The riesling revival continues. While the South African area covered by riesling vineyards remains minuscule, there are positive signs on both the production and consumer fronts.
Rieslings of quality are emanating from more Cape regions, while most wine lovers know that local bottles labelled “riesling” will contain the real McCoy and not the inferior crouchen blanc which for decades masqueraded under the moniker Cape riesling.
Germany’s greatest grape can produce, many assert, wine with infinitely more character than sauvignon blanc, chenin and even chardonnay. When young, they are fresh and fruity, even when bone dry, although they are often off-dry and some are semi-sweet.
The late harvest dessert wines, which are highly prized, form a fourth category.
As riesling ages, it develops its tertiary character which can be described as a lanolin flavour or waxiness. As with most wines, contemporary consumers are drinking rieslings that are youthful, so that this characteristic has not always had a chance to develop.
German riesling has been kept in good condition for up to a century, and, according to Wikipedia, the town hall in Bremen holds barrels with riesling that date back to the 1653 vintage.
The second Riesling Rocks, a one-day celebration of fine local riesling, takes place at Hartenberg estate on February 9. It offers a unique opportunity to sample and compare some of our top rieslings and perhaps invest in a case or two to tuck away. Host Carl Schultz, one of our best riesling makers, has invited De Wetshof, Groote Post, Hartenberg, Klein Constantia, Nederburg, Nitida, Ross Gower, Spioenkop, Thelema and Howard Booysen to join him in showcasing their diverse rieslings.
Both impressive quality and diversity of style of homegrown rieslings will be revealed at the riesling celebration.
Host cellar Hartenberg will present their Occasional Riesling 2012, (R95) made from 15-year-old vines. About half the grapes harvested showed evidence of botrytis, which no doubt accounts for the perfumed aromas, followed by fresh and floral off-dry flavours in a wine with noticeable complexity.
Thelema’s Rhine Riesling 2010 was made from grapes planted nearly 30 years ago and fermented in stainless tanks. It presents perfume and spice on the nose, is off-dry, and lime and lanolin can be detected in this low-alcohol charmer. Elgin grapes were used to make their 2011 Sutherland Riesling which, in reflecting the mineral character of the region, is more Teutonic in style with citrus on the palate. It’s already good, and sure to improve if squirrelled away somewhere cool.
Thelema’s 2009 Late Harvest Rhine should be chilled and served to elevate desserts and rich cheese to feast status. Both minerality and hints of grapefruit can be detected in De Wetshof’s impressive ’09 riesling, and the lanolin is starting to develop in this example that draws Robertson valley into the fold of good riesling territory.
Klein Constantia recently bottled their 2012, a combination of a maiden vintage from young vines and more from mature blocks. The floral nose is followed by peach and other fruit in this off-dry riesling which the farm is keeping back for at least a year before release. Visitors to Riesling Rocks will be the first to sample this potential winner.
Pairing the wines with a range of fine fare will be as enjoyable, as there is no other white grape as versatile as riesling when it comes to enhancing good food. The food stalls will present savoury and spicy bites, sushi, Lebanese specialities and charcuterie along with sweet treats. The last can partner the late harvest rieslings, which also make stellar companions to blue cheese, while dry riesling is perfect for sushi and off-dry complements milder Thai curries to perfection. Try the sweeter wines with patés and rich terrines.