I like the aromatic wine category. Mainly because they are often interesting and pair well with the spicy, fusion type flavours I like in food. And mainly because they are not as run of the mill as a Sauvignon Blanc or a Chardonnay (which I love for other reasons) In particular I like Riesling. The great white grape from Germany, where it is made in a myriad of styles and sold at everything from super market knock off prices to eye poppingly expensive. Sadly South African Riesling is few and far between and only a handful is remotely interesting.  Typically I like Riesling with a bit of sugar on them, and again there are few in the South African context that isn’t fermented dry.  There are of course exceptions and I quaff these whenever I get the opportunity.

According to Jancis Robinson, Riesling originated on the northern bank of the Rhein river in the Rheingau region of Germany. The first mention of the grape was made in 1435, so it has been around for a very long time.

The variety handles cold weather well and because it buds late, again is tailor made for Germany’s cold springs.


As mentioned above, the variety can be made in a range of styles, from bone dry to very sweet. The beauty of Riesling is that it has very high acidity and therefore a bit of sugar tends to temper the acid, making it less harsh.  The grape is susceptible to Noble Rot (Botrytis) and the very sweet, botrytis styles from Germany known as Trockenbeerenauslese rank amongst the most expensive wines in the world, with Egon Muller-Scharzof Scharzhofberger from the Mosel selling at an average of US$7000 per bottle.

So what does Riesling taste like? This is a very general description, as Riesling is great at expressing the site where it comes from, and many subtle nuances can be detected. When young, they tend to have sharp acidity with lemon/lime and lemon blossom, a floral component, flinty minerality (I hate that word) and some spice. With age those flavours tend to get more pronounced and the wine also develops a petrol/turpine character that are highly sought after by Riesling anoraks, although less experienced tasters might find it offensive.

Without a doubt the Germans are the leaders in the world when it comes to the grape, with their wines being light in alcohol (often under 9% abv) yet with a lot of body and flavour. Even less expensive German Riesling can be so good that you want to drink it for breakfast.  Alsace in France tends to make a drier style, with slightly higher alcohols, whilst the Aussies make some good stuff in Eden Valley.

If you are interested in getting your hands on some German Riesling, pop into Caroline’s in Strand Street Cape Town, or contact Jorg Pfutzner from the Riesling Club (info@riesling.co.za).

Locally, look out for the Rieslings from Hartenberg, Paul Cluver Wines, Jordan, Howard Booysen and Spioenkop.  Attend the annual “Riesling Rocks” festival at Hartenberg and taste the best of South Africa’s Rieslings – we all have to start somewhere, why not do it while having fun?