While doing some exhaustive research so as to be of service to the informed readers of this publication, it was quite amazing to see how little has been written, spoken and sung about South African Merlot wine. There are reams of missives on Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon and Chenin Blanc and little-known, trendy bottles made from weird grapes like Verdelho and Palomino, but the Merlot voices are largely silent.
In a lingo filled with guttural sounding words to the tune of “achtung”, “mein Gott” and “Schweinehund”, the noun “Riesling” is one of the German language’s more joyous components. I have always found Riesling to be a precise, pure sounding word evoking images of brisk forest streams full of clear water foaming over clean white pebbles, a pristine green mountain forest lying beneath glaciers and a blond German damsel, straight from her fortnightly shower, picking daffodils next to a Gothic cathedral.
UNTIL about two months ago I deemed Heidi Klum, bratwurst and miniature Dachshunds the only useful and worthy contributions Germany has made to the world. Things have changed: the German soccer team is playing some uncharacteristically exciting, adventurous football and look to be going all the way in World Cup 2010. And then there was that occasion a while back where journo Neil Pendock and sommelier-wine showman Jo?+¦???+¦?+¦-+?+¦-úrg Pf?+¦???+¦?+¦???+ætzner held a memorable quest to ascertain whether Germany or Alsace were better at making wine from the old Riesling grape.
This was my first exposure to a solid line-up of Rieslings, and I almost wet my pants at the breadth and joy of these wines. I know of no other grape able to exude such a relentless variation of styles and such a schizophrenic flavour-profile. From honey to bitter lemon; liquorice to cherry blossom; Turkish delight,to Turk’s arm-pit, all these found in a wine made from Riesling grapes.
Last week I was back before a line-up of Rieslings, courtesy of Krige Visser, former King of Cool Marketing Guru at Avondale and now new general manager of La Vierge, a winery in the Hemel-and-Aarde Vally outside Hermanus. As Riesling producers, the La Vierge team organised a tasting of wines from Germany, Alsace and South Africa. The idea was not to compare SA wines to the others, but rather to witness the expression of the grape by producers in the Northern Hemisphere as well as a single Oz wine.
Remembering our night of Alsatian-German rivalry in a trendy sushi joint in Cape Town, it was like dejavu all over again. The German wines once again literally blossomed with soft, bright fruity sweetness. If I was feeling like a kid in a candy store it was because this is what the wines smelt and tasted like. Willi Schaefer Graacher Riesling Trocken 2008 from the Mosel. ,Lucashof Forster Musenhang Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2009. Our old pal Dr Loosen from the Mosel was there with an Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett.
,They were awesome wines, the candy, fruity whimsy supported by stern backbones and racy tannins. For me, the stand-out was Willi Schaefer’s number. Wine gummy and a touch of raisin, it also had a waxiness that made it last longer than EverReady bunny on Red Bull.
I was glad to see that my initial observation of the Alsatian still stood. The wines are firmer, less fruity but more grippy and powerful. Bracing, lean with taut ripples ?+¦-+???+¦-ú?-¦?+¦-ú?+¦+¦ like reading a Hemingway short story while listening to Steely Dan. The stand-outs for me were Domaine Shlumberger Les Princes Abb+¬s, Trimbach Clos St Hune 2004 and Trimbach Cuv+¬e Fr+¬derick Emile 2002. (With a name like the latter wine, how could,things go wrong?)
The Oz wine, an old Peter Lehmann, was toasty and unimpressive.
The distinct and very palpable variation between Germany and Alsace underscored my theory that any South African producer attempting to duplicate a German or Alsatian should either see a psychiatrist or get his head read. No way are we going to emulate these styles.
As the tasting of the South African line-up of Klein Constantia, La Vierge and Hartenberg showed, terroir will make it nay impossible to replicate the bright gaiety of the German wines or the lengthy minerality of the Alsatians.
But why should we want to? Style SA Riesling is dense, concentrated and it growls at you. It is in-your-face, but like a Protea has beauty in its confidence when expressing sense of place.
Now get out there, market and get more people to discover the greatness of SA Riesling.