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Rod Steward and David Bowie literally Rockin’ with Riesling (Blue Nun)

Reeezling – Perhaps the biggest weakness is the uncertainty we encounter when pronouncing its name! Don’t get me wrong, Riesling really doesn’t mind what you call it as long as you buy a bottle and drink it with friends. But seriously, why is this International grape variety always teetering on the edge of global adoration, circling the popular grapes like Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, but not joining in the fun? As a white grape with pleasant citrus notes, un-shrouded in oak and light in style, you wonder why this classic variety isn’t more popular. Historically great Rieslings fetched the highest prices, thanks to their age worthy attributes. Was chaptalisation the turning point? Did Blue Nun mean curtains for future success? Where is Riesling now? Is it ready to emerge from the chrysalis that is the wine enthusiast’s bubble into the more populist wine world with the ‘fast set’ of Sauvignon, Pinot Grigio and Chardonnay? Let’s take a closer look….
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Countess Jane Von Sponeck, at the Castlereagh Hotel, City, promoting Blue Nun wines. May 27, 1981. (Photo by Paul Stephen Pearson/Fairfax Media via Getty Images).

Riesling is a white grape, generally high in acid with low alcohol and notes of green citrus fruits and apple. The aromatic tendencies (white flowers) mean that it is better without the flavours of oak and needs not the caramel or buttery by products of Malolactic Fermentation (we’ll cover this in another blog!) to improve its character. As an International grape variety Riesling is found in a number of countries; Germany, Austria and increasingly the USA are big producers of wines from this grape. France, Australia and New Zealand produce decent amounts. Each country has a specific style. Riesling has an uncanny ability to display the expression of the vineyard site in the glass, whilst at the same time retaining his own identity. He is the true ‘translater of terroir’. But why stop there? The range of styles produced from the Riesling grape are broad, the family is all encompassing:

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  • Meet Sandy – she’s the 11% light bodied, relatively simple, but fun starter Riesling. She fades fast and won’t age, but she’s as good if not better than most Pinot Grigios.
  • Or how about Christian – he’s the more mature, stronger, intense version. He is off dry and at 13% abv is more on the food friendly spectrum. His origins are the Rheingau in Germany or if dry Austria and Alsace. He is a more ‘serious’ wine.
  • Beverley is sweet and faintly insipid, she is past her best and out of favour with the crowd. Poor Beverley, her full name is Blue Nun.
  • Brad strides up full of bravado, his muscles on show, his belt nipped in tight, his hair cropped shot. He is the 13%, dry Australian Riesling, he is dressed only in lime. There’s no window dressing, he comes as is. He is intense and direct.
  • Markus is full on! He has a smarting acid, tucked up into his well pressed shirt. His richness and full body make quite the impression. Heads turn as he passes, he doesn’t seem to age. His middle name is Auslese, despite his popularity in his circle (the wine offionados), he needs to branch out and meet new people.
  • Tilly is so sweet that you can quite literally take her with a spoon. She giggles a lot, is intensely sweet and very pretty, but you can’t take too much of her. Even when she is gone, her memory remains with the ridiculously complex aromatics that she leaves behind. She has been married twice – once to Trockenbeerenauslese, once to Eiswein – she is the ultimate in sweetness and will live forever.
But where did these styles begin? Records of Riesling go back as far as the 15th century. The end of the 19th century these wines had their heyday. Their concentration, finesse and amazing ability to age caught the attention of Kings around the World. Good Riesling was priced far above that of Burgundy of Bordeaux. So what happened? Chaptalisation is partly to blame. Cooler vintages and the inability of the grape to ripen in the cooler countries (namely Germany) led to the widespread practice of adding sucrose (sugar) to the fermenting must to increase the resulting alcohol. Obviously this affected the quality of the wines and great Riesling went into a massive depression. One of medium sweet, low alcohol simplicity.

Enter Blue Nun. Quite the crowd pleaser. Clever marketing targeting an audience new to wine and its complexities, paved the way for a huge following of this medium sweet style. Launched in 1921 blue nun is still remembered as an integral member of the wine scene in the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s. Today, it’s still on the market, remodelled as a more serious drier style, but the image sticks and it’s doubtful that Sichel will ever regain a fraction of the former popularity this wine enjoyed.

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What more is there to say…

With much higher quality, riper styles and greater understanding about Riesling around the world, why, then is it still not in the ‘circle’. Well, we think it’s all in the marketing. We’ve been working on a new poster add for our Schieferblume Riesling from Rudolf Trossen. If this doesn’t have you racing to we’re not sure what will!
‘After Riesling’**
As it’s Riesling Day on Saturday and we want to offer you all the chance to taste a selection of our best Rieslings. We’ve prepared a tasting pack of six 50cl samples. Alternatively you can go for the full bottles. I have created a link to a video with myself Harriet talking about the wines, taking you through their properties and talking about Riesling as a grape. You can click in ‘on demand’. Alternatively you can take advantage of our full range of excellent Rieslings here. Either way, if you haven’t started your Riesling journey yet, don’t delay. It is the wine lover’s best kept secret…
**Notes that didn’t warrant appearing in the main blog!

Here’s a short video on Riesling.