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Riesling tasting: the wines

An impressive flight of wines in distinctively different styles -- all potentially ageworthy.

Schloss Saarstein Serriger Riesling Kabinett 1999, Mosel Saar Ruwer
9% alcohol. A typical Saar style, steely and dry. This pale coloured wine has a pronounced mineralic nose, with citrus and floral notes. The palate is powerful and intense, with spicy complexity and good balance. It finishes with a touch of honey, and is quite dry, but with enough residual sugar to counter the considerable acidity. Very good/excellent (price guide: Berry Bros have the 1995 for £8.50)

Selbach-Oster Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 1998, Mosel Saar Ruwer
8.5% alcohol. From the Mosel, showing some richness and ripe fruit. The slightly smoky, mineral nose is currently a little closed. The palate is rich and rounded, with some spiciness, a lively acidic kick and a touch of sweetness on the finish. Very good

Lingenfelder Grosskarlbacher Osterberg Riesling Spätlese 1999, Pfalz
12% alcohol. Distinctive stuff that veers in the direction of new world Riesling in style. Rich, sweet nose shows exotic tropical fruit and citrus notes, with a smoky edge and a mineral streak. The dry palate has bold flavours and good acidity, with more of those mineral notes. Very good/excellent

Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Riesling Auslese 1997, Mosel Saar Ruwer
From leading Ruwer estate Karthäuserhof, this wine has 9.5% alcohol. The nose is lively and full, with citrus notes dominating. The palate explodes with spicy citrus fruit, some sweet honey notes and high balancing acidity. Lovely stuff. Very good/excellent

Alsace Back to top
A real mixed bag of styles here. The two Trimbachs are legendary wines, among the finest expressions of Riesling in the region, yet quite different. (Of course, it's infanticide to be drinking these wines so soon.) The Wunsch & Mann is a solid effort from a producer with a slightly mixed reputation, but I didn't really care for the more up-front style shown by the Bott-Geyl.

Wunsch & Mann Riesling Grand Cru Hengst 1996
Quite deep coloured. The richly rounded nose is smooth with notes of honey, pears, smoke and minerals. The lively palate shows more honey, smoke and mineral characters, with lemony acidity on the finish. It's quite a serious, minerally wine. Subtle and balanced. Very good+

Bott-Geyl Riesling Grand Cru Mandelberg 1997
The subtle, citrus-laden nose has some smoky notes and a lively grapiness. The palate is more open, with some sweetness and complex notes of honey, smoke and minerals. It's a modern, market-driven style that I don't care for much: I find that most of the more ambitious wines from this producer lack balance. Very good

Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile 1997
A serious, backward wine that really needs time to show its best. The minerally, smoky nose leads to a bone dry palate that is complex and mineralic with some citrus elements. It's quite tight and firm, but with a bright future ahead of it. Very good/excellent

Trimbach Riesling Clos Ste Hune 1996
Possibly the most celebrated Alsace wine? It's hard not to be swayed by reputations as lofty as that enjoyed by this wine, and even harder to assess it fairly so early on in its development. Quite a deep colour, the full, startling nose shows complex bready and mineral notes with some smokiness and perhaps a touch of spice. The palate is quite challenging: bone dry and with high acidity, it shows lime and mineral notes, with huge extract and concentration. Will probably be sensational in time, but quite hard work to drink now because of the high acidity and lack of balancing sugar. Excellent

Austria Back to top
Two leading producers from different regions, making wines that are quite different in character. I preferred the Bründlmayer wines by quite a way, but others may disagree. Take your pick.

Nikolaihof Riesling Steiner Hund Spätlese 1999, Wachau
Nikolaihof is a high-profile estate run along biodynamic lines, and this wine is made from late-harvested grapes, and weighing in at 12.5% alcohol. Very pale in colour, this has a fresh citrussy nose with a smoky mineral edge. The palate is bright and spritzy, with lively, zingy acidity. Quite light textured and finishes dry. A delicate wine, there currently isn’t as much complexity as I was hoping for here; hopefully this will come with time. I must admit that I was expecting more from this well regarded producer. Very good (Price guide: Raeburn stock the 1997 version of this wine for £23)

Nikolaihof Riesling Vom Stein zu Mautern Smaragd 1999, Wachau
The Smaragd classification is the highest level, named after the lizards that bask in the sun on the terraced vineyards, and the wine from these ripe grapes has 12.5% alcohol. This has a fresh, fruity nose with hints of smoke and minerals. It's fresh and spritzy on the palate, and perhaps a bit grapey. Overall it's a little weightier than the Spätlese, but still a light-textured wine, and it finishes dry. A little bit simple at present? Very good (Price guide: Raeburn stock the 1998 for £22.)

Bründlmayer Riesling Zöbinger Heiligenstein 1999, Langenlois, Kamptal
13% alcohol. Light, fresh, minerally/citrussy nose leading to a full, concentrated palate with good complexity, firm acidity and a dry finish. There's some limey Riesling character and although it's a touch austere at the moment it should develop nicely. Very good+ (Price guide: the 1997 vintage is £13 from Raeburn)

Bründlmayer Riesling Zöbinger Heiligenstein Alte Reben 1998, Langenlois, Kamptal, Austria
A sensationally bold interpretation of Riesling. Pretty alcoholic at 14%, but not unbalanced. Beautifully enticing smoky, spicy nose (some botrytis here?). The concentrated, rich palate shows complex notes of lime, spice and honey, with a bone dry finish. Quite delicious. Excellent (Bibendum £18)

New World  Back to top
The new world can no doubt make great Rieslings, but these examples disappointed. They're not bad wines, but they just didn't have the class and poise shown by most of the old world examples in this tasting.

Waipara West Riesling 1999, Waipara, New Zealand
Lively, fruity, limey nose showing delicate bright fruit. The palate is bone dry and a little one-dimensional, showing light-textured lime fruit and high acidity. Too sharp. Good/very good

Petaluma Riesling 1999, Clare Valley
The Clare Valley is home to Australia's most celebrated Rieslings. Quite a full nose, showing some citrus notes. It's full, ripe and citrussy on the palate with a slightly chalky texture: it's almost 'structured', although that term is usually reserved for red wines. Savoury and rich with great concentration. Very good

Leeuwin Estate Riesling 1999, Margaret River
Leeuwin is famous for producing Australia's most acclaimed Chardonnay: the Riesling is less famous and considerably more affordable. Lively complex nose with lime fruit and a sherbet edge. The palate is very attractive, with ripe fruit balanced nicely by firm acidity. Avoids the trap of one-dimensional fruitiness and has a really nice texture in the mouth. Very good+

Klein Constantia Riesling 1996, Constantia, South Africa
By far the cheapest wine in the tasting by some distance, this is a slightly late harvest style with some sweetness to the finish. A deep yellow colour, the complex nose shows notes of citrus fruit, spice and peaches with a waxy edge. The palate is spicy and oily, richly textured with a citrussy core. Developing nicely. Very good+

Sweeties Back to top
A pair of very different Rieslings with one thing in common: they are both dripping with residual sugar.

Heggies Botrytis Riesling 1996, Eden Valley
Deep coloured wine with a nose of toffee, caramel and brown sugar. The palate is very sweet, rich and spicy, with enough acidity to balance. It's not showing a huge amount of botrytis, but it's deliciously put together. Very good/excellent

Bassermann Jordan Riesling Eiswein Forster Ungeheuer 1996, Pfalz
Eiswein is made from grapes that have been left on the vine until winter night-time temperatures drop well below freezing. Then, in the early hours of the morning the frozen grapes, not affected by botrytis, are picked and crushed, resulting in a super sweet must that is then fermented. They're always expensive, but not always worth the money. This one is, though. Deeply coloured, with an incredibly rich, sweet nose of toasty caramel, honey, lime and some spiciness. It's very complex, with a slight cabbagey edge. The palate is syrupy sweet with a spicy edge and hugely rich texture. Good acidity provide balance. Sensational stuff. Excellent

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