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New Zealand Riesling Styles and Wine Regions

Firstly lets talk pronunciation – its REE-SLING, you must forget the ‘i’ even exists, for fear of sounding like you really don’t know this traditional German grape. Riesling is made in an abundance of different styles, of different sweetnesses from a plethora of different cool climate countries. This can ultimately mean several things, a) Riesling is a mind field of a white grape to understand b) you need to know exactly what you like in order to know how to even broach your Riesling purchasing requirements and c) age-ability, yes you can age Riesling, this white grape ages impeccably, but how are we meant to know the parameters around this?

New Zealand Riesling 101 

We’ve got a little Riesling 101 coming at you now, although little New Zealand is a relatively new Riesling producing country with a little over 1800 hectares planted we’re seeing rapid growth and recognition present itself form some key cool climate areas. If you check out our handy wine map of New Zealand, the key Riesling wine regions to note are Marlborough, North Canterbury and Central Otago, the temperatures in these areas remain relatively cool climate, once you start getting to the North Island of New Zealand the temperature turns more sub-tropical and sadly this doesn’t contribute to exceptional Rieslings. New Zealand winemakers love Riesling because it is so versatile, and we see crisp and refreshing examples all the way through to late picked sweet styles. The world really is our oyster.

Is New Zealand Riesling Dry or Sweet?

Riesling can be produced in both dry and sweet styles, from dessert wines to vivaciously refreshing examples made to drink NOW in the sunshine. Whilst it is very rare to find a blended example of Riesling in New Zealand they do exist – check out Burn Cottage here. Riesling should always be served chilled at fridge temperature which is – 6 degrees, this way it shows its refreshingly crisp acid structure which allows dryer versions to be so approachable.  If we’re looking at food matches for our Riesling friends, we would wholeheartedly say spicy food is it’s best friend! The combination of sweetness and acid coupled with a bright fruit structure means Riesling is the perfect accompaniment to any Asian style meal.

 Why are Riesling bottles shaped the way they are?

We’re often asked the relevance of why Riesling is produced in bottles of a tall slender shape (as opposed to the fatter, wider versions from Burgundy or Bordeaux) and the truth is it was a simple measure that was made in order to pack as many bottles not the boats to ship the wine up the Rhine river, (back in the old days) clever huh? Even though New Zealand Rieslings were not shipped from Central Otago down the Clutha River most New Zealand Rieslings you find in UK wine shops will be in the traditional German bottles.

New Zealand Riesling styles

Dry Styles of Riesling

Most importantly when searching for a drier style of Riesling is that you look for a Riesling with reasonably good alcohol levels. The lower the alcohol (ie 9%) indicates that not all the sugar has been converted to alcohol, hence leaving you with a sweeter style. Although we make several wicked dry-styles in New Zealand, you will also find some kick arse versions from Clare Valley & Eden Valley in Australia, and even Alsace in France. Ever seen the word Trocken on a bottle? Well that = DRY in German Riesling terms. 

2017 Two Paddocks Picnic Riesling, Central Otago

This vineyard is not only famous for its array of stonking wines, but it also gets a fair bit of recognition thanks to Sam Neill (Jurassic Park & Peaky Blinders) who owns this beautiful Central Otago vineyard. 

Medium or Off-Dry Styles

The next level of sweetness we refer to as ‘Medium’. And this style is one of our personal favourites. Thankfully Riesling and its piercingly high acid structure, ensures the balance of sugar in this style certainly doesn’t go unnoticed. The best trait about Medium style riesling is its ability to food match – think chilli spice and Asian cuisine – the bright intense ingredient flavours coupled with high acid and a touch of residual sugar provides weight and texture (think beeswax and honeycomb) and matches incredibly well to full fresh flavoured dishes. 

2017 Framingham Classic Riesling, Marlborough

Sweet Rieslings

Indulgent glory! We’re looking for Sweet Rieslings that typically have lower alcohol, thus reserving some of that sugar that would typically get converted to alcohol to remain in our glass – these wines are mostly reserved until after a meal, they’re luscious, full of bountiful characters of honey, ginger, citrus blossom and apricots. The key with matching sweet wines with a sweet dessert is matching both the food and wine with a similar balance of sweetness. It sounds more tricky than it is… Don’t even get us started on the relevance of blue cheese with a sweet wine either, this is most definitely a match made in heaven… Look our for the terms ‘Noble’, ‘Late Harvest’ and ‘Botrytis’ when you’re looking for sweet Riesling. 

2014 Pegasus Bay ‘ARIA’ Late Harvest Riesling, North Canterbury

Aged Rieslings

Can New Zealand Riesling age? As New Zealand is such a youthful wine producing country, sadly there isn’t an abundance of aged examples to provide you inspiration. All we would say is New Zealand has a load of potential when it comes to the age-ability of Riesling and if you get a chance to purchase any, and hide them away we guarantee you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you pull them out in 5-10 years. The characters you find when discovering aged examples from anywhere in the world turn to diesel, petrol and lanolin – don’t be fooled – these elements are markers of excellence!

2013 Seresin ‘Memento’ Riesling, Marlborough  £19.50

(Although not aged a great deal, this Riesling successfully shows the evolution of what great Riesling is determined by, fresh, balanced with hints of beeswax and concentration of fruit)

Where can you buy New Zealand Riesling in the UK? you can of course buy a pretty wicked selection through us at The New Zealand Cellar & even Australian Rieslings from The Australian Cellar plus we also have a fully loaded wine shop and bar in Brixton where you can sample the New Zealand wine collection 7 days a week!

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