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  • Writer's pictureKate Simpson

Rieslings: Germany vs. Alsace

“the world’s greatest white wine grape” - Jancis Robinson

One of the noble grape varietals, Riesling is known for its complexity, versatility and variety. It is capable of producing an extraordinary diversity of white wine styles from still to sparkling, and also ranging in sweetness from dry to very sweet. The grape is highly "terroir-expressive", ie. influenced by its place of origin. Riesling wines contain alluring floral bouquets and are filled with peach, honey and apricot fruit flavors and often its characteristic ‘petrol’ (kerosene or gasoline) bouquet.

The spiritual home for this variety resides in two lands: Germany and Alsace. Given that Alsace has changed hands a number of times between France and Germany over past centuries, it is not surprising that the wines share some basic similarities, but in truth there are more differences than similarities to talk about.

The more northerly of the two regions is the German Riesling. Popularly known as Rhine Wines, the most well-known sites for Riesling follow the winding Rhine River/Valley. In this cooler climate, the best wines are grown on incredibly steep south-facing hillsides to maximize exposure to sun and warmth reflecting from the river. Due to the steepness, hand-harvesting is a necessary practice that is much easier on the grapes and usually results in clean, pure flavors – which is the hallmark of German Riesling. The 2016 vintage began cool and wet, but was saved by a gorgeous summer. Expect these wines to be full of elegance and charm, lighter in color, light to medium in body, and extremely aromatic — floral, honeyed, citrusy and peach with petrol notes.

Further down south, nestled between the Rhine River to the east and the Vosges Mountains to the west, we find the Alsace wine region that spans from north to south. It's a cool continental climate that sees plenty of sun during the day and cool temperatures at night. The Vosges Mountain range creates a rain shadow effect that protects the vineyards from most precipitation, giving the grapes ample sunshine to ripen and making it one of the driest, sunniest winegrowing regions in the country. This, combined with cool nights, helps the grapes to retain bracing acidity, one of the signature traits of Alsatian wines. Even with its fair share of challenges, 2016 was a warm, balanced vintage and is known to have resulted in classic and elegant Alsatian wines. Expect these to be drier, riper, fuller body and distinctly different from their German counterparts.

For tonight's event we served 8 wines from the 2016 vintage that highlight the distinctive characteristics of each region and tell the tale of two regions. We included one 2018 Grand Cru vintage and a Mystery Wine, also from 2016.

It was a lot of wines to taste! How did you do? Did you identify the mystery wine in our line-up? Did you manage to identify that it was neither from Germany nor from Alsace? I fully expected to enjoy the Alsace wines more - having visited a number of wineries in the region but I was most surprised by the 'reveal'!

Here are the scores from the night:

And here is the original notice (with tasting notes) for this event:

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