This aromatic grape variety displays flowery aromas as well as high acidity. It is used to make dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling white wines. It is seldom oaked, and never in Australia. The most common style in Australia is a dry Riesling, but some Rieslings are left with a small amount of residual fruit sugar to balance the high acidity of this grape.
Overall, there’s nothing like it. That beautiful floral citrus nose, the perfumed aroma, the lovely crisp acidity on the palate and the wonderful balance of pairing a young (or old) Riesling with seafood, curries, Thai food and cheese.
But I digress. We are here to give our wonderful friends of Wild Fire a short summary of this incredibly versatile varietal and therefore the wines that are made from the fruit known as "The Noble Grape".
- History of Riesling
- Australian Riesling Characteristics
- Riesling Dessert Wines
- Pairing Riesling with Food
- Wild Fire Wines and Riesling
Riesling is a white grape which originated from the Rhine region in Germany. It has a long history, and there are several written references dating from the 15th century (earliest is 1402). In France, Riesling was documented in Alsace in 1477 under the spelling Rissling.
The first Riesling was planted near Penrith in 1838. It quickly made its way across Australia, and is now grown across the country in cool-climate areas.
The 1990s saw the emergence of oaked Chardonnay as the white wine of choice by most consumers, and in the early “naughties” it was Sav Blanc. The last 5 years have seen a re-emergence of Riesling, particularly as a food wine, and to my great delight the quality of this wine in Australia has once again brought out the wine buffs to extol its virtues. My wife of 45 years and I still drink Riesling as a pre-dinner aperitif, and the emergence of Thai food as a mainstream cuisine has re-energised this wine variety in the restaurant scene.
The very best Rieslings are still thought to be grown in very cold climates (Germany), but in Australia, the best Rieslings are definitely from The Eden Valley and Clare Valley (both in South Australia), The Grampians and Strathbogie Ranges (both in Victoria) and in Tasmania. This is due to the riesling grape doing its best in warm days but cold night conditions. All the Australian high-quality Rieslings are drier than their overseas counterparts, to accentuate the acidity and floral character of these wines.
Riesling wines in Australia are generally drunk young, to enhance the floral freshness on the nose and crisp acidity on the palate. The high acidity of the grape makes it suitable for extended ageing, and the character of a well-made Riesling will change substantially over many years. High-quality Rieslings are commonly aged for 30+ years, in which time the acidity will smooth out to allow more petroleum notes to emerge. The use of the term "kerosene" has been heard very often when tasting and drinking aged Rieslings. This may sound unattractive, but the balance and complexity of aged Rieslings are a new experience, and I highly recommend this journey.
The most expensive wines made from Riesling grapes are late harvest dessert wines. The grapes are left to hang on the vine well past their normal picking time. Evaporation caused by the fungus Botrytis Cinerea ("Noble Rot") or by freezing (in the case of Ice Wine), leads to water being removed. The resulting wine is richer, more concentrated with higher sugar levels, higher acid levels to balance the sugar, more concentrated flavour and more complexity. These wines have extreme longevity and are much sought after. They are incredible with desserts and cheese.
Australian Rieslings are a great match for many foods - especially Asian cuisines. Dry Rieslings in particular work well with a little bit of spice - think ginger, chili, lemongrass. Medium Rieslings can tolerate a bit more heat, but don’t overdo it!
Our friends at Taste Yarra Valley pair our Rieslings with a Dutch cheese called Grandano. A beautiful combination!
As a young college student in the 1970s, my drinking preference was wine and not beer. I stumbled across both young and aged Rieslings and was instantly hooked. The classic DW series Rieslings of Leo Buring were my standard fare.
Since joining with John, Peter, Donna and Phil at Wild Fire, I pushed pretty hard to introduce a quality Riesling to our range, and I can proudly say we have definitely achieved that. Our first attempt (2019 Grampians Riesling) yielded a high silver medal and into the top 5 Rieslings at the Victorian Wine Show. The following vintage (2020 Grampians Riesling) has been entered into the recent Victoria Wine Show (being held from 20th January, 2021), so watch this space for results. I am confident we will again do well.
In summary, The Noble Riesling grape has stood the test of time. Its bounty is a wine of many styles and complexities, and its versatility and pairing with food is almost endless. I am personally a Riesling tragic. I don't expect everyone will share that passion, which is why drinking wine is such a great experience, but if you think Riesling is an old, tired, outdated wine, try it again. I think you will be very surprised.
Geoff Shenfield, Wild Fire Wines