I think one of the reasons I like starting my Wine World studies with Germany is because it’s my backwards way of gearing up for one of my favorite French wine regions, Alsace. The two regions have much in common—one of them being Riesling. That’s why I thought, if I’m going to deep-dive into the stylistic difference’s of Germany’s most recognized wine grape, I’m absolutely going to compare how the expression(s) differ from it’s neighboring French region, where the variety wear’s the “noble grape” crown.
To explore those differences between the wines, we must (of course) explore what makes Alsace a unique wine region.
I don’t know why, but I found that, during my WSET Level 3 studies, starting with Germany was really helpful. Maybe because the regions are completely foreign to me; the wines not regularly available in my area. Perhaps, embarking on a whole new adventure was the way to jump in. And, now, studying for my Diploma, I find the country calling to me again.
When I first started posting about my studies, I began with an exploration of major German regions via the country’s most popular grape. The kind of “dry” tasting notes, if you will, gave me a good idea of what kind of climate and terroir each individual region has. (See German Riesling: Location Matters) But Diploma studies are so much more detailed.
Indeed, this exploration, though it follows the same path, is going to dive a bit deeper and, for fun and educational purposes, I want to actually experience a few of the wines myself to see if I can actually taste what I’m reading about. Hence, “Taste and Learn.”
Here’s a fun exercise to helping to learn the different German regions: think about them in reference to the country’s most popular grape variety—Riesling. Going from North to South, let’s talk about Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Pfalz, and Baden.
I used to be the kind of wine drinker that would absolutely shy away from Riesling. That is until I met a new sommelier-friend who showed me that many Americans have a misconception about what Riesling really is, what it tastes like, and how versatile it can be—especially when it comes to German Riesling. Since that time I’ve been more open minded, tasting Rieslings from both abroad and at home and have been impressed what our New World winemakers have to offer. What I love about this expression of Riesling is that it tastes, for lack of a better expression, naked. As if I’m really tasting, not just the grape, but the vineyard—the dirt, the surrounding fields, the river that runs through it all. There are wines that you drink and then there are wines you experience. Experience Kobza Wines 2016 Wirz Vineyard Dry Riesling with me…
So, not too long ago I voiced my frustration with California — or “new world” in general — Riesling. I feel like the majority of us have a stigma surrounding German Riesling, stereotyping it much like Gewürztraminer as a sweet wine. This is not without its merit, as the country is technically known for that style of white wine, but it’s because they were (originally) catering to the palate of the American demographic. And, so, I don’t know if it’s because of that Rhine region interpretation of our tastes, or our initial misunderstanding of our California terroir, but it seems like a lot of American Riesling were, up until a point, created with sweetness in mind.
Well thank goodness that this seems to be dissipating. California, even just within the last 10 to 20 years has seemed to develop a new understanding of terroir in regards to what grapes grow best in which areas. So, Riesling from Napa? I don’t believe I’ve had it before. And I, of course, had some doubts and hesitations. But that being said, Smith-Madrone has quality wines made by people who’ve been working to understand the land for decades. So, if Smith-Madrone says Napa Riesling, then I am, without a doubt, tasting Napa Riesling. Here we go…