The Grape Debate: Riesling
On the back of the highly successful and entertaining Pinot Noir Grape Debate, the West London Wine School followed it up with Riesling for round 2; it’s as if they’ve chosen the grapes for discussion especially for me!
Riesling is the grape loved by winos, though not as much by the wider population. It has suffered from the image created by sub-standard German wine of the 1970s and 1980s, but Riesling really does have so much going for it. It is such a versatile grape, from bone dry to super sweet; it matches up with almost any food; white meat, a wide variety of seafood, and it’s great with spicy food. The grape is also grown in many different parts of the world, revealing lots about its place of origin, its terroir.
The Grape Debate is all about trying to find your favourite expression of these great grape varieties.
The format consists of three of the Wine School’s tutors selecting a region and showing wines across three different price points to represent their constituency. After the opening statements a vote is taken to establish the audience’s preferences before the tasting, followed by 3 rounds of imbibing and a final vote at the end. The winner is the region that receives the greatest “swing” of votes
The opening statements
Quentin Sadler (@quentinsadler) kicked off the proceedings by introducing us to the beautiful region of Alsace in eastern France. Alsatian wines tend to be dry with lots of mouth-watering acidity; Quentin described the wines from this picture-postcard region as giving “a thrill of acidity to your palate and your senses”. The 62km long AOC is very young, only being introduced in 1962, but wine has a long and glorious history in this region, with French and German influences, and a very dry climate producing truly scintillating wines.
Australia & New Zealand
The wine school’s very own Kiwi, Cherie Agnew (@chatsagnew) introduced us to the fresh, balanced and bracing wines from down under. Cherie was surprised at the lack of love for Riesling in the UK when she first arrived, being used to drinking it as “everyday wine” back in NZ. The Rieslings of Australia and NZ are amazingly approachable in style as well as through the simplicity of their labelling and marketing; you know exactly what to expect when you pop a cork or, more often than not, twist a cap. She told us to expect “refreshing, crisp and super-punchy” wines from her selection.
The opening statements concluded with West London Wine’s School’s head honcho Jimmy Smith, kitted out in funky new threads and bins, introducing us to Germany, “the spiritual home of Riesling”. Riesling originated in the Rhine region of Germany and is the most planted variety in the country. The real home of Riesling is found on the beautiful steep, south facing slopes of the Mosel Valley, overlooking the stunning chocolate-box villages below. Jimmy described the wines as weak, but in alcohol not flavour; the Rieslings of Germany are “easy, friendly wines just perfect for the summer”.
The opening vote
Each of the audience was asked to put the regions in their order of preference. 1 point was awarded for first, zero for second, and -1 for third to set the benchmark. My personal selection was 1) Aus/NZ 2) Germany 3) Alsace… and I was certainly in the minority with the combined vote putting Alsace as the region to beat:
So the benchmark was established…. Now onto the wines:
Round 1 – under £12
Domain Trimbach Riesling 2011, Alsace (The Wine Society £10.95)
Enticing aromas of red apples with plenty on mineral and slate and even a hint of something slightly exotic – like a dried liquorice stick. The palate is clean, dry, steely and tense, with flavours of crisp apple, but it’s the minerality that shines through. A bright and fresh wine, very racy but with just a hint of warm alcohol on the finish. 88 points
Von Kesselstatt Piersporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett 2008, Mosel, Germany (The Wine Society £11.95)
Gorgeous nose of apples and peaches, supported by gentle honey, clean slate and just a light touch of smokiness. The texture is oh so clean, glacial even. The attack is sweet but then calms down and the fruity peach and mango shines through, perfectly balanced with bracing acidity. So fruity and so balanced I could drink this for breakfast (its only 8%). 91 points
Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Riesling 2013, South Australia (Oddbins £12.25)
Pure and clean citrus fruit with just a touch of honey on the nose; lots of clean slate, very pure and very precise. Crystal clean on the palate with lots of stony minerality on the attack before the citrus starts to come through… but just not enough. The nose is delightful but there are a few fruit notes missing on the palate – needs a Chinese takeaway to show at its best. 87 points
The overall winner of round 1 was Germany, my 1-2-3 was:
Round 2 – £12 to £25
Grosset Springvale Waterville Riesling 2012, Clare Valley, South Australia (The Wine Society £20.00)
Grosset’s Polish Hill Riesling is one of my favourite wines, period, so I was looking forward to trying the Springvale. A rich nose with a honeyed touch to compliment the citrus, mandarin and hint of pineapple – I love it. The palate is so clean and pure and the fruit creeps up on you; first comes the lime, then the tropical notes but it’s all underpinned by the tense and racy minerality. The Springvale is classy and elegant, still young but the balance is there and this will age magnificently. 92+ points
Josmeyer Riesling Le Dragon 2011, Alsace, France (The Drink Shop £21.86)
The nose has a combination of citrus fruit and a floral note– jasmine I think – but there is also a slight funkiness that I can’t quite put my finger on, the only thing that springs to mind is fenugreek. The palate is very bland; there is a touch of apple fruit but it’s just far to austere and steely, lacking the acid bite I’m expecting. I have waxed lyrical about Josmeyer wines in the past but this I just don’t get. 85 points
Dönnhoff Kreuznacher Krötenpfuhl Riesling Spatlese 2010, Nahe, Germany (Waitrose Cellar £24.99)
Heady and fruity nose with a touch of sweet and earthy heather honey. The attack is pretty sweet but with super acidity to balance. There is some nice tropical fruit on the palate but it feels a little 1-dimensional and doesn’t have the complexity of the Von Kesselstatt. Very fresh and very delicious but something is missing for a wine of this price (where’s the JJ Prüm Jimmy??) 90 points
The overall winner for round 2 as voted by the audience was Germany, my 1-2-3:
Round 3 – £25 to £50
Keller Brunnenhauschen AbtE Grosses Gewächs 2009, Rheinessen, Germany (Worgan Wines £49.57)
Now the cheapest I can find this wine online is £80, but if Mr Worgan is prepared to let it go for under £50 then I’ll take a case! The nose is delightfully complex with smoke and slate beautifully mingling with apples, limes and passion fruit. The palate is wonderful; very tense and racy with bags of minerality, but with zesty limes to begin with, then ripe peach, then the tropical fruit before it all comes together in a blanket of searing acidity. A wine that keeps on giving and there’s so much more to come! 94+ points
Zind Humbrecht Brand Grand Cru Vielles Vignes Vendage Tardive 2010, Alsace (Uncorked £49.95)
Massive richness and intensity on the nose. Apple, nectarine, passion fruit all come one at a time before melding beautifully together with a touch of marmaladey botrytis. The palate is incredibly luscious and rich with amazing intensity of fruit… but the acidity it super-searing, even for me! Perhaps just needs a bit more time to calm down and get the moon aligned. 93 points
Pegasus Bay Encore Noble Riesling 2012 (The Wine Library £22.49 375ml)
Smells cooked apples and tropical fruits scream out of the glass with a heady note of musky-marmalade, a sure-fire sign of noble rot. The palate has a luscious and luxurious texture and the cornucopia of fruit is sweet and highly concentrated, as well as being beautifully balanced with zinging acidity. I would gladly drink this at any occasion, or simply have it spread on toast for breakfast! 94 points
A thrilling final round with New Zealand coming out on top for the majority – my 1-2-3…
My 1-2-3 at the end of the night was the same as the start although splitting Aus/NZ and Germany was incredibly tough…
But for the majority, even though German won 2 of the rounds it lost a point to Alsace overall, making Alsace the winner on the night with a +1 point swing!
The Grape Debate is one of the most fun formats I have come across for discovering and enjoying great wine; the guys at the West London Wine School put together yet another entertaining event and everyone walked away with a smile on their face and having learnt something new.
Riesling is a truly exceptional grape and tonight we tried some magnificent wines from three different countries, across many regions, made in lots of different styles. Riesling is my go-to grape for most occasions and tonight just reaffirmed my faith and love for this unbelievable grape variety.
If you like the sound of that, why not sign up for the next Grape Debate in September, which will pit the best the Old and the New World has to offer from Syrah/Shiraz… sign up here: