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Friday, March 22, 2013

Sibling Rivalry?

Siblings and best friends!  Absolutely no rivalry.

Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Edmund and Edgar, Kate and Bianca, Frasier and Niles, Snow Miser and Heat Miser, Ferris and Jeanie, Peyton and Eli, Venus and Serena - we hear about sibling rivalry all the time.

Sometimes siblings have a special bond and become best friends for life.  And sometimes there’s a rivalry.

Once upon a time in the Rhine area of Germany, there was a simple, humble grape called Gouais Blanc.  One day, Gouais Blanc met a mystery grape (the grape’s parents were Traminer and an unknown grape), and Gouais’ relationship with this mysterious grape produced a child called Elbling.  This was quite some time ago.  Elbling enjoyed popularity in Germany, particularly in the Mosel region, as a dry white wine with bright citrus characteristics and a simple approachable nature.

Some time later, Gouais Blanc and the mystery grape had another encounter.  This time their child was Riesling.  Beautiful, terroir-driven Riesling has enjoyed tremendous popularity since then, making lovely aromatic white wines in many parts of the world, particularly in Alsace and in Germany, where Elbling once ruled the vineyards.  Riesling, with its characteristics of citrus, honey, blossoms, orchard fruit, mineral, and petrol may seem sweet initially, but after it shows off its many facets, it cleans up with a racy acidity, making it well balanced and lovely and refreshing.

What happened to Elbling, you may ask - well, Elbling, over time, went from the most widely planted grape in Germany, to the 23rd most planted in Germany.  Talk about sibling rivalry!  In fact, I’ll bet most people have never even heard of poor Elbling, but everyone knows all about Riesling.  In fact, due to its fruity nature and often perceived sweetness, Riesling has helped many a novice transition into the wonderful world of wine appreciation.  Whether Riesling is your training wheels or your indulgence, we all know Riesling, and a great many of us love a good Riesling.  What about Elbling?

Elbling and Riesling - siblings
Elbling can still be made as a dry wine - in fact, almost 99% of all German Elbling is planted in Mosel, and some is used as an uncomplicated, bright, crisp white.  Elbling also grows quite successfully in Luxembourg.  And Elbling is known as a very good grape for making sparkling Sekt (Riesling can be used for Sekt as well).

Why did people forget about poor Elbling?  How did Riesling get so popular?  What’s with all this sibling rivalry?  Whenever we talk about Elbling, automatically we begin discussing its relationship to Riesling - why is that?  It seems “rivalry” can hardly describe how Riesling overtook Elbling over the years - there is no comparison between their degrees of success.  But let’s not forget that once upon a time, Elbling was an important grape in Germany.  To some, it’s still an important grape.

Perhaps someday Elbling will become more popular again - due to its refreshing nature as well as the fact that it’s less expensive than Riesling.  Perhaps Riesling will always be the more interesting and attractive of the two siblings.  Or perhaps wine drinkers can just appreciate the two for what they are, rather than compare them, just because they’re siblings.  No rivalry is necessary - just two grape siblings peacefully coexisting.

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