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Wine of the Week for week ending 8 December 2002
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Donata Reserve Riesling 1998
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany

December is here and summer has well and truly arrived in the north of New Zealand, judging by the sunburn I got this weekend. It's also the silly season with end of year parties and festivities galore building up to a crescendo in the week before Christmas. There'll be a lull for a few days to recover with possibly a picnic or barbie at the beach, or the backyard BBQ with a few of your drinking mates. Then we'll party like crazy again to toast in the New Year.

We're a nation of drinkers, that is our culture.

But we are being slowly being programmed to become a nation of careful responsible drinkers - something the older and wiser (who've been there, done that) are probably taking more notice of than the 18-year-olds who have just become of the age that legally allows them to buy alcohol. I often wonder if the young ones ever see or heed the graphic advertisements that depict the results of too much alcohol - such as ending up bloody and dead or simply being caught 'over the limit' at a compulsory breath-testing checkpoint. The ads are in your face on the television, in the newspaper and on the billboards. Slogans like - "If you drink and drive you are a bloody idiot" and "DRINK DrIvE".

Despite this, drinking and driving is legally allowed in New Zealand - up to a certain blood alcohol content percentage (BAC), anyway. The legal limit in New Zealand in 0.03% for youth drivers up to 20 years of age and 0.08% for adults.

So if we are allowed to drink and drive, just how much can one drink?

Well, it depends on many factors including body weight, metabolism and time of day but most importantly the alcoholic content of the beverage.

A wine's alcohol content will vary by variety and style but it will be stated on the label.

Australian and New Zealand wine labels of wines packaged after 22 December 2000 also have to state the number of standard drinks in the bottle (calculated from the amount of beverage that contains 10 grams of ethanol). For example, a 750ml bottle of chardonnay or shiraz with 14.5% alcohol yields 8.6 standard drinks, whereas a 750ml bottle of riesling with 9% alcohol yields 5.3 standard drinks. Obviously the latter is better for the driver.

Riesling is the ideal low alcohol wine because the grapes' natural high acids can balance to the residual sugars when fermentation of the grape sugar to alcohol is stopped. The result is an off dry or sweetish wine but if well made, neither sugar nor acid should stand out. The winemaker's skill comes in balancing the components, like we would when adding sugar or honey to freshly squeezed lemon juice.

The German wine producers are the masters of low alcohol riesling but the German wine labels with their scrawling Gothic script and unpronounceable names can be rather a turn off to drinkers down under. Take a wine labelled Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, 1998 Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, Spätlese - it doesn't even mention the grape variety.

However the New Zealand importers of this wine have decided that tradition should be relegated to the back label and what you will see on the front is simply 'Donata Reserve Riesling 1998'.

All the information a German riesling fanatic would want to know is on the back label, though a magnifying glass may be required to read it.

This is a beautifully refreshing wine with a pure riesling taste. It seems dry but the components are balanced to perfection. A youthful pale golden yellow in colour with aromas of sweet spicy lemon and sewing machine oil, the taste is apples and lime with the weight of lemon biscuits and the juiciness of mandarin. It's not as fruity as a New Zealand riesling (judging by the 2001 Main Divide Riesling tasted alongside) but rich and oily with a fantastically long ripe finish that has the concentration of raisins and perhaps even dates, with the juicy lift and lingering flavour of freshly squeezed orange juice. It also has that almost limey coconut tropical flavour that I really love in older rieslings.

And what is also so great about this riesling is that it is just 7.5% alcohol by volume.

In my calculation that is just 4.3 standard drinks per bottle (it was labelled in Germany so the number of standard drinks is not stated). For my weight, height and sex I can therefore drink a bottle of this wine in an hour and still not be over the upper limit in New Zealand - just - but I would be over in Australia (which has an upper level of 0.05% BAC). I would definitely be tipsy. But in reality I would have to be slugging it to drink the whole bottle in an hour.

A rule of thumb for legal drinking and driving is two standard drinks maximum in the first hour and then one standard drink per hour thereafter.

A standard drink of the Donata Reserve Riesling 1998 is about 180ml (just a bit less) and two standard drinks in the first hour would still have me under the youth fail level.

So this is the wine I'll be taking to parties if I am the nominated driver. And as a responsible host who is a wine drinker I'll be supplying low alcohol wine and beer for my guests who may be in the same mindset as I am. Fortunately low alcohol riesling is starting to become more popular with New Zealand producers although I haven't found any below 8.5% alcohol by volume yet. Look for Pegasus Bay, Main Divide, Melness, Felton Road and Esk Valley for starters. Another alternative is Asti, the light sweet bubbly from northern Italy, that is often around the 5% alcohol level.

Wine of the Week: Donata Reserve Riesling 1998 or for Riesling fanatics this is labelled on the back as "1998 Riesling , Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, Spätlese from Brauneberger Juffer-Sonnenuhr, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer AP Nr 2 576 280 326 99." The wine was bottled by Moselland eG Winzergenossenschaft, D54470 Bernkastel Kues and imported in New Zealand by Blyth Merchants of Levin.

Footnotes and website references

  • R U Pissed is an Australian website that explains the effects of alcohol consumption well. Enter your age, gender, height, weight, the length of time you have drinking and what you have been drinking into the Blood Alcohol Content Converter. Press 'calculate' and it will tell you how many grams of alcohol you have consumed and your Blood Alcohol Contentent percentage. Anything over 0.05% will indicate you are over the limit. Of course, if the page is out of focus you have a problem!
  • R U Pissed has other good resources, many presented with a sense of humour. Check out the 5 stages .....
  • Standard drink definitions may vary from country to country.
      Australia & New Zealand have 10 grams of alcohol per standard drink.
      Canada has 13.5 grams of alcohol per standard drink.
      The United Kingdom has 8 grams of alcohol per standard drink.

  • When you see any reports in the media talking simply about the effects of alcohol from consuming x glasses of wine of an unstated size - how much notice should you take? If you are still reading then take notice of the guidelines set out and remember that 2 'glasses' of the award winning Villa Maria Reserve Pinot Noir 2001 that has nigh on 15% alcohol by volume will affect you mighty differently than 2 'glasses' of the same size of Donata Reserve Riesling 1998.
  • In New Zealand last year (2001) 26% of the fatal road crashes were attributed to alcohol and over 80 per cent of drivers with excess blood alcohol levels involved in fatal crashes were male.

© Sue Courtney
1 December 2002

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