Worldbeater or bottom of the barrel

The Riesling paradox: Critics and judges rate this wine very highly, many consumers, even those who normally drink white wines, think it is rubbish.
Plunketts riesling

Riesling from the Strathbogie Ranges

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Many people are surprised when I say that I think Riesling is the best grape variety.

"Ah, it's too sweet," they say.

That's the key to why this white wine variety has lost its way. People think it's sweet, therefore they don't like it. I think it tastes like it's made from grapes so I like it.

In the days before varietal labelling 'Riesling' was a wine style, rather than a variety. It was something not quite as dry as a 'chablis' but certainly not as sweet as a 'moselle' or a 'sauternes'.

In the 1960s and 1970s when we were drinking "riesling" the wines may have has some riesling grapes in them, but I'm sure that many had less revered varieties in them, such as colombard or Thompson's Seedless. (sultanas)

While we Aussies were busy degrading the name of this wonderful variety the German wine companies were helping to blacken the name with mass-produced and mass marketed sweet wines in Europe and Britain. So the decline of Riesling was a global problem.

Wine in a fashion industry but years after these events the legacy of the bad reputation lives on.

Over the past decade or so there has been a drift back to Riesling in Australia, lead by the iconic regions of Clare Valley and Eden Valley. The prices of Riesling wines from these regions have been steadily increasing, but they are still extremely cheap, compared to most other varieties.

Where are the bargains?

Wineries in most wine regions, other than the warmer inland regions produce excellent Riesling, and it is rarely the most expensive wine in the range. The Adelaide Hills is a less heralded region for Riesling but you will find some good ones there.

Many Victorian regions produce excellent wines from this variety, but in most regions demand for the ubiquitous Chardonnay forces it into the background. Critics like the wine produced in the Henty region (around Portland and Crawford River) if you like to spend more than $20 per bottle you will find some from this region. However you can get excellent wines for little more than half that money from regions such as the Alpine Valleys, King Valley (especially from the higher vineyards) Upper Goulburn, Strathbogie Ranges, Macedon Ranges, Geelong and Grampians regions.

In New South Wales your best bet is to try some varietal Riesling from the emerging cooler regions, for example Hilltops, Canberra District or Orange.

In WA you should head down to the Great Southern sub-regions such as Frankland River, Mount Barker or Porongurup.

A question of age

Like most white wine varieties Riesling improves with age. I like mine in the 8-15 year range of aging. These are serious wines, but very few are available. You need to be patient, but let me assure you the rewards are well worth the wait.

But which is the best riesling?

I've got a few ideas but I'd like your ideas. So have your say or read what others have said.


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Riesling decoded

Discussion about this wonderful variety is hampered by confusion about what "riesling" is.

Before varietal labeling Riesling used to refer to a style rather than a variety - it just meant an off dry white wine. This usage persisted, especially in cask wines well into the 1990s.

Clare Riesling was the name wrongly ascribed to the Crouchen variety. It is rarely found now, except in Brown Brothers extraordinarily popular Crouchen & Riesling.

Hunter Riesling was the name given to Semillon in the Hunter region. Although these wines were misnamed they were exceptionally good, especially when aged.

Rhine Riesling was used to describe varietal Riesling wines to distinguish them from the style.

Traminer-Reisling refers to a blends with gewurztraminer, a popular combination in warmer Australian regions.

Some Award Winning Rieslings

The Canberra Riesling Challenge has been held since 2000. At the latest challenge in 2007 the award of the best Riesling in the world went to Weingut Juliusspital Iphofer Julius-Echterberg Riesling Beerenauslese 2006. The best Australian was Orlando Wines St Helga Eden Valley Riesling 2002.

At the International Wine Challenge in 2007 the best Australian Riesling was judged to be Peter Lehmann Reserve Riesling 2002

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