Due to a mix-up in the early stages of wine-growing in South Africa, there are several different types of grape being sold under the Riesling label in the country. One of the genuine Rieslings is known as Weisser Riesling. The grapes originate on the Rhine, in Germany, and it is grown throughout the whole of the wine-making world, amounting to some 120,000 acres and growing. Although there are many wine grapes which are planted more widely than this, Riesling is still considered to be one of the top white wine varieties, along with the big two, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Riesling is usually drunk shortly after bottling, as this is when it is at its most attractive, with plenty of fruit and a good aroma of rose blossom and grass, combined with a high acidity which gives it a sharp, crisp taste. Nevertheless, this high acidity also means that the Weisser Riesling wines can be left to age. Some of the wines from Germany are hundreds of years old, particularly those which are sweet, and including some which have been in existence since 1653, before South Africa had even begun to produce wines. However, as it ages, the Riesling can develop a slight petrol taste which is considered to be a distinctive note of the aged wine.
Weisser Riesling is particularly suitable for developing into dessert wines through late harvesting and Noble Rot infestation. This infection causes the grapes to become much sweeter and dryer, offering a concentrated flavour that increases the complexity of the wine. Makers of Noble Late Harvests will sometimes use the Weisser Riesling grapes in order to get the right note of sweetness into their wines.
In South Africa, Weisser Riesling can be grown in many areas, and even the cooler climate of Elgin can produce a great wine if the grapes are left to ripen naturally on the vine. In order to get the best of this wine, it is usually best to hand-pick the Weisser Riesling grapes, and then press them. The skins are then allowed to settle and ferment for 2 days before being placed in either oak barrels or stainless steel tanks. This wine can often be completed in under 9 months, and can then be drunk immediately, or within one or two years. One particularly noted practitioner of Weisser Riesling wines in South Africa is the Fairview estate. Their wines, particularly the 2009, have a lot of flavour and taste, from limestone earthiness to rich fruits and grapefruit aromas, with a velvety finish.
Another maker of Weisser Riesling, Paul Cluver from Elgin, has allowed the cool winds of his district to produce a very crisp, dry wine. The 2007 variety has plenty of apple and lemon flavour, with a slightly savoury twist that makes it an excellent accompaniment to foods or desserts without being too sweet.