The Summer of Riesling

With Christmas and New Year behind us, it’s time to put away the bubbly and boisterousness and settle back in to a more moderate tempo. Lighter food makes you feel better in the heat and you’ll want something fun to wash it down, but with the long tail of the Australian summer stretching out before us, what you most require is a refreshing wine you can return to again and again. And what could be better than riesling, for so many reasons.

Riesling is probably the most versatile of all grapes, capable of being produced in a wide range of styles, from very dry to very sweet and everything in between. Moreover, it ages well, so within that variety of styles, there is the potential of added complexity from time spent in the bottle. And finally, no grape shows its terroir like riesling does, so while it has a superb flavour, it also has a transparency allowing the palate to dwell on an incredible array of possible nuances. Consider also, in conjunction with this, the fact that riesling is grown with great success in so many parts of the world; in France, Germany and Austria; in the Pacific northwest of the US; in New Zealand and Australia. This is a wine a that has a great deal to offer.

So with all these qualities is its favour, perhaps the most interesting thing about riesling is how out of fashion it has become. It is undoubtedly the most underrated of the noble grapes, struggling against the ubiquity of sauvignon blanc and even the somewhat démodé chardonnay, a fact that is perpetually bemoaned by informed palates. In Australia, that is probably due to the cheap bulk wine of dubious distinction that was labeled riesling right up until the 1980s, scarring a generation of consumers.

Since then, stricter varietal labelling has weeded out the imposters. More importantly the introduction of screw caps has been an absolute boon for the variety. The aforementioned clarity of the riesling grape also left it vulnerable to cork influence, which can compromise its subtlety somewhat, whereas the screwcap assiduously preserves riesling’s clarity. Nevertheless, an aversion by the general public still persists, which is extremely puzzling, and has led to a good deal of soul searching in this country.

In the US, some similarly perplexed pundits found this situation intolerable and decided to do something about it. In 2008, at Terroir Wine Bar in the East Village of New York, they initiated The Summer of Riesling, a three month celebration and promotion of riesling in all its forms. Three years later, the event went national and by 2012, over 500 restaurants, wine bars and retail shops were involved. Germany, Austria and England as well as Australia and New Zealand also came on board in what may become as significant to the wine calendar as Beaujolais Nouveau once was.

Here in Australia (and New Zealand), The Summer of Riesling has now established a permanent presence. Aimed at promoting riesling in all its forms, it promulgated over 20 riesling orientated occasions in its first year of existence, and there are still a number of events scheduled around the country for the remainder of this summer. The Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Tasmania is hosting riesling celebrations throughout January and February and a number of venues around Sydney are also involved in festivities.

Which brings us back to the wine itself, because if you don’t feel like venturing out to a public celebration, then the next best thing is to take a bottle home. But which bottle? As alluded to, the bone dry variety served chilled is usually what is favoured on a hot day, perhaps even with an ice cube or two. But evenings, or milder days are the perfect time to explore. For instance, there are some excellent off-dry rieslings made here, that’s a great place to start. Then, as the temperature drops, and your meals become more substantial, try some sweeter versions from Alsace, the Mosel or the Wachau. That should keep you going for some time, perhaps even until the next Summer of Riesling: its delights are limitless.

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