France and Australia are a long way apart in both distance and, it appears, in their attitude towards the Riesling grape. In Alsace, as Jancis Robinson MW, noted on social media, since August 1st, producers have been forbidden to use the name of this variety on any example with more than four grams of residual sugar. For Robinson, the rule is ‘bonkers’, especially now that Alsace wines have mandatory sweetness scales on their back labels. She shares this view with Rolly Gassmann, one of the region’s top producers, which has launched an online petition called “Il faut sauver le soldat Riesling” – we have to save the soldier Riesling.
Australian experts are also taking a very different view to the Alsatians. In the authoritative 2023 Halliday Trends Report, the authors noted that “The diversity of aromatic white styles in Australia continues to grow as wineries experiment with off-dry styles”. They came to this conclusion after reviewing nearly 8,500 wines for the 2024 Halliday Wine Companion and “immeasurable winery visits and conversations with winemakers, retailers and sommeliers”.
Editor in Chief Campbell Mattinson said that there were “higher levels of residual sugar (RS) across the board this year, although this doesn’t automatically equate to sweeter wines. In many cases, it’s about adding texture and balance.” Shanteh Wale, sommelier, wine writer, and member of the Halliday Tasting Team, pointed out that “The idea that RS is a faux pas or that a ‘sweet’ riesling is going to be cloying has really changed. I think consumers have not only accepted a sugar and acid balance, it is something they’re actively looking for.”
Of this year’s top wines in the Halliday Companion, the 95-point Vignerons Schmölzer & Brown 2022 Obstgarten T Riesling from King Valley in Victoria had 6g of RS; the 94-point The Story Wines 2022 Whitlands Close Planted Riesling from the same region had 7g, while the equally highly-rated Mac Forbes RS15 Strathbogie Ranges Riesling 2022 had 15g.
Under the new rules, if they had been produced in Alsace, none of these wines could be sold as Riesling. As Robinson notes “No wonder Vins de France are proliferating.”