Riesling heroes

Riesling lovers will be shattered to learn that Auburn (tastings), this country’s only Riesling specialist, is about to cease production. Founder, Max Marriott, has moved to Oregon to take up a new winemaking position.

Auburn’s first vintage was 2009. Since then they expanded their range to include Rieslings from six sub-regions of Central Otago. Each wine had its own unique character reflecting the soil, aspect and climate in six very individual vineyards. In just six years they made many brilliant wines. I tasted 23 different Auburn Rieslings in total, awarding half of them gold and the rest silver medals – a fantastic achievement by any standard.

Auburn had the potential to do for Riesling what Brendon McCullum is doing for New Zealand cricket. New Zealand can make world class Riesling but the variety needs more supporters. Winemakers may be passionate about making Riesling but its Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris that pay the bills.

One of the saddest statistics I’ve heard in a while is that Germany now exports more Pinot Gris than Riesling to the UK. Germany makes the world’s greatest Riesling but when they introduced branded wines such as Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch they did for Riesling what Jack the Ripper did for late night closing.

Riesling needs to regain its rightful status as the king of white wines. To do that we need more heroes. We also need our existing Riesling heroes to wave the flag a bit. Perhaps we should follow the French example by identifying and celebrating our top Riesling vineyards. For the record my own Riesling heroes are (in alphabetical order): Auburn, Dry River (tastings), Felton Road (tastings), Framingham (tastings), Forrest (tastings), Fromm (tastings), Greystone (tastings), Kusuda (tastings), Martinborough Vineyard (tastings), Mt Difficulty (tastings) and Pegasus Bay (tastings). If I had to choose a “king of the heroes” it would be Framingham, or rather their very talented winemaker Dr Andrew Hedley.

To attract more followers Riesling producers need to clearly show the level of sweetness on their wine labels. That is happening thanks to a formula provided by the International Riesling Foundation (IRF) that allows Riesling makers to print a scale indicating sweetness level on their back labels. More and more producers have adopted the scale although less than one-quarter are currently using it.

Deliciously dry: Kusuda Riesling, Martinborough 2014 – $38

German-trained, Japanese winemaker, Hiroyuki Kusuda, puts his heart and soul into crafting this superb dry Riesling. It has the Kusuda trademark of purity and power. This is a very serious Riesling with excellent cellaring potential. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Mouth-wateringly medium/dry: Framingham Select Riesling, Marlborough 2013 – $35

Very Mosel-like Riesling with rapier purity. Lime, mineral, white rose and a suggestion of honey from very ripe and concentrated grapes. Another dazzling wine under this top label. – view on bobcampbell.nz

Magnificently medium: Felton Road Block 1 Riesling, Central Otago 2014 – $44

Technically sweet although the wine appears to me to be medium thanks, perhaps, to the influence of seductively soft acidity. A truly powerful Riesling with an extraordinary lengthy finish. It has a proven reputation for longevity. – view on bobcampbell.nz

First published in KiaOra Magazine – May 2015.

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