Riesling; one of the noble grapes
by Daniel (wine specialist)
Of which there are six…or 18, depending on whose definition you find more compelling. For the most part, to qualify as a noble grape, the grape must be “an international variety most recognizable for it’s use in top quality wines.”
Maybe you’ve heard someone mention a fresh cut garden hose, Barbie doll or new tennis ball. Likely those smells came from Riesling.
The birth of Riesling
Well, Riesling makes wines that transcend the idea of fermented grape juice and can last for decades. Germany officially recognizes the birth of Riesling to be March 13, 1435. Though it wasn’t for about 100 more years that the grape actually received the name “Riesling.”
Riesling had a history in Europe and more specifically Germany long before it became popular in the US. That history quickened with WWI and WWII destroying many vineyards. Following the World Wars there was an adoption of less temperamental varietals like Silvaner (Sylvaner) and Muller Thurgau.
The secret weapon?
And then came Liebfraumilch or Mother’s Milk. This high quality or insipid wine broke down the doors to many markets. It’s secret weapon??? Sugar! Heard of Blue Nun? This iconic blue bottle Liebfraumilch was the USs most popular Riesling through the 80s and 90s. These wines carry between 18-40 grams of sugar. Not quite a Spatlese but with enough sugar to be discernibly sweet.
I’m looking at you Australian wine importers!
The fight for Riesling
Germany has a complicated labeling system, and for the importers to adopt the most pleasing style of wine makes a degree of sense. But, accepting SOME things about a wine but not all things about a wine ultimately damages the category. I’m looking at you Australian wine importers (less so now, but that’s for another blog).
Sommeliers continue to fight the hard fight for Riesling. Correction, the almost impossible fight for Riesling. Why do they do it? Because it’s a lovely and uniquely complex grape that shines in all incarnations and levels of sugar.
BASIC RIESLING NAVIGATION
These Rieslings can be bone dry and bursting with lime.
Kabnett Riesling (a touch of RS/residual sugar) begin to coax out the beautiful stone fruit or peachy quality of the grape.
Spatlese Riesling (or “late harvest”) can maintain searing acidity while have unctuous pineapple and apricot notes.
Auslese Riesling (sweet), Beerenauslese/BA (sweeter) and Trockenbeerenauslese/TBA (sweetest) have all of the above components multiplied by 10, 100, 1000.
Lest we forget...
And let us not forget those other flavors of Riesling. The notes that make it truly unique: flint or smoke, petrol or diesel fuel, ginger and honey. Maybe you’ve heard someone mention a fresh cut garden hose, Barbie doll or new tennis ball. Likely those smells came from Riesling.
To be fair to the category, the wines are not inexpensive. Those Liebfraumilch versions can be cheap and still dominate the category under 15$.
Trocken versions usually start around $17-25 and the sweet spot hits around $30-40. Also, the more sugar, Mother’s Milk aside, the more money you’ll have to spend. More natural sugar means less water in the grape and that equals less wine. TBAs can cost hundreds of dollars and that is for a half bottle.
Looking for advice?
Visit us anytime in the wine section at South Lyndaly Liquors. I'm happy to help navigate through the Rieslings or other categories in the store. Let's make your bottle the best one yet!