White wine

Assessing non-dry styles of German Riesling

If you are confronted with a Prädikat Riesling from Germany, you may be asked to identify where it comes from specifically.  Here’s a way to approach the process of narrowing down your options.

While Rheinhessen does produce plenty of off dry/medium sweet wines, they are less regularly seen than those from other regions.  In general terms, Rheinhessen is warmer than Rheingau, Nahe or Mosel so more Trocken is produced here.  As such, I would probably discount Rheinhessen from the conversation if you have a Prädikat wine.

That leaves the big three: Mosel (including the subregions of Saar and Ruwer), Nahe and Rheingau.  Let’s look at the identifiers for each when it comes to Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese.

  • Mosel: featherweight wines which walk the tightrope balancing sweetness and acidity.  Delicate and even ethereal at times, particularly from the cooler Ruwer and Saar tributaries.  

  • Nahe: everyone forgets about Nahe, but there are some exceptional Prädikat wines from here (Dönnhoff, Diel etc).  It’s a slightly more powerful style than Mosel, and while it does enjoy plenty of tension and slatey minerality, it’s not quite as poised or nervy as Mosel - it’s just a touch riper and rounder.

  • Rheingau: more powerful than either Mosel or Nahe.  The wines are broad shouldered, full of fruit and richness and may be a degree or two higher in alcohol.  These are not wines of tension but instead of breadth and concentration.

A note on Chenin Blanc

Chenin Blanc is a classic variety to appear in a blind tasting exam, because it is available in virtually every form: dry and still, sweet and still, sparkling, sweet sparkling…

With such stylistic diversity available, how do you pin it down in a tasting? Simply put, by focusing on its acid structure. Chenin Blanc always has high levels of acidity, and often the quality of the acidity is quite bracing - you sometimes fear for the enamel on your teeth.

But more than just that, Chenin always shows a crescendo shaped acid structure. That is:

  • When the wine hits the palate, it can be surprisingly soft. When the wine comes from the Loire, the cool climate nose leads you to think you will get a big hit of acidity on entry, but no

  • After a couple of seconds on the palate, the acidity begins to be felt

  • After swallowing/spitting, the acidity reaches a climax. Only here do you feel the really high levels of bracing acidity that Chenin is famous for

  • For anyone familiar with music notations, the shape of this structure is a crescendo: the perception of the acidity just grows in keeping with the time spent on the palate

Possible confusions with Chenin are: Chardonnay (more consistent, linear acid structure), Grüner Veltliner (a bigger hit of acid on entry, even if it also climaxes on the finish) or Riesling (consistently felt throughout the length of the palate, like Chardonnay, but with a more ‘vertical’ rather than horizontal shape).

Australian Riesling: regional styles

This is a short post on identifying regional styles for Riesling from Australia.  I’m focusing solely on the two most important regions - Clare and Eden Valleys in South Australia - and the Rieslings from Western Australia, around Margaret River and elsewhere.

Worth noting for the whole country: look out for low pH in Australian Riesling.  Low pH (which is different from high acidity) gives a hard mouthfeel which can resemble phenolic grip (but note most Australian Riesling does not undergo skin contact).  The petrol note (TDN) is common across all regions and the standard is for the wines to be fully dry, unless a deliberate choice has been made otherwise.  This is in contrast to New Zealand.

Clare Valley: the classic source of Aussie Riesling.  Intense limey citrus, a powerful, vertical structure, very brisk and clean.  Detailed and intense.

Eden Valley: a bit softer, with slightly higher pH and lower acidity than Clare.  More floral and less limey.  Some wines (e.g. Pewsey Vale) can have a jasmine scent and more minerality than Clare.

Western Australia: riper and more fleshy and generous than Clare/Eden with more weight and dimension of flavour, including stone fruit.  Lacks the intensity of Clare and can also show less mid palate focus and concentration.  

Resolving a classic confusion: Gruner vs Albarino

For many us who do blind tasting, one classic confusion is that between Gruner Veltliner and Albarino. Aromatically they can be similar and both have high acidity. But that’s where the similarities end. Here’s how to tell them apart.

Albarino

  • Has far more structure, both phenolic structure and acid structure

  • Its most pronounced characteristic is its grippy phenolics (among good examples) which are closer to tannins than almost any other white variety

  • Has a square acid structure. That is, the acid is felt like a brick wall when it hits the palate, then found around the edge of the palate, and then the wall comes back at the end. It’s a square in the mouth.

  • The acidity itself can have a green quality. Like the occasional Riesling, sometimes Albarino’s acidity itself can struggle for ripeness and take on a green quality.

  • The acidity can be more than just firm, it can be positively hard.

Gruner Veltliner

  • Has some phenolic texture (more the higher up the quality pyramid you go) but without the universal gripiness of Albarino.

  • Has the ‘rollercoaster’ acid structure, not the square acid structure. The rollercoaster consists in a peak of acidity upon entry, only for it to fall off immediately, and even become rather soft in the mid palate. But then, like a crescendo, it builds up again to the finish, where it is most pronounced and mouthwatering.

  • The acidity lacks the greenness of Albarino’s.

  • The acidity is tangy, not particularly hard or structuring.

Avoid using aromas and flavours as primary pieces of evidence, but as confirmatory evidence, in Albarino, look for orange blossom, orange cordial, lime and peach. In Gruner, lime, cress and dill are common, and in general, a more savoury flavour profile than Albarino.