Mixing cocktails

The Heart and Soul of Riesling

4 May - By Martina Taeker

For Egon Müller, as for many European winemakers, wine is in his blood. He was raised in a vineyard, and it was natural to follow his father into the business. Today, Egon is kept busy making riesling in three countries – Germany, Slovakia, and Australia. This can be challenging but is also very satisfying. “It is like a mosaic,” he says. “Each wine has its personality and there is a time and place to drink each one.”

With his European heritage, it is no surprise that Egon places great emphasis on the importance of what happens in the vineyard – having the right grape in the right position, making the right decisions during the growing period and at harvest. “The biggest adversary in wine-making is nature. When you have a good harvest it is satisfying because you know you have made the right choices all year.”

This is particularly important for riesling because the winemaking process is usually short. “When you have it right in the vineyard, when you have good fruit, then the process becomes secondary. You can almost say the wine makes itself.”

Egon is clearly uncomfortable with being considered an expert, someone who has all the answers. Despite his high profile he is an unassuming man, speaking in a quiet, thoughtful manner. However, with experience there does come wisdom. “When you are young, it’s easy to get things out of proportion and overestimate your own influence and abilities.”

The popularity of a wine can shift, just like the popularity of other consumer products. Riesling has always had a solid audience among wine experts and more discerning drinkers, yet its popularity struggles to grow against other wines in the general marketplace. Part of this may be that it is a remarkably complex wine. There are many varieties and styles, which can be confusing to a buyer.

Currently there is also great emphasis on drinking young wines. While this is enjoyable, Egon believes it is also a pity. “Many white wines can be kept for a long time. That is something consumers often don’t realise.” He concedes that modern living means less people have cellar space, even in Europe, to store wine for long periods.

The important thing is to remember that wines have a shut-down period. “You can drink a riesling for the first two to three years it is in the bottle,” Egon explains. “Then the wine shuts down and maybe you should not open the bottle. It needs 10 to 15 years to transform.” It is at this point in the conversation that his eyes truly light up. “After the shut-down period, the wine is mature and you get the real expression of the grape, of the vineyard. This is the best time to drink the wine.”

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