What is a wine’s style?
That’s about as loaded a question as you can get in the wine world. Without lining up loads of bottles and doing a massive blind tasting it can be extremely difficult to separate regional differences from the producer’s imprint on a particular bottle. Developing the skill needed to identify the differences between Rieslings from Austria and Alsace takes time, effort and of course money. Try learning the differences between the Wachau and Kamptal, and you are in for a lifetime of learning.
But what about the broader differences in wine styles? Let’s continue with Riesling as the example. Here’s a grape that is planted all over the world, and is acknowledged to make stylistically different wine all over the world, almost regardless of producer input. With just a little introduction it’s not all that hard to differentiate Australian Riesling grown in a cool climatein a side-by-side comparison with a German Riesling grown in an even cooler climate half a world away. Why is this true? It’s because the regional influences give styles of the wines are dramatically different.
Of course there are those “ringers” that, at first glance, resemble a wine from another region. They really are few and far between though, and remain the exception, not the rule. They also beg the question of why a wine from one area should taste like a wine from another region. Serious wine exploration is about the differences from place to place, producer to producer, year to year. What is more interesting is looking at how the similarities in grape variety and differences in location or producer are expressed in the finished product.
This month in Wine Focus we will look at styles of Riesling from around the world. The idea is to try to pin down what makes a Riesling from New York identifiable as being from the Finger Lakes, or what makes a German Riesling identifiable as coming from the Rheingau. We’ll try to set aside the obvious clues (e.g. many German wines have noticeable sweetness) and get to the underlying way that Riesling expresses itself in various locations. We will also examine what happens to Riesling as it ages. Do the differences become more noticeable or do they fade into the background? There’s no need to open multiple bottles at once, just try to identify what about the wine speaks to your senses as a marker of a particular regional style; whether it’s the austerity of young Australian Riesling, the opulence of modern Alsace, the elegance of Germany or the exuberance of Riesling from Washington State.
There’s no right or wrong answer to the questions of wine styles, just your personal preference. Let’s explore the differences together.
There behind the glass lies a real blade of grass. Be careful as you pass. Move along. Move along.