Try these delicious Rieslings to be happy

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This week, James Viner, editor of Times Drinks, celebrates the ethereal, robust and long-lived Riesling, which he considers the most expressive, lively and kinetic white grape variety in the world – and without undoubtedly one of the primordial treasures of the world of wine…

When was the last time you drank Riesling? Much like the undervalued sherry, which oddly has modest crowd appeal, Riesling is prized by wine lovers but oddly not mainstream at all. Powerfully fragrant and flavorful yet extremely refined, nuanced and layered, Riesling (pronounced “Reessling” not “Ry-sling”) – Germany’s signature grape variety – is also one of the the most flexible ones appreciated by sommeliers and discerning wine collectors.

Working best on its own, it is one of the most durable and versatile whites, producing a range of unoaked wines at varying levels of sweetness from different regions of the wine world. Nordic racy, delicate and aromatic, it both stimulates the palate and nourishes the spirit.

This week, I’m looking at very dry versions (more and more Riesling these days is unsweetened) with typically low-medium alcohol and high levels of extract. A chilled glass of zesty, juicy Riesling makes a brilliant stand-alone aperitif. Unlike, for example, Grenache Noir, late-budding, relatively frost-hardy, cold-hardy Riesling grows in cool places where other heat-loving grapes would not ripen. It is relatively late (harvesting dates vary according to the desired level of sweetness) and requires dry autumns and good sun exposure.

Whether dry or off-dry, Riesling is amazing with spicy Thai cuisine, blending extraordinarily well with its fruity/sweet-and-sour/spicy/coconut constituents. Hello (again) Kai’s Kitchen! Try these three tangy summer bottles, full of character…

1. High Street Choice: a dry German Riesling from a 650-year-old 46-hectare estate with vines on the Moselle and its two small tributaries

Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt, Schloss Marienlay Dry Riesling, Mosel, Germany 2020 (£12, co-op, 12%)

Germany’s cool-climate Mosel Valley is home to the steepest vineyards on the planet. Here, the sun strikes the vines at the perfect ripening angle, allowing winemakers to craft the most supreme and purest expressions of Riesling on gravity-defying slate slopes with mostly southern exposure. With a quarter of its total area of ​​planted vineyards (by far the largest in the world), there is no doubt that Germany can produce world-class dry, semi-sweet and deliciously sweet Rieslings. Indeed, it is the country’s signature grape variety – and one of the oldest and most geographically expressive German grape varieties (along with Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir).

This one is a crisp, lip-smacking, light-bodied Riesling Trocken (dry) from Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, a 650-year-old family estate based in Trier (Germany’s oldest city, where the Romans planted the first vineyards along the Moselle River) in the heart of Europe where Germany, Luxembourg and France meet. Kesselstatt has major wineries in the Moselle, Saar and Ruwer valleys. Think peaches, apple blossoms, orchard fruits, lime and grapefruit. Light on its feet, pleasantly fruity, dry, kinetic, balletic and gourmet, it has plenty of extract, talcy acidity and nimble alcohol and feels like it’s made of beams of light. A perfect summer sip for lunch. Indeed, I needed to comply with his request and swallowed everything I had in my mouth. One for spicy Indian, Vietnamese and Thai dishes. Congratulations to the talented Coop buyer, Edward Robinson. Prost!

2. A premium Western Australian Riesling with a distinctive citrus twist

Robert Oatley Signature Series Riesling 2020, Great Southern, Western Australia (£11.96-£13.99, WineDirect, Solent Cellar, Fareham Wine Cellar, Cambridge Wine Merchants, Vinvm, 12%)

Australia is well known for its Rieslings, especially those from the high quality regions of the Clare and Eden Valleys north of Adelaide in South Australia. They are usually very dry, with an energizing high acidity and many feature lime flavors. Step up to this perfect rendition of Western Australia. This is my kind of pulsating summer sip from a faraway cool zone in the lower left corner of Oz with juicy lime zest, freshly squeezed lime juice, tart flavors of clementine, green apple, grapefruit and tangerine, plus a touch of spice, floating on a raft of crisp acidity. A ready-to-drink bottle designed with early consumption in mind. Serve with smoked salmon, fish and chips, pork belly, summer seafood and tomato and cilantro salads. Extremely appetizing – be careful not to dribble!

3. A gem of an Australian Riesling in development made by an Australian wine master from fruit sourced from Clare Valley and Tasmania

Hardys HRB Riesling 2017, Clare Valley and Tasmania, Australia (£20, Harvey Nichols, 12.5%)

Now part of the large Accolade Wines group, Hardys continues to produce some of the greatest wines Down Under. Winemaking is overseen by Chief Winemaker, Nigel Sneyd MW. Starting to burst into song, it’s a cut above and an exciting example of the 2017 vintage, with wonderful dynamism and intensity. A coil of energy, unfolding on a coil of candied lime, orange blossom, citrus zest, beeswax, lanolin, honeysuckle, light kerosene, kaffir lime marmalade and bath salts. Succulent, mouth-filling flavors have exceptional vibrancy, line and scintillating length. The tingling acidity is another blessing; everything is in place. Its balance is flawless, as is its price. Also, patience is not imperative before breaking the screw cap. A striking Riesling, the flavors linger on the palate long after the wine has been swallowed (or spittoon – the sting of professional tastings).

Great now, or even better in five years, and who knows how long after. It’s a beautiful consumer experience and a tapestry of complexity. Chill it for ceviche, spicy Thai food, sashimi, fish tartare, roast pork, gammon or red snapper baked in lemongrass/coriander foil. Superior vintage.

6 other world-class dry Riesling producers:

Alsace and Austria also produce first-class dry (and sometimes sweet) Rieslings in Europe. Classified by region/country:

  • Alsace: Zind-Humbercht (made by the first Master of Wine in France)
  • Australia: Crawford River
  • Austria: Francois X Pichler
  • Germany: JJ Prum (via German specialist Howard Ripley Wines)
  • New Zealand: Felton Road (owned by Briton Nigel Greening)
  • UNITED STATES: Hermann HJ Wiemer

Tipple Tip: Is my Riesling dry or sweet?

First look at the alcohol percentage on the label. Generally speaking, once you go over 12%, Riesling gets drier; less than 12%, you’re generally looking for the softer end of the spectrum.

Follow James on Twitter @QuixoteWine

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