In an age when dry oaked wines are considered fashionable, the popularity of Riesling has suffered because most people tend to dismiss it as a “sweet wine”.
One cannot really blame them as a vast majority have been exposed only to the mass-produced, badly made cheap sugary variants sold in the name of Riesling coming from both Germany and the United States.
Those who know and understand Riesling call it the greatest white wine on earth because of its fruity acidity & tremendous ageing potential.
No other grape varietal can match its versatility in producing wines at all levels of sweetness, ranging from bone dry to extremely sweet. It is the most food-friendly wine as it enhances the flavour of food and is even suited to wine hostile spicy Indian cuisine.
It is also the most terroir transparent grape, which means that it captures the essence of the land where it grows.
The home of this noble grape varietal is Germany and some of the finest Rieslings come from Mosel, Saar, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Nahe & Pfalz. Germany has the perfect micro-climate with a long and slow ripening window that allows the grape to produce high levels of acidity and sugar, resulting in wines which are, light (low in alcohol), amazingly refreshing, vibrant and age-worthy due to the high acidity.
It isn’t very often that one gets a chance to try outstanding Rieslings in India. So when Leela Ambience Gurgaon and International Wine & Food Society (the world’s oldest and most renowned gastronomic society) supported by Lufthansa, managed to get some of the best German Winemakers to present their iconic wines at Diya, the Indian restaurant, it was a bonanza and no less than a coup.
Renowned producer Egon Müller brought along some of his fabled wines, Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Kabinett 2011 from the Scharzhof estate, one of the finest Riesling sites in Germany considered Grand Cru and Wiltinger Braune Kupp Spätlese 1997 from the small estate of Le Gallais, located in the Saar district of Mosel region in Germany.
The only German member of the elite Primus Familiae Vini (First Families of Wine Organisations) he is a revered figure whose cult wine like Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) sells upwards of $4000 and holds the current record for the most expensive white wine sold in a wine auction at $12000.
Then there was young and energetic Theresa Breuer, of Georg Breuer estate in Rheingau, whose father Bernard Breuer was one of the pioneers of high quality dry well ageing Rieslings in the 1980s, breaking from the tradition of sweet off-dry wines. We tried Terra Montosa 2014 which comes from the second-best parcels of Cru-classified vineyard sites in Rüdesheim & Rauenthal and Berg Rottland 2011, one of the best wines of the house sold under the vineyard designation.
Klaus Peter & Julia Keller of Weingut Keller, Flörsheim-Dalsheim presented their outstanding Keller Abts EGG 2007 & the Nierstein Kabinett P 2012, wines with incredible density and power and likened by Jancis Robinson MW to “German Montrachets”.
Barbara Engerer represented the House of Wegeler and introduced us to some high-quality Rieslings like 2002 Oestrich Lenchen Spätlese, 2014 Wehlen Sonnenuhr Spätlese & 2014 Rüdesheim Berg Schlossberg Kabinett.
Last but not the least was the warm and friendly third-generation owner and winemaker Nik Weis of Weingut St. Urbans-Hof, one of the largest privately held wine estates and a leader in quality and innovation among German wineries in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wine-growing region. The two wines we tried from his estate were St. Urbans-Hof 2012 Goldtröfchen Kabinett & the 2011 Laurentiuslay Spätlese, honeyed wines with magical fragrance.
If the names & labels confound you let me explain that German Rieslings are categorized according to ripeness & sugar levels in the grape at the time of harvest and range from Kabinett (light-bodied with dry to medium sweetness and alcohol) to Spatlese (late harvest) and Auslese (highest category which can appear as a dry wine). Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) & Eiswein are sweet wines made from grapes affected by noble rot. Most producers bottle the wine with the name of the vineyard on the label.
The reason why some of these wines command such high prices is that work is done manually since most of the vineyards are on steep slopes, yields are very low and winemakers use traditional methods of winemaking, all of which add to the cost.
The end result is wines with purity & depth and in the words of Jancis Robinson “wines that beg to be compared with poetry and music”.
The Riesling Festival was curated by wine aficionado Rajiv Kehr and all the wines which we tasted were paired with some outstanding food made by Chefs Ramon Salto, Neeraj Rawoot, Abhishek Gupta, Pablo Morales & Partha Bose of Leela Ambience Gurgaon who under the aegis of General Manager Michel Koopman keep raising the bar with every successive wine dinner.
Their understanding of how Riesling with a little bit of sweetness, low alcohol & high acidity first cools and then refreshes the palate, matching perfectly with spicy Indian cuisine shows how well they know the wine profile and plan each dish accordingly. Kudos for the seamless service.
So here’s looking forward to the next edition of Rieslingfeier. Prost!
By: Lavina Kharkwal