Riesling wins every time

By Joelle Thomson

Joelle Thomson's wine blog brings you the most up-to-date reviews and discussions about local and international wine. In this entry, MiNDFOOD discovers the charms of rieslings.

If you could drink only one wine for the rest of your life, what would it be? Champagne, chardonnay, barolo? Or something less auspicious: sauvignon blanc, nero d’Avola or – heaven forbid – riesling?

A well-known winemaker once told me he loved pinot noir so much that he would die for a great one. And well he might – perish, that is – if left alone on a desert island with nothing but a few bottles of pinot noir.

When you’re choosing a desert island anything, you have to be certain it comes in a range of styles. That’s why riesling fits.

Riesling expresses the place in which it was made more than any other wine, and since it is made everywhere – from chilly European hillsides to steamy Australian valleys – it is incredibly diverse in taste.

It’s never easy choosing last orders, though, is it?

I’m always baffled as to how I could choose just one CD to take to a desert island from a shortlist of Massive Attack’s Blue Lines, Groove Armada’s Best Of and Kings of Leon’s Because of the Times. And what about those days when only Nirvana will steady my frayed nerves? Or those moments when a blast of LCD Soundsystem is just what I need to cool down?

And food. Don’t get me started on food. Bluff oysters, sashimi or pizza with fresh black truffles are all wish-listers that could see me through to the end of my days, but choosing just one would be a task and a half.

Wine is easier. Despite being a two-thirds red to one-third white drinker, my last orders are always white. And since I’ve been bitten by the same bug as the organisers of New Zealand’s first riesling weekend this March, my choice is always riesling.

Riesling is the greatest white wine in the world. It’s diverse and versatile and, most important, it tastes great with desert island food – meaning when there’s no food, riesling tastes fantastic.

You can drink German riesling at lunchtime and barely notice you’ve consumed alcohol because it has only 7.5 per cent alcoholic content. After drinking heavier whites and reds, you can wind things up in the wee small hours with the most refreshing drink I can imagine: a cool glass of Domaine Weinbach’s Cuvée Sainte Catherine Riesling.

“In Praise of Riesling” is on next month in Canterbury, New Zealand. The organisers make no apologies for their indulgent motives: to taste, drink and talk about their favourite wine with like-minded people. The talented duo of Matt Donaldson and Lynnette Hudson (Pegasus Bay) will team up with a raft of riesling lovers in the region: Belinda Gould (Muddy Water), Martin Tillard (Pernod Ricard), Duncan McTavish (Waipara Springs) and Mike and Claudia Weersing (Pyramid Valley), to name but a few.

Ninety per cent of Kiwi riesling is made on the South Island and its production has nearly doubled over the past decade, which sounds impressive though it really pales in comparison with the production of pinot gris, which has grown tenfold. Pinot gris, in turn, pales in comparison with riesling in terms of flavour.

As for matching wines to my music and moods while I’m on a desert island?

  • Happy, sunny days: northern French (Alsace) riesling with Groove Armada.
  • Unbearably hot, humid days: Clare Valley riesling with LCD Soundsystem.
  • Cool autumn nights: North Canterbury or Central Otago rieslings with Massive Attack.
  • Cold winter weekend mornings in bed: German riesling with Butterflies in Your Ears (Diamond Screen Mix).
  • Dark, rainy days: Austrian riesling with Nirvana.

But that’s just me. No doubt you have your own preferences. Wine’s real beauty is its tactile pleasure, so taste-test a few rieslings yourself.


There’s something about Australian and New Zealand rieslings that feels as though they’re on the verge of a breakthrough; on the cusp of taking wine to the next level. Taste these five to see what I’m talking about:

  • 2004 Jacob’s Creek Reserve Riesling (NZ$18-19): a stellar wine, even if it is made in mass quantities; this vintage is the best yet.
  • 2005 Jacob’s Creek Orlando Barossa Steingarten Riesling (NZ$29-30): Australia’s famous Steingarten vineyard was planted in the early 1960s and this wine is still going strong – or should we say better than ever?
  • 2006 Muddy Water James Hardwick Riesling (NZ$25-26): North Canterbury is proving to be a great riesling region with this delicious, too-drinkable wine made by Belinda Gould.
  • 2006 Pegasus Bay Riesling (NZ$26-28): Waipara riesling at its best – intense, limey, fresh and dry.
  • 2007 Felton Road Block 1 Riesling (NZ$26-27): a great wine every time – if you can get it.

Tell me what you think: [email protected]

For more information visit the New Zealand Wine website.


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