My Summer and Winter of Riesling
As we hit the height of Perth Summer let me transport you for a moment to the cold streets of a New York Winter, the city I travelled to but a few weeks ago. (The temperature hovered around freezing point – small piece of advice, don’t take your gloves off to eat your apple in the Big Apple winter…). And where exactly would you have found me? Why, a cosy wine bar of course!
While I was lucky enough to visit a number of New York wine bars, the most anticipated was ‘Terroir’ in the East Village. Having met the co-owner Paul Greco at the 2012 Frankland Estate International Riesling Tasting, I knew the bar had a focus on one of my favourite wines – Riesling. Terroir did not disappoint; sitting at the long communal table, perusing the wine list that filled (I kid you not) a full lever arch file, I knew I’d come to the right place. Over 10 pages of the list were devoted solely to Riesling. But it wasn’t just their fondness for Riesling I liked. If I ever owned a wine bar, it would be like this one: unique atmosphere, passionate and knowledgeable staff, and a well thought out wine list.
Cut to Perth in January and I don’t have to remind you of the average temperature. That I’m just as happy drinking a glass of Riesling in this heat as I was next to the fire in New York says a lot for this wine: it’s nothing if not versatile. This certainly applies to its ability to complement many different foods. But importantly, Rieslings aren’t just versatile, they’re also diverse. Unlike a wine such as a Chardonnay, which is always dry, it’s possible to get dry Rieslings and ‘off dry’ or slightly sweeter Rieslings. Similar to Rose, Riesling is still sometimes disparagingly associated with sweetness, but again, times have changed. What I love about this noble white grape variety is its razor sharp acidity and purity of taste.
I am certainly not alone in my enthusiasm for Riesling; there’s a definite buzz about this variety, of controversy and excitement. Sommeliers, the wine trade and wine lovers everywhere happily debate what defines a great Riesling. Why? It all comes back that word again – terroir. Riesling is a grape variety that only thrives in those key regions that provide the perfect soil, climate and altitude, and in Australia that means cold climates such as Canberra, Tasmania or the Great Southern. In turn, the taste of any Riesling is a very pure expression of the select environment in which the grapes were grown. It’s a wine that doesn’t have to be worked by the wine-maker – it is allowed to take its own course with minimal intervention, developing a natural flavour profile unique to its terroir. As a result, diversity is again the characteristic that shines through for this wine, with Great Southern Rieslings displaying a distinctive minerality and steeliness, while Clare Valley produces a more floral Riesling, for example. These clean, fresh, lovely wines evoke such an intense sense of place, which for me is one of the great pleasures of wine drinking.
One final note about Riesling – it’s a bargain. It’s such an undervalued wine yet it ages so gracefully. If you’re looking for a way to fill your cellar on a budget, Riesling certainly deserves some shelf room. I personally prefer an aged Riesling to an aged Chardonnay – in any season.