In Praise of the Not-so-humble Riesling

Itay Gleitman
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Riesling grapes can be used for wines ranging from incredibly dry, to sweet dessert wines.Credit: Ayal Keren, Hagit Goren, Gabriel Baharalia
Itay Gleitman

Many will likely disagree, but, Riesling wines are tastiest white wines, in my opinion. And no, I don’t mean Emerald Riesling.

One mystery I’ve yet to solve is why Riesling wines haven’t been successful among Israeli wine consumers. So perhaps the time has come for drastic measures and therefore, without getting hung up on important details like manufactures, production styles and vineyard areas, I’m ready to declare – despite the criticism I’ll surely receive from Chardonnay lovers – that Riesling grapes are the best tasting white grapes in existence. There is really no reason that these wines continue to be enjoyed only by those in the know, especially during the hot Israeli summer, the perfect time for getting acquainted with them

But the problem is not just among consumers, and there are other objective difficulties with Rieslings – for example, the awkward German method of wine classification. This method, which ranks the grapes by their ripeness when harvested and uses terminology unfamiliar to regular consumers, makes it difficult for them to know what to expect in the bottle. And when even Technion graduates have difficulty understanding what’s written on the label, there are marketing problems.

Of course, the similarity of Riesling and Emerald Riesling doesn’t make anything easier. Emerald Riesling grapes were developed at Davis University in California, a combination of Riesling and Muscatel grapes, in an attempt to create a grape with all the majestic qualities of the Riesling with the ability to grow in hotter climates. Although Emerald Riesling hasn’t been a hit throughout the world, it has become popular in Israel with semi-dry wines that are produced by some of the larger vineyards. The relationship between Emerald Riesling and Riesling grapes is like the relationship between T-bone steak and skirt steak – they both feature the word steak.

Riesling grapes can be used to make wines ranging from incredibly dry, to sweet dessert wines. This versatility lends to the Riesling’s talent to absorb the nature of the soil in which they were grown. This variety of grape is at its best in colder climes, as the later ripening better brings out the grapes’ taste. Germany is the best place for producing Rieslings bar none, though the Alsace province of France, and parts of Austria also produce fine Rieslings. Lately, Rieslings have sprung up in lots of new locations that have been producing better results from year to year, including the Eden Valley and Adelaide Hills in Australia, Marlboro in New Zealand, Niagara in Canada and the Finger Lakes in New York.

When they’re at their best, these wines feature a nice bit of natural sourness alongside a low alcohol content, and some of them can do very well ageing for a couple of decades. The range of aromas you might pick up from Riesling wines includes flowers, summer fruits and honey, alongside other mineral ingredients. You might notice a slight hint of petrol scent, a result of some of the chemicals inherently present in the grape (TDN), which are more present in Rieslings than in any others. These kinds of aromas, especially in older vintages, might not be well received by wine enthusiasts, but I believe they add a unique, magical dimension to the wine.

From among the impressive variety of wines imported into Israel, I’ve decided to focus on a few that can be easily found in different areas. They should be kept at temperatures between 8 and 10 degrees Celsius. I have a feeling that Rieslings are about to catch on, which should lead to increased demand and higher prices. Maybe you’d prefer a nice refreshing glass of Emerald Riesling in any case?

1. Joh Jos Prum, Riesling Kabinett, 2011

On the label, underneath the regular jargon used to describe wines, German vintner J.J. Prum wrote two simple words: “great fun.” This vine features the aroma of fresh green apples, lime and ripe melon, and a level of sweetness that is the perfect mix with the fruit flavors. (Giaconda, 120 shekels ($35))

2. Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, 2012

Another great German wine, which features slight lemon zest and green apple flavors, adding up to a perfectly balanced, off-dry, semi-sweet taste. (Giaconda, 120 shekels ($35))

3. Selbach-Oster, J&H Selbach Piesporter Michelsberg, 2013

An incredible brand that only recently reached Israel. If this is one of their basic offerings, just think what their more complex wines will be like. This is a Riesling from the “cheaper” areas of Germany, with an overpowering sweetness and pure fruit flavor, which makes for an easy, refreshing drinking experience. A great way to get acquainted with the Riesling variety. (Boutique de Champagnes, 89 shekels ($26))

4. Hirsch, Riesling Zobing, 2013

Hirsch’s Zobing features only six grams of sugar per liter. This impressive wine features a juicy texture combined with mineral nuances. Austria at its best. (Boutique de Champagnes, 130 shekels ($38))

5. Hugel, Riesling 2010

Hugel, a solid vintner that makes great Rieslings for a reasonable price, presents this classic Alsace Riesling, which is sharp, dry and fruity all at the same time. (Hamagash Shaked, 114 shekels ($33))

6. Kellermeister “The Boots” Riesling Reseve, 2011

A successful Australian Riesling from the Eden Valley, which features both citrus fruit aromas and a slightly sour but refreshing twist of lemon. It makes your taste buds cry out for another sip. (Marsh, 117 shekels ($34))