Riesling Masters 2014: The results

When judges are kicking down the door to join in with a tasting, and medalists are hailing from all corners and at all price-points, you know you have a special grape on your hands.

Judging-RieslingOf all the grapes that featured in September’s Global Masters, it was Riesling that attracted the most interest from our pool of potential judges. While we coaxed Masters of Wine to sample Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, we actually turned some away when it came to Riesling, such was its popularity among the professionals. As a result, before the grape was even tasted, we were acutely aware of the strong affection that exists in the trade for Riesling.

However, it was only after the tasting that we realised the force of feeling when it comes to the handling of this grape, which, few would disagree, is capable of producing some of the greatest and most distinctive white wines in the world.

And just as great Chardonnay can result from an ideal balance between fruit and oak, great Riesling is about a balance too, but one between sugar and acidity. As competition judge Neil Sommerfelt MW commented, “The balance between the residual sugar and the acidity provides the key – and at all levels of price and from all regions.”

In other words, it is not the actual level of sugar that matters. Neither sweetness nor sharpness should dominate the wine, but together they should enhance it. Hence, stated judge Alex Hunt MW, “We rewarded balance… as well as complexity” (see pages 48-52 for Anne Krebiehl MW’s feature on Riesling).

Evidence of Riesling’s rare ability to both please and cleanse the palate, even when sugar is present in massive qualities, was behind the fact that our sole “Master” in the competition was by far the sweetest – 2004 Kaseler Kehrnagel Eiswein from Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier. Containing 185g/l, and waves of alternating dried and fresh fruit flavours, it finished with a pleasant tang to make sure one would salivate, and reach for another sip.

But not all our high scorers were laden with sugar. Indeed, the range of wines at the top of the table attests to another important Riesling trait: versatility. “Riesling is either the best or second best white grape in the world, but it is certainly the most versatile,” commented Sebastian Payne MW. Proving his point, the second highest scoring wine of the tasting was a bone dry example from Australia: Jacob’s Creek Steingarten Riesling 2012. After this particular wine’s source was revealed, Beverly Tabron MW admitted she had thought it was European, and described the wine as a “revelation”. Further proof of the grape’s adaptability can be seen in the source countries of the gold medal winners, as well as range of sugar levels.

GLOBAL SUCCESS

Rieslings from Australia, Germany, France, Chile and Canada all gained top medals in the tasting, including, it was interesting to note, two major global wine brands: the aforementioned Jacob’s Creek, and Cono Sur, with its single vineyard Riesling that, like the former, was another that many of the tasters thought was European. Although few gold medals were awarded, the tasting saw a remarkably high number of silvers relative to the number of entries, pointing to Riesling’s reliably high level of quality. “There were good wines at each price point,” recorded Payne, adding, “there was a huge proportion of silvers compared to the number of wines entered: the average standard was incredibly high.” Summing up, he stated, “Riesling is a very safe bet.” Hunt agreed, although he commented that Riesling “should be something that can be done well at a relatively low cost” – a point that was proven by the fact four of the six golds in the competition were for wines under £20.

A CERTAIN WHIFF

Judges-at-Riesling-MastersOf course, no Riesling tasting could be complete without a discussion about the scent of petrol – an aroma closely associated with the grape, particularly after many years ageing in bottle.

Although considered a defect in a wine when present at very high levels, particularly in a youthful wine, in low levels the judges felt this smell can add a layer of complexity as well as character to the wines. “When Riesling is very good it has the most fantastic smell, but there are people who really don’t like Riesling, and I think one of the reasons is that they don’t like the smell of petrol,” proposed Payne, before pointing out that of all the possible Riesling characters, it is the smell of sherbet that puts him off, “although that seems to have diminished.” Meanwhile, Hunt commented, “I don’t mind if the petrol is there as part of the aromatic mesh, but if comes on very strong and very early [in the wine’s development] then it is upsetting.”

What was apparent however was that the wines in the tasting, with few exceptions, seemed to overtly display Rieslingness, if such a word exists. “Riesling has personality,” stated Payne. Similarly, Hunt commented, “All the wines had varietal character, and very few would not be immediately identifiable as Riesling.” But what made them obviously Riesling? Well, aside from the occasional hint of petrol, Sommerfelt in particular listed a few key traits for the grape. “Stylistically, depending on a wine’s particular origins, I would expect to see wines exhibit flavours that are redolent of citrus fruits (lemon/lime), exotic fruits (peach/nectarine) with a keen-edge of vibrant acidity and minerality, depending on a wine’s origins.” Continuing, he noted, “Alcohol levels will vary according to the origin, chosen style and vintage but in all cases a purity, vigour and tension should be evident to a greater or lesser degree.” While picking up on the point raised at the outset, he concluded, “Even wines at the very sweet end of the spectrum should offer sufficient acidity in order to ensure that the wine is ultimately appetising, leaving the palate cleansed and refreshed.”

DEPTH FROM OLD AGE

But if there was one key aspect to Riesling that was not addressed in the tasting, it was the grape’s remarkable ability to develop greater complexity after many years, decades even, ageing in bottle.

With the majority of wines from the 2010 vintage onwards, the judges weren’t able to enjoy the beauty of aged Riesling, although we plan to correct this next year, with a new category for older examples. And once this is in place, one imagines there will be even greater demand among the judges to take part in the Global Masters for Riesling.

Judges Clockwise from top left: Alex Hunt MW, Sebastian Payne MW, Patrick Schmitt, Neil Sommerfelt MW, Ronan Sayburn MS, Beverly Tabbron MW, Beverley Blanning MW, Anne Krebiehl MW

Judges — Clockwise from top left: Alex Hunt MW, Sebastian Payne MW, Patrick Schmitt, Neil Sommerfelt MW, Ronan Sayburn MS, Beverly Tabbron MW, Beverley Blanning MW, Anne Krebiehl MW

One Response to “Riesling Masters 2014: The results”

  1. As a Riesling aficionado: Great article! Yes, Rieslings can make the best white wines in the world.

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