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New World: Riesling

A surprise underperformance by New Zealand allowed other countries to step up and take control of the medals this year

Riesling is like catnip for sommeliers. And the ability of this section to throw up good, interesting and varietally expressive versions of the grape sub-£10 usually makes it one of the hottest categories in the Sommelier Wine Awards.

This year, though, our tasters were left rather deflated. While the overall number of medals was the same as in 2011 (nine), it was distinctly heavier on Bronzes and lighter on Silvers than last year, with only one wine making it onto the Gold List.

The reason for this slight slip backwards can probably be attributed to the performance of the Marlborough wines, with the variety of styles leading one irritated taster to describe them as a ‘dog’s dinner’.

‘They just didn’t have the fruit to stand up to the sugar,’ grumbled Hakkasan’s Christine Parkinson. ‘The ambition massively outstrips the quality of what’s coming in from the vineyard.’

Instead (and this will have gone down like a possum burger in the South Island), it was up to their much-loved neighbours across the Tasman Sea to pick up the baton. In a rare show of Riesling inspiration, half the medals this year went to Australia.

‘The Mount Horrocks Watervale is a great benchmark style,’ said Joris Beijn of Andaz. ‘It’s dry, but with zesty, citrusy fruit, good acidity and well balanced. All in all, a good introduction for people who want to try Riesling or those that know New World Riesling and enjoy the style.’

And while the likes of South Africa and Chile might not have seen vast numbers of medals, the overall feedback from the tasters for what they were seeing was positive, with most sommeliers confident that the New World’s winemakers were starting to get the hang of the grape.

‘Most of the wines had complexity and balance,’ said Terroirs’ Emilie Courtois, while Parkinson singled out the ability to balance sugar and acidity as the key.

‘Just like the New World had to learn how to control oak to make reds, so they have had to get the hang of sugar in Riesling,’ she mused.

‘A few of the off-dry New World Rieslings could give Germany a run for their money now.’ Christine Parkinson, Hakkasan

‘The New World Rieslings were really accessible. I could serve these to people who don’t think they like off-dry wine and they would be OK with it.’ Fionnuala Synnott, Pollen Street Social.