Investigating Riesling

January 21st, 2013 by karen

Last week I attended a tasting of some Rieslings with Carl Schultz in Hartenberg cellar. Carl’s passion for the Riesling grape is a well known one and he mentioned it is the only cultivar he collects personally. He visits Alsace regularly and was lucky enough to be there for the end of 2012 vintage.

Carl gave us some background regarding its first planting in 1555, and not in Western Europe as many believe, but rather Czech. “Its had a checkered past, with many ups and downs but there is a renewed interest in the grape internationally, especially the USA. Not the classic steely, bone dry style but more the sweeter notes” states Carl. In fact it is the very versatility of this grape offering classic, off dry, right through to noble styles that makes it so appealing.  Carl shared some winemaking pointers about the grape: Riesling is classed as a noble variety,  it has the smallest bunches and berries imparting immense flavour and concentration to the resultant wines but making it possibly the most difficult of all grapes to pick. Their red shoots and small brown spots on the entire berry make them easy to identify. Its a grape that needs to be picked early resulting in elevated levels of acidity and comparably lower alcohols. Since in SA we are not allowed to remove acid we can only play with sugar thus adapting the wine style accordingly, particularly in warmer vintages. Skin contact, to release flavours, is most commonly needed for Riesling, Gewurtztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc.

He believes that Riesling is made by a small band of specialist winemakers worldwide. “It’s not a commercial grape despite its adaptability to climate and stylistic interpretation thus taken on by more serious producers. Those producers involved are placing more focus on the grape to prove what can be done with it” says Carl. Hartenberg has produced Riesling since the late 1980’s and currently make three wines using this grape whilst this is topped only by Paul Cluver, who make four.

We tasted through 7 examples of Rieslings that are going to be shown at the Riesling Rocks event this year (See details below). Carl mentioned that a lot of the producers agree that the wine is not necessarily at its best in the first year of production and thus they may release it only towards the end of its first year.

Our first flight of 3 wines came from Klein Constantia 2012, Sutherland 2010 and Spioenkop 2010. As a flight I preferred these wines to the second flight as these were the more dry and steely examples. Though distinctly different, the range seemed to show some weight / presence, possibly from the use of lees which is a fairly new addition to the winemaking for this grape, and wonderfully integrated acids. Though I am most familiar with Klein Constantia the most captivating was the Spioenkop which, though quite linear, I found expressive and clean with a wonderfully dry finish despite the 5g RS.

The second flight of four wines were those with higher sugar levels from 8.5g RS to 13.5g RS. Whilst I was captivated by the nose of most, and noted the individual personality and character depicted but each, I missed the crisp lift on the finish. These wines in general showed more presence in the mouth some even eliciting and oiliness common to more aged examples. We tasted the De Westshof 2009, Thelema 2010, Nederburg Winemasters Reserve 2012 and an experimental wine by Hartenberg. The experimental wine certainly raised the most debate around the room. My notes were: “More ‘foreign’ nose. Honey, botrytis character in addition to dried apricot. Sweet, sour finish with nice weight. Food wine, takes you on a journey.”  This is the first time Carl has done this particular experimentation and he shared some of the  details about the wine. 13.5g RS, alc 13.2%. Picked only botrytised and sun-dried fruit from vines planted in 1993, then, using only natural yeast fermentation, fermented in barrels and spent a further 8 months on lees in barrel. This wine will be available for tasting at the festival and I highly recommend you give it a try! Carl also mentioned that there will be a vertical tasting offered by Thelema which is sure to be of huge interest.

Of these wines tasted prices ranged from under R50 to the most expensive at R130 (only 2 over R100).

We were treated to a bottle of the Hartenberg 2010 as a gift upon departure which we enjoyed this weekend. An incredible example, evident by the string of deserved awards on the bottle. More delicate than some other 2010 examples I’ve tasted with mild spice, yellow fruit and floral notes along with a fresh, vibrant acidity.

I have 2 tickets to give away for this event. Leave a comment about your favourite Riesling experience and you could be the winner. Winner will be announced Monday 4th February 2013.

See press release below for details of event:

Riesling Rocks returns to Hartenberg Wine Estate

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Make your way to Hartenberg Wine Estate for the second Riesling Rocks festival in the Stellenbosch Winelands on Saturday, 9 February 2013, and enjoy some of the finest flagship Rieslings from top cellars paired with superb deli fare.

Carl Schultz, celebrated Hartenberg winemaker and one of South Africa’s finest Riesling masters, has invited the crème de la crème of cellars to showcase their top Weisser/Rhine Rieslings at this fabulous food and wine celebration.

Possibly the most versatile of all wines, Riesling can be enjoyed with practically any food. Dry style Rieslings meld beautifully with a wide range of dishes from sushi and gravadlax to oysters and antipasti.  Off-dry Rieslings make excellent pairings with spicier foods such as Thai prawns, chorizo or even herring and rollmops. The sweeter Rieslings are perfect for cutting through ultra-rich foods such as pates and terrines, duck and roast pork and are a perfect foil for curries. Rieslings also make fine dessert wines ideal with fruit tarts, cheeses, peacan nut pie and even tangy lemon tart.

Riesling Rocks at Hartenberg takes place on Saturday, 9 February 2013 from 12h00 noon until 17h00. Tickets cost R180 per person, including a wine glass and are available either directly from Hartenberg Estate or online at For more information, call Tel: (+27)21-8652541, Email: or visit Hartenberg Estate is situated on the Bottelary Road off the R304 to Stellenbosch.

10 Responses to «Investigating Riesling»

  1. January 24, 2013 at 4:20 pm, ‘Benita Gouws said:

    I took a non-wine drinking friend to a Riesling tasting (very risky I know) and at around the 4th one, she fell in love with a Paul Cluver…the next week she had ordered her own wine from the farm and have again since then.
    We now attend tastings regularly, but that realization of finding the perfect wine for you was priceless.

    ps…she even blogged about it!

  2. January 24, 2013 at 4:23 pm, Cat said:

    Hmmm my favourite Riesling experience… I think would have to be last year’s Riesling Rocks festival actually. I went on my ace, didn’t really know anyone, nothing about Riesling and not much about wine in general.

    Had the most wonderful day learning about Riesling and wine, and making some special friends who made me feel super welcome.

    A day at Hartenberg ain’t too bad either 😉

  3. January 25, 2013 at 8:56 am, Neil Basson said:

    Riesling is one of the oldest grape varieties in the world and is one of the three most important white varieties. A hundred years ago Rieslings were the highest priced wines and are now one of the best value for money wines you can buy. Riesling originated in Germany and grows well in colder areas, here in the Western Cape it does so well because we are influenced by two oceans. I tasted 4 Rieslings last year.

    Paul Cluver Close Encounters Riesling 2011
    La Vierge Weisser Riesling 2008
    Sutherland Rhine Riesling 2009

    And my favorite at the moment Hartenberg Weisser Riesling 2009 – has a lime and floral nose, the palate is zesty with golden delicious apples. This a quality wine that offers great value and much versatility.

    The World is your Riesling!

  4. February 03, 2013 at 11:11 pm, Heleen said:

    When a german family member came to visit recently, we had a delightful afternoon sharing a variety of her favorite Rieslings.
    I definitely enjoyed the sweeter styles with their alluring floral bouquets the most but my husband preferred the crisp, dryer variety of Riesling.

    I find the Riesling so versatile and the option pairing it with an assortment of foods is almost limitless

  5. February 04, 2013 at 8:19 am, Ina Smith said:

    A number of years ago, our wine club visited Lievland for a Riesling tasting. We expected to taste 8 or perhaps 10 wines, but Paul Benade (then owner) kept pulling bottles from the cellar. We ended up tasting 23 Rieslings, many older vintages, showing the amazing ageability of the variety. This Riesling experience with Paul beats a visit to Alsace producers Hugel, Trimbach hands down!

  6. February 04, 2013 at 9:28 am, karen said:

    Sounds like an incredible experience Ina!

  7. February 04, 2013 at 10:19 am, Ina Smith said:

    It certainly was!!

  8. February 04, 2013 at 10:37 am, Elmari said:

    I have 2 favourite Riesling moments: firstly tasting with Johnnie Hugel in his cellar in Alsace in 2000 opened my eyes to the elegance and refinement of aged Riesling; then introducing a friend to Riesling in 2006 with mid-1980s Riesling from Klein Constantia. (She’s been a Riesling nut ever since) The KC showed the same intoxicating perfume and unbelievable elegance as the aged wines I enjoyed in Alsace.
    I drank the Riesling Johnnie gave me the week that he passed, and my Riesling friend lost 2 family members lat year. I’d love to give the tickets to her and her hubby.

  9. February 04, 2013 at 11:13 am, karen said:

    Was wondering when my Riesling friend would comment:) Will keep you posted

  10. February 04, 2013 at 1:33 pm, Riesling Lover said:

    I went to Germany to do a semester of studies and ended up in the Rheingau – an area known for low alcohol, off-dry Rieslings, but with searing acidity. I remember getting terrible heartburn the first time I tried some… (not glamorous I know)

    My classmates assured me this was normal, as they are known for producing Acid, not only wine! After a few days I had completely fallen in love with the varietal and to this day I buy and cellar Rieslings from all over. I love to see how they mellow from fresh and zippy wines to the terpeney golden wines they become in their older age.

    A few years later I was fortunate enough to spend another few weeks in Alsace and taste my way through their wines. Followed fo course by many tastings at KC, Hartenberg and Paul Cluver (my favourites in SA).

    I would love to revisit the South African wines on the weekend, can’t think of a better place to see my favourite grap on show!

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