Many Kinds of Rieslings
By Dan Berger
A complainant wrote to me recently to say that my comments that there were a plethora of fascinating Rieslings from many places in the world were, in his words, mindless.
His point was that there was but one Riesling and it came from Germany, and that all others were mere pretenders. And, from what I gathered from his remarks, no others were worth drinking.
In a way, I sympathized with his myopia. There is no question that the absolute paradigm for this superb grape is Germany, with its difficult soils, its hard-to-predict weather, and its myriad of other problems not the least of which is the way certain sub-regions impact how the aromas and flavors will develop.
But to dismiss all other Rieslings as unworthy to consume is a rather narrow view, and one that indicates that the writer probably has never tried a Riesling from Austria, Alsace, or Australia with their distinctive personalities. Or any others.
It is easy to dismiss that which you have never tried. But even if this writer had tried others and found them un-Germanic, is that any reason to declare all the others mere charlatans? Those of us who have tried the great Rieslings of New York might likewise dispute the fact that a Riesling from Colorado deserved to win a major international wine tasting a couple of years ago. I was all set to dispute this result until a recent trip to Colorado where I was stunned by the quality of many wines, not the least a few Rieslings (not to mention a simply remarkable Gewurztraminer).
Were any of these wines Germanic in character? No. Not close. But neither are any of the superb bone-dry Rieslings of Australia’s Clare and Eden valleys Germanic, in the strict sense of the word, and yet the characteristics they offer, though radically different from those found in Germany, still deliver a distinctiveness that is the grape as rendered by another soil and climate.
And isn’t that a commanding statement of how great a grape Riesling is? Despite wildly differing growing conditions, only Riesling can make a locally acknowledged great wine with little dispute — and in a wine that shows the identifiability of the grape.
Take Cabernet Sauvignon for example. Bordeaux is the worldwide model, but some have confused Napa Cabernet for Bordeaux ands vice versa. But in recent years, purists seem to prefer Bordeaux. Burgundy may be the world’s best place to grow Pinot Noir, but a number of cooler-climate Californian Pinot Noirs as well as New Zealand offerings are now making a challenge, suggesting that Burgundian flavors can be extracted from regions other than Burgundy. But Burgundy remains the wine lovers’ wine of choice (if price is no object).
It is clear that wines from the paradigm-ic regions remain still captivate wine lovers and remain first in their hearts.
But put a well-chosen Michigan, Oregon, Colorado, Temecula, or Tasmanian Riesling down in front of a wine lover, and he or she might note (quickly) that it is not German, but also may point out the delight of Riesling aromas and flavors that the wine delivers.
No, it may not be German, but there is an indefinable quality to the wine that says, “This is Riesling,” and that may be all that one needs to know that a good drink is ahead.
Yes, it’s fine to be pro-German Riesling. Our cellar has loads of them. But we are also at least as much in love with the grape as we are the paradigm, and we are trying with delight Rieslings from Mendocino County, southern Washington, Italy and Chile, and even places like Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia that defy the statement “you can’t do that here.”
Riesling is so great a grape that it can perform where other grapes only can make a pretender.