Riesling Renaissance

POSTED ON 01/10/2014

Top white burgundy apart, dry German Riesling is the greatest, most food-friendly dry white wine in the world, yet it remains under-appreciated. While Germany would like its greatest dry Rieslings to be better known, the rest of the world’s wine industry is more than happy for German wine to have a hard time exporting its liquid gold overseas. According to the Nahe producer, Martin Tesch, only half with tongue in cheek: ‘selling Riesling in England borders on an extreme sport, like underwater polo’.

We can hang our coats on as many time-honoured prejudices as we like, but none properly explain why we’re still so resistant to what’s arguably the world’s greatest wine style. Critics will point to the legacy of liebfraumilch (aka sugar water), to the complexities of German labelling, to the distortions of Eastern European namealikes such as Lutomer Laski Riesling (now rizling), to the off-putting, battery acid wines of yesteryear and, counterintuitively, to a quaint view that German Riesling is a synonym for granny’s favourite sweet wine.

At the same time, regional distinctions are easier to grasp in France and Italy because each region has adapted its own grape variety or varieties to the location. In Germany on the other hand, Riesling is top white wine dog in all regions. Yet another reason for resistance to German wine has been the confusion caused by the antiquated German wine law of 1971 with almost meaningless umbrella terms such as Grosslage for anything from the most basic to the highest quality wines.

Led by the VDP, the exclusive club of 202 German estates from all 13 German wine regions, the country’s wine producers have today grasped the nettle of the confusion and are doing something about it. Germany’s new equivalent term for its top dry wines is Grosses Gewächs. Pronounced grocers gevex in the English language, it may not sound quite as pretty as the French grand cru, but the intentions behind it are good. According to Constantin Guntrum of Louis Guntrum, ‘The bottom line is that Germany moving away from classification by sugar level to classification by terroir’.

Grosses Gewächs wines can only be dry and come only from the apex of a four-tier pyramid, at the top of which is the Grosse Lage, the grand cru vineyard itself. Below that, the three tiers are Erste Lage, Ortswein and Gutswein. By linking quality to location in a layered pyramid similar to burgundy, broadly speaking, the narrower the appellation, the higher the quality potential of the wine. As a result, we are reaching a stage where Riesling, dry Riesling in particular, has begun to be as appreciated as it was back in the 19th century.

According to Ernie Loosen, producer of Dr.Loosen in the Mosel, ‘after the war people wanted sweet wines and so they were much easier to sell than dry; everyone jumped on the bandwagon, so we forgot the art of making dry wines’. Without abandoning their luscious sweet wines, the return to mouthwatering dry Rieslings is a comparatively recent development. When you add variations in style from one producer to the next , the differences in style can sometimes be hard to put your finger on.

Each region has its own nuances with styles and flavours varying according to vineyard location and producer. Unlike white burgundy, Riesling is so sensitive to the terroir that it rarely does well in barrel thanks to its reflection of its location. Even in a single vineyard, you can find many differences according to the producer. In general though, the Mosel Valley produces some of the most delicate dry Rieslings (and the best sweet ones), the Rheingau classic dry, medium-bodied Rieslings, the Nahe some of Germany’s purest, and the Rheinpfalz more full-bodied, expressively exotic dry Rieslings and Rheinhessen also pure but almost too varied to put your finger on.

According to the excellent Rheingau producer, August Kesseler, ‘most people only associate Germany at best with Riesling’. Yet while the regions mentioned are the most significant for Riesling, Württemberg, Franconia and Baden are also producers of high quality German wines, including in particular spätburgunder (pinot noir) weisser burgunder (pinot blanc), grau burgunder (pinot gris) silvaner and lemberger, with smaller regions such as Ahr, Mittlerhein and Saxony, also doing their bit for the broader palette of German wine.

To show off the latest product of the 2013 vintage in dry whites and reds, Grosses Gewächs in other words, 164 VDP member estates put on a tasting in August of 502 of their wines (375 white, 127 red) in the pretty provincial city of Wiesbaden. The tasting was organised with typical German efficiency. Young German men and women, wearing the black T-shirt with the VDP eagle with bunch of grapes in its mouth, sashayed up and down the ‘catwalk’ between the tables.

Although the 2013 vintage was initially maligned by the press because it was late, erratic, rainy and 50 per cent smaller small in volume than the long-term average, the natural acidity can often be a bonus for the best made wines, ensuring both freshness, delicacy and long life. ‘It’s not outstanding’, says Helmut Dönnhoff, ‘but it’s very good with high acidity that’s ripe but not green’.

Within each German wine region, there is a handful of flagship winemakers, popular from San Francisco to Sydney and usually to be found in the most expensive restaurants thanks to dry Riesling’s affinity with gastronomy. According to Constantin Guntrum, who remains outside the VDP, says ‘the VDP has great merits in bringing German wines back to the level of appreciation where they were 25 years ago’. Most are in the VDP, but some, such as Breuer. J.B.Becker and Tesch, remain outside it for their own reasons.

As the tasting demonstrated, Dönnhoff himself is the leader of a pack of great Nahe producers, among them Diel and Schäfer-Fröhlich. Although generally better known for its amazing sweet wines, the Mosel also produces some of Germany’s finest dry white Rieslings, in particular from Heymann Löwenstein, Fritz Haag and Dr. Loosen (with J.J.Prum and Egon Müller the stars of botrytised sweet wines).

Among the Rheinpflaz’s top producers are Bürklin-Wolf, Bassermann Jordan, and Dr. Wehrheim, while in Rheinhessen, the names of Keller, Wittmann, Kühling-Gillot and Battenfeld-Spanier feature prominently on any top quality wine list. The Rheingau meanwhile is home to yet another group of fine producers, among them Balthasar Ress, Künstler, August Kesseler and Robert Weil.

While 22.7% of Germany’s vineyard area is planted with Riesling, that figure rises to 55% in the case of the VDP estates’ joint vineyard area of 2,700 hectares, which accounts for seven per cent of the world’s Riesling plantings. The fact that the VDP’s 1 million bottles of Grosses Gewächs produced in 2013 command an average price of 29,30€ shows how far the top German dry wines have come in the last few years. The worrying trend for German wine lovers however is that as demand increases, as it most surely will, these prices will surely start to look reasonable.

Chinese Version

文 /Anthony Rose 译/ 孙宵祎
Anthony Rose
co.uk开设周专栏。也为Decanter、 The World of Fine Wine
等杂志供稿。很多知名葡萄酒大赛的评委和主席。The Wine
Gang 的创办人之一。博客www.anthonyrosewine.com.,微
博Anthony _ Rose。
金的出口。那赫(Nahe)的酒庄Martin Tesch
于德国雷司令的复杂命名如L utome r L a sk i
R iesl ing(现在是rizl ing)以及从前有的酒堪
由V DP(Verband Deutscher Qual itätsu
n d P r ä d i k at s we i n g üt e r,德国顶级酒庄联
盟)组织引导,包含13个产区在内的2 0 2家德
级系统叫作Grosses Gewächs(在酒标上简称
GG)。根据Louis Guntrum酒庄的Constantin
Grosses Gewächs分级系统要求必须是干
型酒,共分四级,最顶端的叫作Grosse Lage,
即来自特级园(g ra nd cr u v i neya rd)的酒。
在此之下分别是E r ste L a g e、 O r t s we i n 和
酒庄的Ernie Loosen的说法,“战后时期的人
尔(M o s e l)出产那些最为优雅细致的干型
(R he i n g au)擅长经典的干型、中等酒体雷
司令;那赫(N a h e)则拥有德国最纯净的雷
司令,在法尔兹(R hei npfa l z)则拥有酒体更
(R heinhessen)的雷司令同样纯净但风格非
间小镇,16 4家V DP成员拿出了5 0 2 款葡萄酒
2 013 年份最初并不为媒体看好,因为成熟较
尚未进入VDP的Constantin Guntrum说:
列,如Breuer. J.B.Becker和 Tesch。
Dönnhoff本人和Diel 、Schäfer-Fröhlich
也有德国最出色的干型雷司令,如Hey ma n n
L öwenstei n、 Fritz Haag和Dr. L oosen,以
及以生产贵腐甜酒出名的J.J.Pr u m 和 Egon
Bassermann Jordan和 Dr. Wehrheim,莱茵黑
Gillot 和Battenfeld-Spanier致力于使自己列
品酒庄,其中包括Balthasar Ress、Künstler、
August Kesseler和Robert Weil。

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