INTERNATIONAL RIESLING DAY | HAPPY 587TH BIRTHDAY!

On this day, March 13th 1435, ‘Riesslingen’ was first recorded. The first recorded instance of the "Riesling" spelling came a little later, from German botanist Hieronymus Bock, in 1552. (1) 

That makes this wonderful variety 587 years young! 

---------------------------- 

I’ll never forget meeting up with some friends for dinner in Glasgow when my husband and I were on our honeymoon. We met them in New Zealand, and when they returned to the UK, we were thrilled to meet up with them on their turf. We had been out to dinner with them plenty of times and they enthusiastically invited us over to their new place when we were in town. 

My friend Vanessa knows NOTHING about wine. Really, nothing- bless her heart. She relies on recommendations and will happily select the same bottle over and over again if she likes it. We arrive and Sean offers us a drink (to which we accept). I am sure you can imagine my horror when Vanessa proudly reveals a bottle of Blue Nun... She was sure she was on to the next best thing. My husband had a lucky escape opting for a local beer; I wasn’t so fortunate. 

Blue Nun is the EXACT reason many people hate Riesling; let me paint you a picture. 

A vibrant blue glass bottle. A label with a nun in habit on it. No discernable amount of acidity. A fair bit of sugar (from grape or Chelsea Sugar who knows!). And listen, I’m not that old (32 thank you very much) but I challenge you to find someone over the age of 50, that likes wine and HASN’T at least heard of Blue Nun. It gave German wine an extremely poor name for around 2 decades. 

Thankfully, this is where the tale takes a glorious turn; and yes, I do still love Riesling. 

Riesling in Australia can be traced back to the 1800s, potentially arriving in 1833 with the Godfather of Australian wine, James Busby, but officially in 1837 with William Macarthur. It found itself pretty happy in various parts of Australia- Clare Valley, Eden Valley (duh), Tasmania, Victoria, and the Great Southern region of WA. Fast forward to the mid 1800s and Joseph Gilbert, Eden Valley pioneer, planted Riesling in an area that would become known as Pewsey Vale (from his home in England in an area named the Vale of Pewsey). At this time, Riesling was a dry white wine and highly in demand. Some almost 50 years later, Brockenchack’s Riesling vines were planted (and could now be the oldest in Australia). 

By the 1930’s, while early days, Australia’s palate, and demand for crisp, fresh, clean wines over sweeter and sometimes fortified wines grew. Around this time, the first refrigerated fermentation was being trialed as a method to retain the freshness of the Riesling grapes (and wine). In the 1960s, Pewsey Vale, after decades of neglect, was revitalised and the first crisp and ‘tangy’ Eden Valley Riesling was bottled under the label of Leo Buring (but named Rhine Riesling). This was a big move away from the sweeter style available at the time. 

Moving on to the ‘70s and ‘80s and the public's perception that Riesling was sweet (or only sweet) impacted the progress of the drier style. It is a horror to read that for almost 3 decades, many sweet Australian wines were blends of this, that and whatever else was available, but labeled as Riesling due to its popularity! The horror! Until the boom of our other favourite white varietal Chardonnay in the ‘80s, Riesling was Australia’s most widely planted white wine grape. 

Fast forward to today, and a great deal has been achieved in decoding the unique styles of Riesling. A sweetness scale was developed (image in the carousel above, our Mackenzie William 1896 Riesling is Dry in style), and while not a requirement, many producers add it to their back label to help consumers purchase with confidence. We have a greater understanding of the classic characteristics and flavour profiles (image in the carousel above) of Riesling and even more has been researched into how and the duration Riesling can age. 

Did you know | The best Rieslings can be cellared for decades. The acidity and crispness of fruit provide the ideal structure for successful maturation*. Both high acidity and the use of screwcaps (a tale for another time) which ensure minimal oxygen infiltration aid in longevity (2) 

For International Riesling Day, Riesling’s birthday on March 13 we are excited to share with you some superbly aged Mackenzie William Riesling from vintages 2010 (the very first vintage of Mackenzie William 1896 Riesling), 2011, 2012 and 2013. This wine has a long history of achievement, and these vintages are no exception. 

As a very special treat,buy 5 museum vintages of Mackenzie William 1896 Rieslingand we will throw in a bottle of the current 2021 vintage- also an award winner. We suggest you find time to enjoy the aged vintages now or in the near future and to give you an idea of what is in store with these beauties,watch this interview with Jane Ferrarias she tastes the 2010 and 2011.

*Cellaring conditions also play an important role in the successful ageing of wine. No big temperature fluctuations, closures in pristine condition etc etc 

Resources sited:

(1)https://www.winespectator.com/articles/happy-birthday-riesling#:~:text=The%20Wines%20of%20Germany%20trade,wine%20region%2C%20southeast%20of%20Rheingau 

(2)https://www.wineaustralia.com/education/riesling#signupconfirmation

-Chloë, Marketing Coordinator, wine nerd, kiwi and Riesling champion