The recent Riesling Galaxy tasting in Sydney provided an unmissable opportunity to try some of the best value Rieslings from around the world. My overwhelming impression from the tasting is that quality and value is consistent at all price points. The Riesling market is extremely competitive, with abundant mouthwatering prospects at excellent prices. Great for the consumer!
A focus on biodynamic and organic production
Many Riesling producers, particularly those from Europe, are organic or biodynamic. There are obvious benefits to the environment with these farming methods, but how does it influence our taste and appreciation of the wine? Well, the grapes tend to ripen earlier and at lower alcohol levels. This means the wines are better balanced, fresher and have a greater level of purity.
With a greater focus on the vineyard, many winemakers have become more interested in vineyard expression rather than the ‘style’ of wine. The production of dry wines is increasing, no doubt because of changing tastes. But it is also seen by some as a ‘purer’ wine and better able to reflect a vineyard’s unique characteristics. The new normal includes wild ferments, lees and skin contact and ageing in a variety of vessels, from stainless steel, to large format (neutral) oak.
Is there still a market for the sweeter styles of Riesling?
One consequence of the renewed focus on vineyard expression is a slow shift away from sweeter styles. Generalisations about wine regions and their relative merits are becoming more difficult, particularly as the pace of change has been so rapid. There has been an immense increase in the quality and consistency of Riesling, but there has been some loss too.
Some producers, notably in Germany and Austria, have become obsessed with the philosophy of site expression. This invariably means the wines are made dry. Putting environmental and cultural considerations to one side, I think the first duty of a winemaker is to produce the best possible wine from the grapes that they have. The vintage conditions will wreak their influence, but the site will ultimately determine how the wine should be made.
Donnhoff (Nahe, Germany) is a good example of a producer doing things differently. They have vineyards in 8 Grosse Lagen from which they can produce wines labelled Grosses Gewachs (Grand Cru wines which have to be fermented dry). However, they make only 4. Donnhoff believes that some of these sites are more suited to different styles. They have not succumbed to the financially advantageous decision to make only Grosses Gewachs wines from these sites.
Surprisingly, there were only 2 dessert wines, both Ausleses from Rheinhessen in Germany at the Galaxy tasting. Evidently, the Australian market favours the drier styles of Riesling. However, as far as I’m concerned, there is much pleasure to be had from Rieslings that are not fermented dry.
The sweetest styles varied from wines which had small amounts of residual sugar (5g/L in the case of Adelina’s 2018 Watervale Riesling), right through to the Pradikat wines of Germany’s Kabinett, Spatlese and Ausleses.
Can you find value for money?
The price of Riesling is increasing. Tasmania, for example, produces Australia’s most expensive Riesling grapes at $2871 per tonne, compared to Canberra at $1858, Eden Valley at $1609 and Clare Valley at $1054.
If you were to remove the exceptions of Egon Muller (Mosel) and Keller’s (Rheinhessen) Grosses Gewachs, the top producers from Germany and Austria provide remarkable value for money. That is not to say that they are cheap. However, they are amongst the greatest wines in the world, and for that, they are bargains!
The best Rieslings from around the world
Australia has produced some wonderful Riesling over the years, but many of the wines were made in an identical style that became tiresome. Wines that were too steely, framed by hard acidity, filled with lemon and unripe lime. Not any more!
Exploration induces passion, and I have become fascinated with the differences that exist from site to site and the infinite style variations that Riesling enables. To that end, Australia is now making some of the finest examples in the world, and I am happy to say, that the sweeter styles are showing so much promise.
Adelina Watervale Riesling 2018, Clare Valley SA – Captivating perfume of citrus, grapefruit and spice. Gorgeous filigree texture, interwoven with lemon and limes. Just off-dry, the finish is chalky and full of tension.
Adelina Polish Hill Riesling 2018, Clare Valley SA – Pure, pure, pure. So precise and composed. The citrus fruit hovers over a bed of cold, wet stone. Intoxicating.
Frankland Estate Riesling 2018, Frankland River WA – Beautiful soft full-bodied palate of lime, orchard fruits and spiced apple. Lovely fresh finish.
Frankland Estate Isolation Ridge Vineyard Riesling 2017, Frankland River WA – Baked apple, lemons and nettles on the nose. Tight and fleshy palate of stone fruits, citrus and granny smith apple. Very long nettley finish. Will be long lived.
Frankland Estate Poison Hill Vineyard Riesling 2017, Frankland River WA – Full bodied. Very fleshy, with abundant citrus. Long and persistent finish, with lovely acidity, spice and minerals. Built for at least 20 years.
Grosset Springvale Riesling 2018, Clare Valley SA – Incredibly expressive. Bursting from the glass with spices and citrus. The palate, dances. So much energy, spicy, melon, grapefruit and lemon pith. Mineral finish is very long. Unique and wonderful.
Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2018, Clare Valley SA– Majestic.There is so much fruit but it’s not just about the fruit. Full bodied, pure and mineral. Citrus fruit, hints of spice and lemon pith invade the palate in such a delicious and invigorating way. Despite it’s size, length and power, the wine is never heavy. Great value!
Helm Classic Dry Riesling 2017, Canberra ACT – Quite closed at the moment. The palate is so clean and pure. Very mineral with wet stones, chalk and lemons. Persistent.
Helm Riesling 2018, Tumbarumba NSW – Exotic and energetic, with pear, apple, spice and minerals. Once again there is incredible purity, you can almost taste the clean mountain air. Fantastic value for money.
Hughes & Hughes Riesling 2018, d’Entrecasteaux TAS – Rich and full bodied. Very complex. Limes, honey, slightly savoury and with a bit of grip. Superb winemaking.
Kate Hill Riesling 2017, Coal River TAS – Remarkable wine, I never would have picked this as Tasmanian. Alsace? Full bodied, broad across the palate with spiced baked apple, lime and lemon pith. Just the faintest touch of residual sweetness. Terrific wine, terrific value.
Mount Horrocks Watervale Riesling 2018, Clare Valley SA – Open and ready to drink, although there is plenty of long life in this one. Very broad in the mouth, fresh, pure and a little spicy. Captivating really. Breadth and freshness must be one of the hardest acts in Riesling and this nails it. Terrific value.
Naked Run ‘Place in Time’ Riesling 2014, Clare Valley SA – Fantastic follow up to the 2012, which is one of the best value Rieslings I’ve ever had. Nice development but with a big future ahead of it. Full, honey, butter, citrus with soft supporting acidity. Very fine.
Pooley Riesling 2018, Coal River TAS – Incredibly pure, with the freshest, ripest limes. Broad and mineral, this is beautiful. One of Australia’s best value Rieslings. Very fine.
The quality and value to be found in Austrian Rieslings is fabulous. The wines I tasted were all dry. The producer’s stamp is more obvious in these wines. I don’t mean this as criticism. Rather, the producers have obtained the best wine from their grapes. As a consequence, it can be difficult to generalise the wines from a particular wine region. The characteristics are less obvious and uniform than a region like Germany’s Rheingau. But who cares – as long as the wine is good?!
The best wines had body, freshness and length. Austrian producers are moving away from the huge monster wines that were everywhere a decade ago.
Domane Wachau Terrassen Riesling Federspiel 2017, Durnstein/Wachau – Open and ready to drink. Lovely interplay of citrus and stone fruits, including peach and apricot. Juicy and deliciously fresh. Great value.
Domane Wachau Bruck Riesling Federspiel 2017, Durnstein/Wachau – So different from the Terrassen. Exotic, savoury and smoky with dried apricot, peaches and lime. Very grand, almost Baroque, but with a precise finish. Great persistence and presence.
Hiedler Kogelberg Riesling 2014, Kamptal – Exotic. Exuberant nose of orange, pink grapefruit and preserved lemon. Baroque in style with huge flamboyant flavours, incredible detail and swordlike precision. Incredible wine.
Hiedler Langenlois Riesling 2016, Kamptal – An explosion of fruit gets me coming back for more. Very complex mix of stone fruits, spiced plums and lime. Unctuous and juicy with texture and freshness. Incredible value. Bargain!
Hirsch Zobing Riesling 2015, Kamptal – Terrific wine here. Very zesty, but with plenty of weight on the palate. Lemon, orange pith and minerals. A bundle of juicy energy.
Rudi Pichler Federspiel Riesling 2013, Wachau – Very clear flavours here. A little exotica with red apple and stone fruits. Slightly savoury and yet very pure. Fabulous value.
Salomon Undhof Alma (Amphora) Riesling 2017, Kremstal – Fabulous. Huge wine, exotic and with so much interest. Orange, grapefruit, spiced plum and cherries. Nervy, savoury and with a lovely textural grip. Unique.
Salomon Undhof Kogl Riesling 2015, Kremstal – Very different from the Steinterrassen. Full bodied, but very fresh. Precise and linear with citrus fruit. Extremely mineral. The most mineral wine that I tried from Austria at this tasting. Unique really. This is a monopole vineyard for the estate. Great value.
Salomon Undhof Pfaffenberg Reserve Riesling 2017, Kremstal – Lovely wine. Pretty and with great presence and power. Lime, lemon pith,spices and smoke. Very complex. The flavours are delicate delineated and threaded so well together. Mineral finish of great persistence. Very fine.
Salomon Undhof Steinterrassen Riesling 2015, Kremstal – Full bodied and broad across the palate. Slightly savoury/smokey with lime and lemon rind. Invigorating finish. Excellent value and very complex for this price.
Schloss Gobelsburg Heiligenstein Riesling 2013, Kamptal – Amazing wine. I love this about Austrian Riesling. The wine is unique and utterly delicious. Huge nose of orange, lime and tropical fruit. Very full bodied and thrillingly nervy with complex tropical notes, orchard fruits and white flowers. Savoury yet with the sweetest fruits. Absolutely incredible.
It is extremely difficult to generalise the styles of Riesling in France. The wines on show at the Galaxy Tasting prove that it’s the producer that counts when it comes to quality. Many of the wines showed the stamp of the maker more than the vineyard or vintage.
I don’t mean this as a criticism. Rather, French Riesling drinkers may find themselves faced with a famous domaine and not actually “love” the wines. Lets face it, this happens all the time. But I’ve found Alsace, in particular, to be a region where style and philosophy can overwhelm the simpler needs of sensual pleasure.
Happily, there are bargains to be had. Many of the beacon producers are perhaps not what they’re cracked up to be but some of the less familiar names are producing wines of real character.
Bruno Sorg Florimont Grand Cru Riesling 2014, Alsace – Once again, full bodied. Exotic, more so than the straight Riesling. Intense palate of apricots, citrus, yellow peach and nuts. Sleek, and linear. Wonderfully fresh. Will be very long lived. Terrific.
Bruno Sorg Riesling 2015, Alsace – Superb wine. Full bodied and exotic. Ripe tropical fruits and searing minerals. Persistent finish. Great, great value wine.
Kientzler Osterberg Grand Cru Riesling 2012, Alsace – Classic Alsatian Riesling. Citrus and white peach fruit mingle with smoky, savoury and spice. Very complex. Full bodied and delicate all the same. Excellent value for a wine at this level.
Kientzler Riesling 2013, Alsace – Full bodied and a soft palate. Very interesting wine and for me “typical” Alsace flavour and texture. Baked apple, spice and custard. Gentle and flavoursome. Lovely wine.
Mader Riesling 2016, Alsace – Intense bouquet, leaping out of the glass. Love this! Lemons, lime pith, fresh apricots and white peach. Fantastic cut and thrust on the palate. Juicy and vivacious. Absolute bargain!
Mader Rosacker Grand Cru Riesling 2016, Alsace – Incredible. Similar energy to the wine above, but with a greater level of refinement. More body too and texture. Citrus, orchard fruits, grapefruit, smoke and minerals. Bubbling V8 power, and a nervy backbone. Great, great value and one of the best wines of the tasting.
Paul Kubler ‘Breitenberg Riesling 2012, Alsace – Rich and full bodied. Classic Riesling flavours of stone fruits, citrus and minerals. Lots of energy, particularly when you consider the weight.
Germany is the most difficult country to draw conclusions with in regards to Riesling (and no doubt other matters!) The variety of styles and interpretations is unique. No other varietal anywhere in the world can taste and feel so different as in Germany.
The dry wines I found to be inconsistent. I am unsure as to whether many of the Grosse Lage sites are suited to the production of Grosses Gewachs. They are undoubtedly great sites, but I can’t help think that they are better suited to making the sweeter styles.
There is incredible value to be found. Many famous estates used to make indifferent “estate” wines. Thankfully, the estate wines at this tasting showed great value and regional typicity. At this level the dry and Kabinett wines are excellent.
The most striking conclusion I came away with was to focus on the producer – irrespective of vintage or wine style. Great producers make great wine. It is hard not to get caught up in the hype of a new vintage. However, a producer such as Keller (Rheinhessen) nails it year in year out. All the way from the estate trocken to the most expensive Grosses Gewachs or Trockenbeerenauslese.
Ansgar Clusserath Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling Kabinett 2014, Mosel – The light and shade of a great German Kabinett. Lots of personality, but subtle, elegant and discreet. Stone fruits, lime and mineral. Soft palate and delicately sweet.
Ansgar Clusserath Vom Schiefer Riesling Trocken 2016, Mosel – A new producer for me and what a fabulous introduction. Lime, lemon, honey and spice. The palate is juicy and nervy as well. Mineral tones on the finish. Everything you could possibly hope for. Bargain.
Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2017, Mosel – Open and more delicate than I was expecting. Spice, citrus, minerals and a hint of lychee. Soft texture and very fine. Less tense than in previous years. Great value.
Koehler-Ruprecht Kallstadter Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2017, Pfalz – Classic Riesling character of citrus, honey and gentle spice. Full bodied and plenty of freshness. Great value here.
Gunderloch Fritz’s Riesling 2017, Rheinhessen – Light and easy drinking. Grapefruit and yellow fruits with a hint of smoke and spice. Great drink, great value.
Gunderloch Jean Baptiste Riesling Kabinett 2017, Rheinhessen – Beautiful wine. Classic Rheinhessen character. Stone fruits, lime, apple and subtle minerality. The sweetness perfectly pitched. Soft, juicy and tingling. Great value Riesling.
Keller ‘Limestone’ Riesling 2016, Rheinhessen – Full bodied and the cleanest, crisp curves. Juicy, ripe fruits of peach, apricot and the sweetest ripe lime. Incredible interplay of sweetness and acidity. Nervy, chalky acidity drive the wine down a highway dripping with pleasure. Everything is just so. Not a hair out of place. Absolute bargain.
Keller ‘Von der Fels’ Riesling Trocken 2016, Rheinhessen – This wine could not be better. Pitch perfect fruits of citrus, lemon, red cherries and red apple. Juicy, pulpy palate, with the finest, most precise acidity. Not a hair out of place. As with the Wagner Stempel ‘Porphyr’, one of the best value Rieslings in the world.
Keller Westhofen Kirchspiel Auslese 2017, Rheinhessen – The previous wine, buckled my knees, but the Keller brought me crashing down. Courtesy of the pleasure received and not intoxication, mind. The finest wine of any description at this tasting. Full bodied, concentrated. Wave after wave of yellow peaches, dried apricots, winter honey, limes and red cherries. It is perfectly balanced. There is a core of sun kissed acidity providing the sturdiest frame for the enormous chiseled muscle of fruit. Catwalk finish.
Markus Molitor ‘Haus Klosterberg’ Riesling Trocken 2016, Mosel – The ultimate session wine. Exotic. Spice, lime and peaches. Nervy palate and lovely sweet, juicy fruit. Fantastic value.
Markus Molitor ‘Ockfener Bockstein’ Riesling Kabinett 2016, Mosel – Exotic. Is this a hallmark of the producer? Sumptuous palate of citrus, grapefruit, oranges, minerals. Full bodied for a Kabinett. Tingling acidity and coiled power. Will be long lived. Great, great value.
Muller Catoir Haardt Riesling 2017, Pfalz – Excellent dry Riesling, and one of the best from this tasting. Very expressive with notes of stone fruit, lemon and grapefruit. Full bodied, savoury/smokey and succulent fruit. Very mineral finish. Complex. A chimera of a wine as there’s always something else going on. Wonderful.
Muller Catoir MC Riesling 2017, Pfalz – Fantastic estate wine. Very pure. Broad palate with citrus, lemon zest and minerals. Lovely.
Timo Mayer ‘The Doktor’ Riesling Kabinett 2016, Wurttemberg – What the?! Doppelganger? No, it’s the same fellow from the Yarra Valley. Wonderful stuff here. A fuller, more unctuous Kabinett. Loads of yellow peach, lime and ginger. Sleek palate, loads of persistence. Very sexy wine.
Von Hovel 2017 ‘S’ Kabinett 2017, Mosel – One of the greatest Kabinett wines I have ever tried. Tasting notes make it difficult for me to sum up the pleasure. Full bodied, with wave upon wave of ripe juicy stone fruits. Citrus, honey and apricots figure too. Gentle spice and a saline, mineral finish complete the picture. Wonderful. Great value wine.
Wagner Stempel Riesling Trocken 2016, Rheinhessen – From one of the greatest white wine estates in the world. Very Rheinhessen, featuring stone fruits, citrus and loads of spice. Lots of energy and heaps of freshness. Sensational value.
Wagner Stempel Riesling ‘Porphyr’ Trocken 2017, Rheinhessen – Just gets better. One of the best value Rieslings in the world. Very fine with loads of coiled power. Yellow fruits, red apple, pink grapefruit and spices. But wait, there’s more. Every time I taste this wine, I encounter something different. Full bodied, succulent and high wire freshness. A ‘must’ buy!
Wagner Stempel Heerkretz Riesling Grosses Gewachs 2017, Rheinhessen – The best Grosses Gewachs of the tasting. Nothing else came close. Incredible how different this is from the other Wagner Stempel wines. Aristocratic. Very subtle nose. Lots of coaxing so we could catch a glimpse. The sweetest yellow fruits, ripe red cherries, grapefruit, ginger and smoke. The finish is the longest catwalk imaginable. I can’t stop looking.
Wagner Stempel Hollberg Auslese 2017, Rheinhessen – Knockout wine. One of only 2 dessert wines at the tasting. Where do you start? Amazing complexity. Full bodied, rich succulent palate of stone fruits, lime marmalade, honey, orange and spice. Incredible concentration and succulence. Will live for decades. Great wine. Great value.