Riesling – changing styles

Riesling – changing styles

If you are passionate about great wine chances are that you have already succumbed to the irresistible charms of Riesling, the most noble and expressive of white wine grape varieties.

Riesling flowering at Gibbston Valley

The Riesling grape’s reputation has been sullied in the past here in New Zealand as it was often thought of as a cheap sweet quaffing wine. This was due largely to over cropping and probably a lack of understanding as to what this superb variety can deliver. Vineyard management is paramount in order for the Riesling grape to deliver it’s finest grapes. Over cropping was the biggest mistake that is made here and most wineries here in New Zealand have realised this and constantly crop thin in order for the grapes that are left to thrive. The other important factor is good old Mother Nature herself. In order for Riesling to ripen successfully warm days and cool nights are required, at the end of the growing season this slows down the ripening somewhat and this is when the grape develops all of it’s lovely complex flavours whilst maintaining  acidity which is necessary to give the wine structure.

Acidity. This is a word we throw around a lot when talking about Riesling. That's because it's the acid that gives a wine its structure and age ability. There are two types of acidity in Riesling: fruity, ripe tartaric and raw, unripe malic. It's the balance of the two that determines if a wine is crisp and clean or just downright tart. Too little acidity makes for a wine that is soft and flabby

Riesling is a grape that can also offer huge diversity in terms of style, this is largely up to the wine maker and whether the wine is fermented out to a dry style or left with some residual sugar.  In lots of ways we have almost come full circle in regard to style, where we started with sweet Rieslings these were often quite watered down and didn’t have any structure, we then went off on a dry tangent and emulated the Grand Cru wines from Alsace; these were very dry and austere wines and although they are capable of aging even decades in the bottle they were very unfriendly and hence difficult for the buying public to get their head around.

Now we seem to have hit the perfect balance, Riesling are generally made in what we refer to as an ‘off dry’ style - these wines are just lovely as they have a definite presence of fruit but are not too sweet and they have a backbone of acidity that gives the wine fantastic structure, and they often have a nice crisp dry finish.  The other bonus here is that these wines are also capable of aging really gracefully and these are wines that will reward those who are patient enough to cellar them for ten years or so. It is thought that Riesling doesn’t even start its maturing process for five years. So it is not just a pretty face, our Riesling grape it is a serious contender for your cellar, especially if you are just starting one.

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