Riesling, considered by some to be THE best white grape variety, has a long history in Australia, dating back to the 1860s. By the 1970s riesling was so popular that it became virtually synonymous with quality Australian white wine. As modern winemaking techniques were developed and applied a fairly unique Aussie style emerged – our rieslings were very clean, pure, fruit-driven, crisp and dry. They were great food wines that lived and grew in the bottle developing complex flavours over 10 years or more. Wow!
Today, the classic style of Australian riesling is not for everyone. The wines can be a little acidic and austere in their youth and lack the immediate appeal of modern drink-now styles of white wines. And not everyone has the patience to cellar a wine for 10 years, if they have a cellar at all.
European rieslings are different. In Germany, the birthplace of riesling, the best wines come from the Rhine and Mosel regions and their surrounding valleys, typically much cooler than most Australian riesling-growing regions. The Mosel Valley is particularly cool and riesling vines are usually reserved for the best south-facing sites in order to capture every ray of available sunshine. Yet the resulting wines are simply some of the world’s great white wines, very delicate and often half-dry, with a highwire balancing act between natural acidity and residual sugar. Other parts of Germany, Austria and Alsace in France also make stunning riesling, albeit from riper fruit and in drier, richer styles.
Winemaking techniques in Europe differ from the squeaky-clean approach commonly used in Australian wineries. Many European winemakers are happy to use the wild yeasts present on the grapes to ferment their rieslings rather than cultured yeasts. While Aussies work hard to avoid tannin in riesling the Europeans will often allow significant contact between the skins of the grapes and the juice to build texture and mouthfeel in the wines. Extended contact between the wine and the lees (dead yeast) after fermentation is common in Europe. Finally, European winemakers typically mature their rieslings in very large, very old oak barrels allowing a little oxygen contact to ‘bring up’ the wines, filling them out and making them more complex.
With one eye on Europe, many Australian riesling producers are now exploring new styles with this aristocratic white grape and this is certainly our plan at Colmar Estate. Our aim is to produce distinctive wines that enrich the experience of dedicated riesling lovers but also introduce a new generation of wine lovers to the joys of this great grape.