The eminent British wine writer Jancis Robinson has described riesling as the “queen of white grapes”. About 60 per cent of all the world’s riesling comes from Germany, and two recent tastings of German rieslings demonstrated the wisdom of Robinson’s assessment.
The grape variety needs special conditions of climate and terroir to express its majesty, and these are found across Germany.
Warm days during the ripening period plus cool nights produce deep and long flavours, especially in the premier regions of the Rhine river valley, Rheingau, and the Mosel valley.
One of the best producers in Mosel is Clemens Busch. Winemaker Busch said the vineyard operates on bio-dynamic principles. This produces fruit that has a purity and pedigree that makes one’s mouth water in anticipation.
The 2010 Clemens Busch “vom rotten schiefer” is made from vines that range from 20 to 30 years of age. The name translates “from red slate” and the rock gives a mineral edge to the wine, as well as a slightly salty flavour.
It smells of gooseberries and grapefruit and the acid-fruit balance is superb, offering tropical fruit flavours and a penetrating acid that would be perfect with fried fish or dumplings.
Busch said that after gentle de-stemming and crushing, the free-run juice is fermented with natural yeast before being stored in large wooden casks and stainless steel tanks. “Long contact with the yeast ensures intense flavours,” he said.
Writing in Decanter magazine, eminent critic Stephen Brook said Busch’s site was perfect for riesling and his wines showed “remarkable power”. This wine is drinking well now but would be better in five years.
The 2010 Clemens Busch Pundericher Marienburg tastes of lemon and limes and has a similar acid zing. The nose suggests a touch of honey. The fermentation process is similar to the previous wine, though this one has a slightly creamy texture meaning it would pair well with chicken or drunken crab.
The vineyard is located on the Mosel river opposite the town of Punderich. Brook described Pundericher Marienburg as one of Mosel’s great vineyard sites. The river moderates the summer heat and yet keeps the vineyard warm in spring and autumn.
The 2009 edition of this wine was less expressive, like a shy bride, but eventually offered flavours of honey, peach and candied fruit, and had an oily richness that was most appealing. It would match well with noodles and dried shrimp or white-meat stirfry, or perhaps a Thai green papaya and pomelo salad.
Highlight of the Clemens Busch range was the 2006 riesling from the same vineyard. Despite being older, it felt fresher than the younger versions and had wonderfully controlled acidity and a silky and honey-like texture.
Busch said vines were at least 30 years old and yields were kept low to ensure high quality. “It takes five to six months to pick each vintage because we keep returning to the site to get the best grapes.”
The German Fine Wine company organised a riesling tasting in Hong Kong. Carsten Klante, managing director, said riesling had been grown in the Rheingau and the Mosel valley since 1435 and 1465 respectively. Historic documents show that in London in the 1890s riesling was more expensive than Chateau Lafite from Bordeaux and some of the finest burgundies in France.
“Rieslings from slate soils are said to have a mineral touch, while others smell of flint. Matured wines often have an interesting petrol tone. A fifth of Germany’s 102,000 hectares of vines are riesling,” Klante said.
Riesling is a slow-ripening grape whose most common characteristic is acidity. “This means it is well-suited to the northern wine-growing regions where it can ripen to perfection in the late autumn sunshine.”
It is safe to say that Clemens Busch rieslings reach that perfection.
* Published under the headline “Queen of white grapes: The joy of German riesling” in China Post, 14 June 2012, page 10. Find a link here.
Published in the Jakarta Globe on 14 June 2012, under the headline “Duo of German Rieslings Show Why It’s the ‘Queen of White Grapes’”. Find a link here.