Skip Nav

Riesling Olympics

Riesling Olympics


Riesling, is the unsung noble grape variety. It’s better known peers Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Syrah are produced widely and consumed in vast quantities. Not so Riesling.

Unlike its noble cousins, few Rieslings have acquired cult status, and on the whole, the quality of Riesling for the money, makes it a perennial best-buy… for those in the know.

Riesling is an early ripening grape variety, but when grown in hot areas, produces simple dumb wines that have little appeal.

Like Pinot Noir, Riesling requires care in the vineyard and minimal handling in the cellar. Both wines prefer a climate that is mild. Riesling is an aromatic grape variety, where free-run juice, cool fermentation in stainless steel and hands-off winemaking enable the grapes to excel and express their terroir in the finished wine.

When left to ripen slowly on the vine in dry, cooler areas, Riesling grapes produce a spectrum of flavors ranging from austere minerality, steely lime-citrus characters, to broad honeyed floral and lily of the valley perfume – on a universal backbone of mouthwatering acidity.

This diversity of flavor made for an engaging and entertaining evening in our “Riesling Olympics” tasting, held at Collection55 Cellars in Redwood City last week.

This was a “crowd-sourced” tasting, where a cadre of my wine-loving friends and some of their friends brought along 20 wines to taste and a couple of masked surprises that stumped the experts.

As a whole, the wines were very well made, low in alcohol (12.5% max), diverse in style, deliciously drinkable and all exhibited a lively acidity, including the Spaetlese styles.

Riesling a perfect accompaniment for a wide variety of food as we discovered. In our case Alex Rojas prepared delicious appetizers of prosciutto wrapped asparagus with Gruyere and mustard sauce, Brie with pear and ginger glaze and a main course of Asian chicken salad, closing with an Alsatian classic, “Tarte au Pomme”.

Another striking observation was the difference between the wines under cork and under Stelvin enclosures. Without exception the wines under Stelvin were fresher more vibrant, less oxidized and younger looking.

Why anyone would put a fine and delicate wine like Riesling, that has structure to age and improve for decades under cork, when we know that cork leads to early oxidation, discoloration and spoilage from cork taint 10% of the time.

The theme for the next Collection55 tasting on May 20th is “Off the beaten track in pursuit of value” This tasting will be a combination of crowd-sourced and tutorial wines that cost under $20.00. We are searching for wines have that have the potential to improve with short term cellaring (3-5 years), that offer drinkability to rival wines domestic wines that cost twice as much. i.e. they punch above their weight.


The Tasting

With our crowdsourced tasting it was not possible to arrange the wines sequentially in advance from bone-dry style to medium sweet Spatlese. I took a best guess and arranged the wines in 5-flights of four wines.

Jim Barry, The Lodge Hill 2014, Clare Valley, Australia

The perfect wine to open the tasting; almost clear in color, subtle orange and lemon blossom on nose, opens onto bone-dry, racy acidity and focused lime and citrus flavors with an incredibly long finish. A wine that will improve for a decade or more under Stelvin. $17.99 Beltramos

Framingham Old Vines (Dry) 2014, Marlborough New Zealand

Very pale, intense orange rind and citrus nose, opens onto a broad mouthfilling finish with lively acidity and lovely length. The best Riesling I have tasted to date from New Zealand. Plenty of room for further development under Stelvin. This wine was the favorite of the first flight. Stelvin. $19.99 KL Wines

Domaine Weinbach 2014 Reserve, Alsace, France

Pale color, slight pong on otherwise lovely floral nose, follows onto a lovely long dry finish. This Riesling is fermented in large wooden casks. The wood does not impart any oak influence, but may impart the slightly artisanal bouquet. A wine with a lot of potential to age and improve. Cork. $24.99 KL Wines

Pressing Matters 2012 Southern Tasmania, Australia

I had never heard of Riesling made as far South as Hobart in Tasmania. The lovely Pressing Matters showed light color, elderflower and lime bouquet and a dry, lingering and balanced acidity with some lanolin on the finish. A lovely wine and three cheers for Tasmanian Riesling.

Stelvin $22.00

Dandelion Vineyard, Eden Valley, South Australia 2014

This is the second time I have tasted the Dandelion in a month and both times it showed lovely orange-blossom on the nose and a long lime-citrus palate. A lovely wine already drinking beautifully that will continue to develop. Stelvin $20 KL Wines.

Pewsey Vale Contours, Eden Valley South Australia 2004

S.Smith and Sons of Angaston owners of Yalumba and Pewsey Vale brands were pioneers in the use of of Stelvin enclosures in Australia. I remember screwcap in Australia in the mid 1970’s, but they were phased out in 1980 and reintroduced in 1990. Today 98% of Australian wine is sealed with a screw cap. This 2004 Contours Rielsing showed green-gold color, pronounced lime and lemon on the nose following onto a long, lovely finish with hints of marmalade and perfect balance. Excellent and the favorite of the bracket. At 12 years of age a wine that is a perfect ambassador for Stelvin. $40 KL Wines

Alkoomi Frankland River, Western Australia 2014

There are more than a dozen designated micro-climate areas in the Southwest of Western Australia that are perfect for Riesling production. This Alkoomi showed a whiff of Vegemite yeast (or dried Porcini mushroom for those non Aussies) on the nose. Fortunately, this did not influence the palate which showed typical lime-citrus palate, lovely crisp acidity and a long finish. A steal at $12.00 Stelvin. KL Wines.

Tatomer, Kick-on Vineyard, Santa Barbara 2013

Corked. Why anyone bottling a delicate aromatic wine like Riesling would put it under cork is beyond me. Anyone prepared to spend $35.00 for an American Riesling is going to want it under screw-cap, not cork. Cork. KL Wines happily refunded my $35.00 purchase price.

Felton Road, Central Otago, New Zealand, 2013

This was the first Riesling I have tried from Central Otago. Pure lime juice on the nose and almost a Bickfords lime-juice cordial (this is a brown lime juice made from real limes, not artificial colors or flavors) on the palate. Showing the benefit of a couple of years bottle age, some sweetness balanced by lovely acidity. Drinking well. Stelvin. KL Wines $22.00.

2014 Högl “Steinterrassen”, Wachau, Austria 2014

This wine is a Federspiel, which is a classification within the Wachau region that designates must weight (sugar content) or finished alcohol of 11.5-12.5%. Federspiel wines are a perfect for match food, or just by themselves on a summer’s day. This wine showed Lily-of-the-Valley perfume on the nose, an austere minerality on the palate, with a long crisp finish. A long distance prospect. Stelvin KL Wines $23.99

Roland Schmitt Glintzberg, Alsace, France 2014

Light color, apples and pears on the nose. Dry finish, lovely intense minerality and acidity with great balance, drinking very well. This wine under cork showed a lot more color and palate development than wines from similar vintages under screw cap. KL Wines $17.99. Cork

Ostertag Heissenberger 2012 Alsace, France

One of the top wines of the evening. This biodynamic wine opened with lively orange blossom and honeysuckle on the nose following onto a complex and intense palate with wet slate, tropical passion-fruit and lanolin flavors. Superb and complex now, but will improve. Cork. KL Wines $38.99.

Hubert Meyer Winzberg, Grand Cru 2013 Alsace, France

Pale color, nose of lemon with floral hints. Palate follows nose with crisp acidity, austere apples and pear flavors and a long finish. Another terrific bone-dry Alsace Riesling. Cork KL Wines $21.99

Hugel Jubilee 2000

In 2003 the Wine Advocate wrote; The 2000 Riesling “Hugel” Jubilee reveals sweet herbal tea and minerals in its boisterous aromatics. This is a fresh, lively, plump wine with excellent palate presence. It is medium-bodied, bright, loaded with candied lemons, and has a delightfully flavorful and long finish. 12 years later the wine is still pale straw in color, a lovely developed nose showing honeysuckle and secondary flavors of honey and nectarine follows onto a long dry finish with plenty of acid. A wine drinking very well now, but with no sign of fading. Cork. KL Wines

Donhoff Estate Trocken Nahe, Germany 2014

Nahe is a small wine growing region on the River Nahe that flows into the Rhine. Very pale, typical fresh orange blossom nose, follows onto an austere, but lovely subtle palate with a crisp mineral, acid backbone and very long finish. A lovely wine capable of evolving for decade or more. Remarkable how fresh the wine under Stelvin enclosure vs cork of the same age. Stelvin KL Wines $20.99

Prinz 2014 Rheingau, Germany

The Rheingau region has long produced quality wines and is credited with creating the Pradikat certification to denote wines of superior quality. I recall in my wine-drinking infancy dringin Austalian wines labelled Hock. This was a doff of the hat to the wines from Hochheim in the Rhheingaus popularity. The Prinz was pale, almost clear, nose subtle floral and blossom. Follows onto an off-dry palate that shows mouth-filling flavor balanced by lively acidity and a long finish. Lovely. Stelvin

Framingham Classic Off-Dry 2013 Marlborough, New Zealand

Pale straw, nose a little funky with floral and honey, follows onto a long grapey, sweet palate spoilt by a hint of seeds and storks pressing character. I really liked the wine but others were less kind due to the funky nose and slight bitterness. Stelvin KL Wines $21.99

Nik Weiss, Urban Mosel, Germany 2014

Slightly spritzy nose on entry, with some acetic character. This is a typical Moselle, a Spaetlese wine, medium sweet and lovely. Long acid finish. A good buy at $14.00 and a perfect summer picnic wine. Cork $14.00

Milz Trittenheimer Mosel, Germany 2009

Showing some color development, this Spatlese wine shows a lovely ripe floral and honey nose following onto a classic Mosel palate balancing sweetness with acidity. Lovely to drink now. Cork

Weins-Prum Mosel 1999

Another Spatlese Riesling from Germany showing developed color, apples, kerosene and paint thinners on the nose. The palate was sweet and delicate with some minerality, still going, but past its best. Cork

My friend Jim Chanteloupe, Australian wine buyer emeritus at KL Wines brought along two mystery wines that stumped everyone.

Navarro Anderson Valley, California Late Harvest 1990

Brown color, I was surprise that it was still alive. Opens with raisins, caramel, dried orange peel and marmalade. Palate sweet with lovely acidity – after 26 years still going. Slightly past its best, but still very good and a real surprise.

Brown Bros, Noble Late Harvest, Rutherglen Australia 1999

The Noble in the title is an an indicator that this wine has a botrytis or noble-rot infection.

This wine received some French oak maturation although it was not evident. Green brown color, opens with caramel, raisins and honey. Palate lovely long, intense and balances the sweets with a lively acidity. Still going. A great wine to finish.


Blog Written by: Mark Gibson



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.