While the core aim of db’s Global Masters is to highlight what’s good, and above all, great value, the series of tastings throughout the year also reveals particular traits about the featured grapes. Whether its Chardonnay or Cabernet Sauvignon, a day spent sampling examples from around the world at a broad range of price points illustrates the full spectrum of styles, including the common flaws – one can learn much from the wines that don’t receive any medals.
The tastings also serve as a useful indicator of winemaking trends. In short, they provide a valuable exposé from which one can normally make some firm conclusions – for example, Pinot Noir is rarely appealing when its cheap, Sauvignon Blanc reaches its zenith when it’s seen some oak, and Chardonnay loves lees, particularly when they create a gently toasted reductive character, perhaps best portrayed in blanc de blancs Champagne.
So what did we learn after some eight hours spent tasting Riesling? Well, this variety is undoubtedly the most versatile of the noble grapes.
As the results show, Riesling can make very good sparkling, great dry whites, wonderful off-dry examples too, and outstanding botrytised sweets, along with incredible icewines. It can be appealing when it’s cheap, thrilling when it’s expensive, and offer impressive value for money between £10 and £20.Unlike many of our other tastings by grape, one doesn’t always need to go above £30 to find the most exciting examples.
Furthermore, it’s a grape that achieves all of this without the influence of oak. The sources of good examples are myriad, although certain regions do stand out as perfect for Riesling, with Germany’s Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz hitting the high points – as one would expect – although further areas of greatness included Australia’s Yarra, Clare and Eden Valleys, as well as the US’s Oregon and Washington States, and the Niagara Peninsula in Canada, not forgetting Spain’s Penedès – a surprise to the judges.
Neither Rieslings from Austria or Alsace were entered into the tasting, which explains their failure to feature among the medallists in this year’s report.
About the competition
In a crowded wine competition arena, The Drinks Business Global Riesling Masters stands out for its assessment of wines purely by grape variety rather than by region. Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was dry to sweet, the blind tasting format allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin. Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze. The wines were judged by a cherrypicked group of Masters of Wine on 18 November at Trinity Restaurant in Clapham Old Town. This report features only the medal winners.
When it came to dry Rieslings under £20, Australia was dominant, and gaining the highest scores beneath £15 was Larry Cherubino’s Laissez Faire Riesling from Western Australia’s Porongurup, the only top medallist in the tasting from the western side of this country.
Moving over £15, Jacob’s Creek – like last year – wowed the tasting panel with its bone dry Steingarten Riesling from the Barossa, although examples from Taylor/Wakefield in Clare Valley did similarly well, as did a German dry Riesling from Philipp Bassler in the Pfalz – one of the country’s warmer regions. At higher prices, but staying with dry styles, it was Germany that dominated the top medals (aside from Australia’s Heirloom Riesling from the Eden Valley).
Weingut Schätzel Reinschiefer Riesling from the Rheinhessen was the only dry Riesling to gain the top title of Master, while Weingut Spiess, and Weingut Schnaitmann both earned golds from the Rheinhessen and Württemberg, respectively.
Moving into the medium-dry category, it was the Special Edition Riesling from the Pfalz produced by Reh Kendermann that took the only Gold under £10, although moving over £15, we uncovered a number of high scores from non-traditional sources of gently sweet Riesling. Among these were De Bortoli’s Single Vineyard A7 Riesling from the Yarra Valley as well as the Waltraud Riesling, from Penedès, which is made by Miguel Torres – a producer that does consistently well in our Masters series.
A further high performer in this category was Oregon’s Tunkalilla, a specialist Riesling vineyard in the Willamette Valley’s Eola Hills, planted by famous and respected Australian winemaker, Brian Croser.
Meanwhile, Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier’s Riesling from Mosel’s steeply sloped Altenberg vineyard achieved similarly high scores, proving the quality of this traditional outpost of great Riesling. At higher prices, Riesling showed its aptitude for the medium-dry style, with nothing less than a Silver medal for all the examples over £20 in this category.
The outstanding wine of the flight was the Schloss Johannisberg Silverlack Riesling Erstes Gewächs from the Rheingau, which showed the grape at its complex and refreshing best, even at a young stage in its life – this great wine was from the 2013 vintage, but will doubtless show an even broader array of flavours in 10 years’ time.
Interestingly, when the judges moved into the medium-sweet Rieslings, the scores dropped a little, perhaps a reflection of the wines that were entered, or possibly because the grape best suits being either off-dry or extremely sweet.
Nevertheless, both the Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier’s medium-dry Riesling from the Altenberg vineyard and the Thirty Bench Small Lot Riesling from Canada’s Andrew Peller achieved Golds in this flight, although they were both on the drier side of this category, containing fewer than 25g/l of residual sugar.
Moving into the final flight, sweet Riesling over 45g/l, the judges were so impressed by the entries that they awarded as many as three Masters – these were wines that were close to perfect. As one might expect, Germany was the source of these truly great examples, although Canada too achieved a top score for one of Andrew Peller’s Rieslings from the Niagara Peninsula.
THE MEDIUM-SWEET SPOT
As noted at the outset, although Riesling is one of those rare grapes that does everything well – aside from oak-aged wines – there are certain areas where it performs best.
Geographically, these have been highlighted above, while stylistically it seems that the best ratio between quality, appeal and price can be found among the medium-sweet Rieslings.
“I can’t believe how well balanced some of the medium-sweet styles are. The sugar lifts the fruit, but because of the acidity you don’t notice the sweetness,” said one judge. Another agreed, saying: “The sweet spot seems to be medium-dry Rieslings where there is a fantastic balance between the fruit, acidity and sweetness: the acidity is high enough to hide the sugar, but the sugar gives texture and lifts the fruit aromas, which in Riesling are so distinctive.”
Nevertheless, it was agreed Riesling suits the bone dry style too, while our final sweet wines of the day’s tasting wowed the judges, with botrytis boosting complexity, as well as concentrating the acids and sugars in the grapes. Concluding, the judges, many of whom had taken part in many Global Masters tastings, were impressed by the overall quality in the Riesling competition.
“There was a very high standard,” stated one judge. Which prompted another to ask: “So what’s wrong with Riesling?” They were alluding to the longstanding problem for this grape: commercially it lacks appeal, particularly in the UK, where Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio are the best-selling white varieties.
Maybe it’s because dry Rieslings are too austere and the thought of a sweeter wine is unappealing. Or perhaps it’s due to the unfashionable image of Germany, which is Riesling’s great home. Whatever the reason, all the judges that day were agreed on one point – Riesling makes the world’s greatest unoaked white wines.
THE JUDGES (left to right): Matthieu Longuère MS from Le Cordon Bleu; Antony Moss MW of the Wine and Spirits Education Trust; Patrick Schmitt MW, editor-in-chief of the drinks business; wine consultant Patricia Stefanowicz MW; wine consultant Jonathan Pedley MW; and Miles Corish MW of Milestone Wines
Please click through the following pages to see the full results.