Does Riesling need a revolution?

riesling trendsetter

Despite being the darling of the wine trade for what seems like decades, German Riesling still has an image problem in the UK. Why is it that we can’t get the abominations of Liebfraumilch, Blue Nun and Black Tower out of our heads? Perhaps we’re simply too attached to our folk memory of the 1970s – an age of bad taste, questionable fashion and worse wine.

Noble Revolution wines, the brainchild of ex-lawyer, sommelier and self-styled “Riesling revivalist” Alex Down, is on a mission to change our poor perceptions. Alex’s modus operandi is simple: abandon the fluted bottle, the gothic script and the ferocious complexity of the labelling. Instead, the two noble revolution Rieslings have clean, simple branding with a Ronseal ethic and an eye on mainstream consumption.

I really like this idea. I need no convincing about the joys of German Riesling – crisp, nail-biting acidity, sharp-focused fruit and those fantastic mineral finishes are a sure way to my heart. I’m also more than happy to have some residual sugar in my Kabinett or Spätlese. But Alex knows that the Great British unwashed might not be ready for that, so the two wines in his portfolio are definitively dry Rieslings – which is of course clearly declared on the label. Smart move.

There are two risks with a venture like this – first, the wines have to be up to snuff, to avoid pigeon-holing as a cynical marketing exercise. Second, the branding could cheapen the product or just seem incongruous.

So, to the liquid credentials. Both labels are made by Jürgen Meng, from the Pfalz region. The Pfalz’s south-westerly position lends a little more ripeness to these wines than you might expect from more northerly (and more prestigious) wine regions like the Mosel or the Rheingau.

riesling reactionaryThe Trendsetter (£10 retail) has a typical limey quality, and great freshness. I found it lacking a little individuality, but well made and accessible. And yes – bone dry.

The Reactionary is the more upmarket offering (£14 retail), made from 50 year old vines. There’s noticeably more weight and interest, and I found myself reaching for this bottle when I poured a second glass.

These wines aren’t really about “minerality” (a tricky term at best), as the Pfalz’s rich, loamy soils give generosity and depth instead. In fact you could say there’s a nod to the best new world Rieslings, with their utterly clean, linear yet ripe character. In one important respect they are different – at 12% alcohol these wines are refreshing not just in acidity, but also their ability not to knock you down after two glasses.

What about the packaging? I love the branding and its simplicity. But, although it might just be a sign that I’ve been into wine for too long, I found it harder to reconcile myself to the Burgundy bottles. They just didn’t feel right for the style. Still, I could imagine these wines going down a storm by the glass at a huge variety of bars, pubs and restaurants – and I’d be very happy to bump into either of them, especially if they save me from third-rate Pinot Grigio or stinky, formulaic Sauvignon.

I reviewed the 2012 vintage of these wines based on samples supplied by Noble Revolution wines. Contact them for details of stockists.

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    • http://arnoldwaldstein.com/ awaldstein

      Hey…

      Nicely written my friend.

      I feel like an anthropologist reading this as almost nothing here is germane to the market in the states. I’m looking in at a museum display of sorts.

      I’m interested as Alex is a friend and this does not seem to be case of presentation over quality but a true mix of quality and presentation.

      You know, I can not remember at any time in the last 10 years where I bought a wine by its label, unassisted. Maybe I gathered facts from the label but it’s appeal or lack of never entered the picture.

      I guess my big nudge to you, and to Alex, is that I find it impossible to talk about a brand or a price without understanding how this will be sold and the target customer. In the states, the retailer would be the market maker. That is exactly how it will happen for Republic of Georgia wines here btw.

      All that aside, I applaud bold moves and wish my friend the very very best.

      And I’ve learned to love Riesling in the last year. I know the producers, I can’t remember the labels though!

    • Alex Down

      Thanks for taking the time to review my wines Simon. Apologies for my delay in responding to this piece. I will make a few general observations which should address some of the issues raised by you and Arnold.

      Firstly, when it comes to German Riesling in the UK, the status quo isn’t working. There is a very small percentage of wine consumers out there who understand German Riesling and enjoy drinking it. But, these people, taken in the context of the whole wine market, is minuscule. The vast majority of consumers either (a) think German Riesling is cheap and sweet (e.g. Blue Nun) or (b) understand that German Riesling can be good quality but nevertheless assume most of it is sweet and therefore stay away from it.

      So, how could I make German RIesling more accessible to a wider market?

      My plan – concept – was to distance myself from the rest of the German Rieslings on the market as much as possible. Shake things up a bit. I knew, of course, that it couldn’t be a matter of style over substance – I needed two high quality Rieslings. But, once i had found these, I could then package them in a way that would prevent the consumer from immediately bypassing them on the grounds that they looked Germanic (gothic script, tall slim bottle, etc). And yes, as Simon picks up on, it was very important to have the word “DRY” plastered across the front of the bottle to help remove any uncertainly about sugar levels for the consumer.

      I wanted the branding to be clean and fresh. To stand out. I am slightly surprised by Arnold’s comment about not picking a wine based on the label. It is certainly to be commended but I must say that, in my experience, the vast majority of people pick wine dependent on how the label looks.

      The US and UK markets are so, so different when it comes to Riesling. The US understands it so much better. TIme will tell whether this will spread to the UK. But, in the meantime, it has been a lot of fun taking these wines to market and gauging consumer feedback!

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