Grape Expectations

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Right then. It’s question time again. What is the world’s finest white grape? “Chardonnay!” I hear you howl. Well, maybe you’re right. Or maybe you’re not, because a lot of experts consider that Riesling, not Chardonnay, is the finest white wine grape anywhere.

Riesling (REEZ-ling) has a long history. It can be traced back to 1435 when it was listed as growing in the vineyards of the splendidly-named Count John the Fourth of Katzenelnbogen. Perhaps its spiritual home is the Rhine region of Germany, but it makes very fine wines in the Mosel and Alsace regions too. Rieslings usually have high acidity, delicate flavours, low alcohol and a characteristic mineral quality.  The Rieslings from Alsace are aromatic, elegant wines and totally different to the Rieslings of the Rhineland or the Mosel. Contrary to popular belief, German Rieslings (with some notable exceptions) tend to be dry and Australian Rieslings are sometimes even drier.

Hardys “Nottage Hill” Riesling 2008 (white), Australia (Villa and others, Bt. 718)

The name of Hardys (without an apostrophe, for some reason) is well-known and owned by Accolade Wines. The popular “Nottage Hill” range was introduced in the late 1960s. Travis Brown, Accolade’s Regional Director for Asia, told me that, “Nottage Hill wines are sometimes considered higher quality than those of our competitors, because of our fruit and vineyard selection.”  He explained that about half the grapes selected for most Nottage Hill wines are from cool climate vineyards (which produce better quality grapes) with the balance coming from warmer climate vineyards. Many Australian winemakers tend to use grapes purely from predominantly warmer climates.

Bill (William) Hardy, winemaker and company ambassador since 1972. Bill (William) Hardy, winemaker and company ambassador since 1972.

This wine is a lovely pale straw colour and has a delightful rich aroma of lemon and lime, pineapple and warm spices. When the wine has had enough contact with the air, you might also pick up the faint and strangely attractive smell of kerosene (better known to some as paraffin). It might sound odd, but a delicate petrol-like aroma is typical of some Rieslings.

It’s a fairly light-bodied wine but pretty dry too, with a soft and beguiling mouth-feel. There’s a good dash of lively mineral acidity, giving the wine a crisp flavour which continues through the lingering fruity finish. This is a lovely example of an Australian Riesling, pleasingly assertive and with a touch of typical character. At 12.5% alcohol, this would make this wine a good partner for fish (especially salmon) pork or chicken dishes. Incidentally, Riesling is one of the few white wines that can stand up to spicy Thai or Chinese food.

Bouchard Aîné & Fils Pinot Noir 2010 (red), France (Villa Bt. 599)

If I had any choice in the matter, I’d be happy to drink Pinot Noir wines all the time, especially the voluptuous earthy reds of Burgundy. It’s one of the great red wine grapes of the world; lighter in body and much less tannic that Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The finest Pinot Noir (PEE-noh NWAHR) wines shine with the aromas of cherries and plums, damp earth and mushrooms. The best of them are sensuous, aromatic, earthy wines with a silky mouth-feel. You may be surprised to know that New Zealand produces some splendid Pinots.

Here’s a bargain from the South of France. You’ll probably pick up the aromas of cherries and other fruit on this bright red wine, as well as a dash of citrus and mint. It has a very smooth and silky mouth-feel with very soft supple tannins. You’ll find cherries and blackcurrants on the taste and a hint of oaky woodiness. There’s a spicy herbal earthiness with a long, dry fruity finish.

The wine is as dry as they come, but there’s plenty of fruit on the taste giving the illusion of a hint of sweetness. It’s a very pleasing, medium bodied easy-drinker and with an alcohol content of 13% it would make a good “food wine”. It’s something of an all-rounder; a perfect match for all meats, barbeques, pizzas, light game or vegetable dishes.

And talking of grape expectations, someone told me that in California they’ve recently developed a new Pinot variety that’s expected to help people with weak bladders. Apparently, it’s called Pinot Mohr.