The drier Rieslings can be searingly acidic, yet the richness of the fruit balances out the austerity. The noble late harvest wines, many of whose grapes only come into the cellar two to three months after the drier versions, are often extraordinarily rare. Those from the best appellations and at the maximum sugar levels can be frighteningly expensive. It’s hardly surprising that producers without the right climatic conditions for Riesling, or simply without access to Riesling fruit, would want to use the Riesling name to sell their wines.
In South Africa – well before legislation to prevent this from happening kicked in – the lowly Crouchen blanc grape was promoted to the status of Riesling. Generations of South Africans found themselves drinking a bland, dry and unremarkable wine labelled Riesling. For many years it was pretty much the best easy-drinking white variety on the market.
Then one day true Riesling grapes were planted. Growers looked forward to showing that South Africa could produce wines to rival the great whites of Germany. Then they discovered to their horror that the authorities would not permit them to use the name Riesling. Instead they had to apply the prefix “Weisser” or “Rhine” while Crouchen blanc – which has no connection at all to the great German grape – could still be sold under the Riesling name.
It took over 20 years of fighting with the authorities (and with the groups which had vested interests in the continued sale of Crouchen under the Riesling label) to change the regulations.
Only recently has Crouchen been deprived of its pretensions, while true Riesling can be sold just like that – no “Weisser,” no “Rhine”. It was almost too late. The difficulties left some producers with no alternative but to grub up their vines and plant something easier to sell. Those who persisted found that there are dedicated Riesling consumers out there.
An organisation called “Just Riesling” has been formed and slowly wine drinkers in South Africa are discovering some real Riesling treasures.