A friend of mine gave me ten little bottles / Of some special stuff that he brewed up his-self / So I took it and hid it down in my basement / But my wife found out about it and she told me to get rid of it or else / And since I didn't like the way she said or else / I went down there and proceeded to carry out her instructions [...] Picked up the first bottle, pulled the cork out of it...
It did not quite happen like this. Admittedly, there was a basement. And I went down there. Picked up a bottle. Or two. Actually, there were 74. Also, they were not small. And despite the time it will have taken him to put it all together, I am fairly certain host Robert Giorgione did not brew them up by his-self. Even so, he managed to get Riesling from all over the world to London for a blind tasting that I could not miss. And so I went down there and proceeded...
'Down there' was the 28°-50° Wine Workshop and Kitchen, a restaurant and wine bar located just off Fleet Street in central London. Together with a group of Riesling hungry wolves I made my way to the Case Space, a mezzanine dining area overlooking the main restaurant space in the basement of Fetter Lane. 74 Rieslings (#75 had had an accident) were lined up on a table with barely enough space for us to rotate around and taste. The tasting was blind, with the identity of the wines hidden by creamy-white plastic bags with what looked like cute little feet. An army of Riesling on the march, all brave little troupers with a number to identify them. Obviously, this led to some speculation among my colleagues: Would the wines be organised by level of sweetness, age or perhaps region? Other than giving you something to talk about, blind tastings are great because they force you to focus on what you are doing instead of complacently enjoying whichever bias you may have. And the results can be surprising.
I sat the ten little bottles on the drainboard Picked up the first bottle, pulled the cork out of it And poored it down the sink That is, um, all except one little swallow - which I drank
Had I put together such a tasting I would probably have sneaked in a few non-Rieslings, just to make things more interesting. An aged Grüner Veltliner for instance, Chenin Blanc perhaps or Hunter Valley Semillion? Luckily, Robert was not as devious, but deciding on the sequence of the wines still cannot have been easy. Eventually, when the identity of the wines was revealed we learned that he had choosen to organise by region, beginning with Alsace, then moving on to Germany (Saar, Mosel, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Nahe), Austria (Kamptal, Kremstal, Wagram, Wachau), Italy (one from Alto-Adige), USA (two from Washington), Australia (Great Southern, Frankland, Mount Barker, Clare Valley, Eden Valley, Tasmania, Adelaide Hills), New Zealand (Marlborough, Waipara, Waitaki Valley, Central Otago) and Chile. This made it possible to get an idea of styles and regional differences. And the range of styles, flavours and aromas was impressive. Bouquets ranged from light and flowery to exuberant with fruit, citrus petrol or delicious peach and herb aromas. I came across substantial wines, juicy wines or Riesling with fantastic texture and gripping mineral. In some cases my tasting notes said 'racy' with more than one exclamation mark, while other wines were 'creamy', had 'precise fruit', a 'great acidity sweetness dialogue' or smelled of 'smoky tea and mineral'.
I picked up the next bottle and I pulled the sink out of it And I poured it down the cork All except one little swallow - which I drank
Several tasters commented that they almost gave up writing down 'mineral' or 'great acidity' because so many wines had these characteristics. That was true, but then the nuances make all the difference. Is the minerality more stony, flinty or earthy and smoky? Does the wine taste of stone or salty sweat from a lover's neck? Not all wines were that interesting and we had a couple of cases of cork or wine fault, but the dynamics of Riesling acidity brought a lot of delight. Before the tasting began we were asked to score the wines and to pass our three favourites on to the organiser. If it comes to scoring tastings I remain sceptical, and I usually like to take the time to get properly acquainted with each wine. With so much to taste and the venue so very lively that was not possible (on a few occasions I even had problems getting to a spittoon, which left my Riesling filled mouth tingle with citrus mineral for a while), so I am not going to publish any scores here - I am also not to sure who beyond the wine trade actually cares whether a wine is rated 16.5 or 17. Interestingly, one of my favourite wines also turned out to be the overall favourite, the 2004 Gaisberg Riesling from the Austrian Hirsch winery (13% ABV and 5g of residual sugar per litre; £24.50 at Indigo Wines). A great wine with lots of character, it boasts a complex nose with great mineral and tobacco plus stone fruit aromas. On the tongue it shows strength and depth, a certain creaminess, lively elegance and a long finish. A second personal favourite was Austrian too, the 2007 Steinriegl Riesling from Prager, a fantastic winery in the Wachau (12% ABV, £32 at FMV); a concentrated, racy wine with a delicious blossom and candied petrol nose. Other favourites included: - 2008 Reiterpfad GG Riesling from Reichsrat von Buhl (Germany, Pfalz; 12.5% and 7.8g - GWW £28.50), great bouquet of deep, chalky mineral, peach and herb and fantastic smoky mineral finish - 2010 Skillogalee, Hand Picked Riesling (Australia, Clare Valley: 13.2%, 0.5g - Enotria/GWW £11.50), dry, flowery with precise apple and stone fruit - 2004 Peter Lehman, Wigan Reserve Riesling (Australia, Eden Valley; 12.5%, 5g - Enotria/GWW £13.50), nicely aged Riesling with concentration and pleasant spiciness
I picked up the next sink and I pulled the cork out of it And I poured it down the bottle All except one little swallow - which I sank
Overall I found the wines from Alsace very consistent in style and quality, with great Riesling from Trimbach, Weinbach and Ostertag, among others. The German selection was not as consistent, but contained adorable wines and old favourites (such as Van Volxem, Schloss Vollrads and the inevitable Dr Loosen). It was a shame that we did not see more of the fantastic sweet Rieslings from the Mosel - but then it is good to find Germany's dry wines appreciated for a change. With a couple of exceptions I found Australia to be of high quality and very consistent - better than New Zealand, in fact, even though there were some NZ wines I really liked (2009 Dry River Craighall Riesling). Overall the sweeter wines from NZ did not really impress me (with the exception of the Spy Valley 2007 Envoy). An interesting surprise was the Kung Fu Girl Riesling that I recently had reviewed a little less than favourably. The acidity that I found troublesome when drinking the wine on its own made it stand out better during the very short encounter at Ravenous for Riesling. Again this emphasises what is good but also what is problematic with tour de force blind tastings, and how important the sequence of wines can be for influencing the impression a wine makes.
I picked up the next drink and I pulled the swallow out of it And I poured it down the sink All except one little drink - I think
It was not necessary for Riesling to leave a good impression as far as I am concerned, after all there would probably be no Wine Rambler without Riesling. Even so I found the tasting entertaining and educating. Working my way through 74 wines in a very busy space in less than three hours had something of a tour de force to it though. Thank you, Robert, for putting this together. The last words, like the first, have to go to Johnny Bond: