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Crafting Dry and Sweet Rieslings: A Journey of Precision and Risk

Hans Herzog 2018 Riesling - Like a Grand Cru Riesling (James Suckling, January 2, 2023)

Riesling, revered as Germany's noble grape, offers a distinct and captivating experience cherished by sommeliers and critics for its remarkable longevity and the ability to convey a vineyard's unique character. However, its popularity in restaurants may lag due to its high acidity and high sugar levels and the occasional presence of petrol aromas.
Navigating the nuances of labelling, we uphold a stringent definition of 'dry.' While the term 'trocken' in German does not always guarantee dryness, per EU regulations, a wine qualifies as dry if it contains a maximum of four grams of residual sugar per Liter. However, this limit can extend to nine grams if the wine's acidity sufficiently offsets the sugar content. When we say 'dry,' we mean it unequivocally. We prioritize a pure expression of terroir, fermenting fully ripened grapes to produce a Riesling devoid of high acidity and sugar, free from petrol notes, and brimming with authentic Riesling fruit aromas.
During the 2018 growing season in Marlborough, we meticulously tended to our Riesling vines amidst record-high temperatures in January. Delicate leaf-plucking ensured optimal sunlight exposure, mitigating the risk of petrol aromas. Hand-picked from low-yielding vines at the beginning of April, the impeccably healthy berries underwent extended skin maceration to extract their intense flavours. Following gentle pressing, the juice was transferred into a 500-liter French oak puncheon for natural fermentation until all residual sugar was fully fermented, capturing the wine's unique terroir and sense of place. The young wine was allowed to mature for a year in the puncheon. We deliberately avoided cold stabilization and fining, opting for light filtration to preserve the wine's incredible aromas.
How does it taste? James Suckling was stunned when visiting and felt transported to Alsace! With 96/100 points its one of the highest rated dry Rieslings.
“A stunning dry riesling with sliced pear, apple, flowers and honey. White pepper, too. Full body. Bitter lemon and hints of honey come through. Creamy and beautiful. Like a grand cru riesling. Tiny production. From organically grown grapes. Drink or hold.”
This dry and elegant profile makes our Riesling one of the most versatile wines for pairing with a wide range of dishes! 

Hans' Botrytis Riesling 2017

In contrast, crafting sweet wines is a delicate art that demands a harmonious balance between nature's whims and the pursuit of perfection, a journey not without its challenges. Over the years, we have embarked on this endeavour in various vintages, but only a select few have exceeded expectations, yielding wines of unparalleled quality and complexity. What is left on the vine, are tiny yields, a liquid gold that stands as a testament to the dedication and perseverance required to produce these extraordinary sweet wines.
While there are various methods for crafting sweet wines, the purest and most exceptional ones are cultivated naturally in the vineyard. The finest examples are made from the Riesling grape, as this variety keeps plenty of acidity even at the extreme ripeness. This process is both risky and labour-intensive, requiring a delicate dance with Mother Nature's elements. It's a gamble, as we must leave perfectly ripe grapes exposed, hoping for the ideal conditions of a long, dry autumn. Yet, late autumn brings increased rainfall, potentially transforming noble rot into undesirable grey rot with a single downpour.
Few producers can justify the costs associated with such labour-intensive hand harvesting, and most other wineries will pick once and sort the affected berries from the bunches in the winery. The heavily reduced yield (10 to 20 percent of a standard crop) and risks of leaving fruit on the vine also have cost implications.
With an ideal warm and long growing season followed by a relatively dry autumn, we took the risk of allowing the healthy grapes to remain on the vine, starting selective hand-picking towards the end of May. The considerable variation in levels of botrytis across bunches demanded multiple passes through the vines, allowing some bunches more time to develop noble rot. This meticulous process results in grapes with a part naturally shrivelled on the vine to raisins, contributing to the complexity of the final blend.
The journey continues in the cellar, where the whole bunches undergo a gentle pressing before being transferred directly into a single French Puncheon for fermentation. Due to the extremely high sugar levels, fermentation is slow, taking three months to achieve the correct balance of alcohol and sugar, compared to a week for table wine fermentation. Fermentation stops naturally when approximately 100-120 grams of residual sugar is reached. Following fermentation, the wine was allowed to age in the puncheon for an added six months.
How does it taste: Intoxicating aromas of honey, nectarine, and peach, intertwine with uplifting orange peel notes that add a refreshing zest to the bouquet. This wine exudes power with an effortless grace, showcasing a perfect balance between unctuous richness and vibrant acidity. It is a testament to elegance, with nothing brash or showy, just pure finesse in every sip. The finish is endlessly long, leaving a lasting impression of intensity and refinement.
Botrytis Riesling pairs wonderfully with a variety of dishes. The rich flavours of chicken liver pate are complemented by its sweetness and acidity. It also pairs well with the creamy, salty tang of blue cheese and is a perfect match for fruit-based desserts or crème Brûlée.

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