeaux but over time, with more competition from great wines around the world, the demand for Riesling dropped and to some extent, so did quality. The grape has been in the doldrums for quite some time – and that is just what it needed to have a facelift and personality change. So while Riesling may not be a top choice for all-year round drinking, in the summer it is just the thing to match with summer foods.
It doesn’t have to come from Germany either. Some of my favourite Rieslings come from New Zealand or Australia where the style is fresher and more zingy.
Riesling is essentially a cool-climate grape, which means that it likes marginal places like the Clare Valley in Australia and the coastal parts of New Zealand where there is plenty of sunshine during the day but at night the temperatures drop and the vines have time to recover from the exertions of the day and can keep their light fresh, fruity flavours. Many Rieslings retain just a hint of sweetness which is what puts a lot of drinkers off, but coupled with the shades of sugar is a vibrant, zesty acidity which makes it the perfect accompaniment to salads, fish and stir fries. Think of Rieslings like a lemon sherbet dip. The sweet/sour combination is irresistible.
At various tastings I have come across a whole host of Rieslings which I have enjoyed over the last few months, so here is my list of the ones to aim for. Because sweetness levels vary, balanced by acidity, I have made a note where I though the sweetness rise above the level I would expect to go with a savoury main course. All the sweetness comes from the grapes which are often left on the vines to concentrate at harvest time and they may even be affected by the botrytis mould which adds more flavour. It sounds odd but think of it like the mould that affects some cheeses and makes them even more delicious. The good news about Riesling is that alcohol levels are generally lower which means you can sip more over lunch. Riesling also has enough character to develop as it ages so you don’t have to search for the youngest bottle.
The region known as Waipara, just north of Christchurch, is noted for its Rieslings although there are good ones from Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Nelson.
Main Divide Riesling 2009, Pegasus Bay, Waipara, Majestic Wine Warehouse, down from £12.49 to £9.99 until September 3: This has a fair amount of sweetness left in it, mainly because they used a small proportion of botrycised grapes which have boosted the aromatic fruit to delicious levels. Plenty of stone fruit, citrus backed by lively acidity and that hint of sweetness which you won’t notice if there is plum sauce or soy sauce on your dish.
Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling 2011, Marlborough, Majestic Wine Warehouse, down from £9.49 to £7.59 until September 3: This brand is so widely available it is easy to become blind to the sheer quality of Villa Maria wines. This one in particular gathers up zesty lime and green apple flavours and it makes a refreshing aperitif in sunshine.
Taste the Difference Awatere Riesling 2011, Marlborough, New Zealand, Sainsbury’s, £9.99: Bright, lively floral fruit with just a shade of sweetness, but match it with herb-dusted grilled scallops and it will be perfect.
The Clare Valley of South Australia is the key region here with Jeff Grosset and Stephanie Toole of Mount Horrocks making some of the most spine tingling wines around. You can meet Stephanie at Hotel du Vin in Harrogate on September 11 and try her wines.
Mount Horrocks Riesling Watervale 2008, Clare Valley, Australia, Harrogate Fine Wine, £15.99: Made from unirrigated vines there is real concentration in this wine, but it is dry, with distinct white blossom notes as well as tight, lively citrus and minerally flavours. This is a terrific wine to enjoy with fish and shellfish.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2010, Clare Valley, Australia, Field and Fawcett (York), £25.50: Jeff Grosset is married to Stephanie Toole and they make their wines in the same winery so it is odd that they manage two quite different styles. Grosset wines are like cold showers with vibrant, lime-infused flavours and concentrated minerality, while Stephanie’s wines have a floral edge, slightly softer and perhaps more easily appreciated. Try this Grosset wine with oysters and other shellfish for a spine-tingling experience.
Tesco Finest Tingleup Riesling 2011, Western Australia, £9.99: For a supermarket own-label wine this is really very good. Sourced from Howard Park winery, it is tangy, lime-fresh and tastes completely dry. This is an aperitif wine but it can carry through to go with salads, and is also good with fish and shellfish.
Paul Cluver Riesling 2009, Elgin, South Africa, Halifax Wine Co, £10.95: This vineyard catches the ocean breeze and temperatures remain low, but the sunshine gives ripe flavours with peach notes amongst the distinct streaks of citrus and minerals. There is an edge of sweetness but it is perfect teamed up with a lightly spiced chicken dish.
Eclipse Bio Bio Riesling 2011, Chile, Marks and Spencer, £7.99: The grapes are grown in the far south of Chile, where temperatures are distinctly chilly but the flavours shine through in the wine, with clear citrus and floral notes and a clear zesty finish.