Paul Clüver Riesling: A Reminder of the German Grape’s Greatness

All those scenes from the UEFA Euro football championships currently underway find me in a Germanic frame of mind, a rare occasion indeed. But those images of warm German cities, show-stopping on-field exertion by über sportsmen, and the charming guttural chants from a diverse array of pasty supporters walking around in shorts showing legs like weisswürst, have me itching for a chilled glass of German wine.

And, of course, this must be Riesling, the greatest wine grape not to have struck the note of global and popular appreciation despite it being responsible for some of the finest white wines in the world. I would truly like to see the day when Riesling claims a similar world-wide appeal as achieved by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. Still, for some or other, reason this has just not happened – despite the variety’s ability to offer the same kind of vinous enthrallment, from refreshing gluggers to site-specific, meticulously crafted wines that can hold their own against a top Burgundy or Sancerre.

Perhaps it is, as in the case of South Africa, a result of Germany’s national image just not being aligned with what consumers expect from a wine-making country. That national vibe portrays a reputation of orderliness, organised, mechanically efficient and regimentally competent. Thus, when it comes to buying a car, piece of mining equipment or a functional kitchen appliance, German brands are in high demand. But all the warm-blooded, personable life-style offerings are deemed far more desirable if they originate from France, Italy or Spain.

Take German cuisine, for example. Can one really blame an outsider for not taking German wine seriously when that country’s culinary offerings centre around well-girthed sausages, smoked fatty pork, cabbage and potatoes? Compare German food to the colourful and diverse tables of France and Italy, and it is a no-brainer in assuming that the former nations take taste and pleasure more seriously than the land of the Big Eisbein. And seeing that wine-appreciation runs parallel to the assumption of the state of a wine-producing country’s heart, Germany falls short in desirability, as does its lovely national grape, Riesling.

This is a pity, as the German wine industry has origins similar to those of the world’s great wine regions, such as Burgundy. Emperor Charlemagne, he of Corton-Charlemagne fame, was regulating viticulture and winemaking in Germany back in the 8th century. And just as was the case in Burgundy, the Benedictine monks were responsible for parcelling terroir-specific sites and making wine in the Middle Ages. Burgundy, for example, has its ‘Clos’ and Germany its “Kloss”.

German vineyards.

But in the greater wine picture, even the most loyal German wine ambassador has to admit that they have been far outdone by the French and many other wine countries in terms of generating a global affinity for their Riesling and other wines.

When the mood for Riesling strikes, as now, South Africans are limited to slim pickings. Local offerings are limited – even the great Cape sage of Riesling that is Danie de Wet, who learnt his winemaking at Geisenheim Institute in Germany – has called it quits and pulled his Riesling vineyard on De Wetshof.

Paul Clüver in Elgin remains one of the die-hards, and when I saw the 2024 vintage was released a week back, and with the prospect of Euro football requiring a substantial amount of my attention over the next few weeks, I hastily procured a case of six. The occasion and general thoughts on Riesling led me to drink the first two bottles accompanied by much pondering on what this cultivar offers.

Vineyards on Paul Clüver.

Riesling was one of the first varieties planted in 1987 on the De Rust farm in Elgin – home of Paul Clüver Family Wines – the cold climate and the hardy Bokkeveld shale soils deemed appropriate for the grape. At that time, Paul Clüver was still teaming up with Nederburg, where maestro Herr Günter Brözel was running the show. And if the Herr assumed Elgin was good for Riesling, one can bet your last pair of lederhosen that it is so.

The Paul Clüver Riesling 2024 originates from vines at 300m above sea-level, the ocean only 20km off, giving the farm a combination of maritime and continental climates, something I have always found unique about the Elgin appellation. After the grapes are destemmed and crushed, the pressed juice is settled and racked to oak foudre and stainless-steel tanks for fermenting. Grapes from different blocks are fermented separately. 35% of the wine was fermented in the 2500l foudres with the remainder being in stainless-steel tank.

Andries Burger, Paul Clüver’s winemaker, wants to hang onto some of the floral fruit in the grape. This he does by lowering the temperatures of certain vessels so as to arrest fermentation. This ‘fruity’ segment is later blended to the dry-fermented parcels to give the Riesling its natural off-dry glow.

The result is a showcase of what Riesling can offer, namely a fine, brilliant and simply delicious white wine that exudes the traits I love in this cultivar. It is fresh as driven snow and from the outset shows a whistle-clean purity.

It is just impossible to resist glugging the first mouthful in its entirety, such is the moreish splendour. Assessing the wine a few sips down, it is apparent that despite the fresh accessibility and the pulsating bright verve, there is a lot going on.

The nose shows wafts of honeydew melon and jasmine in bloom. Initially sprightly and teasing on the palate, the flavours cascade in runs from the natural world, recalling images of dense forests, verdant wild grasses running up steep mountain-slopes and icy streams gushing from glaciers. The pastoral vigour splashes tastes of crunch and juice, and slivers of ripe fruit. Green apple and forelle pear, with a dollop of frigid cantaloupe. Fig-peel brushes by, while the discernible grip of lemon zest clings for an instant before being washed away by plucked sorrel and a chunk of crushed quince.

The line of taste is taut and seamless, offering a Swiss clock precision in the balance between a pulsating heart of flavour-offerings and the rapt acidity desired to move the wine forward as an upright, commanding and startlingly engrossing living thing. It knows where it wants to go, and if this should be in my direction, it has arrived. And always shall.

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2 thoughts on “Paul Clüver Riesling: A Reminder of the German Grape’s Greatness

  1. Thank you Emile! ……you have woken up my interest in Rhine Riesling again. I shall surely try and find a bottle or two of this fine wine to enjoy at my leisure.

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