If riesling seems to becoming more popular lately and people requesting less oaky fresher styles of wine, so why are the wines from the riesling heartland – Germany – still struggling for sales?
Maybe it’s the connotations of the seventies; flared trousers, bad haircuts and dinner parties have kept us away from these wines. At this time, mass produced cheap, one dimensional wines paid for a lot of new Mercedes but did irreparable damage to the German reputation for quality (ironically most of the Liebfraumilch produced was made by the müller-thurgau and not the riesling grape – but its image was forever tarnished)
These wine growing regions are located about 50° north of the equator – close to the northern limit of grape growing possibility – here the wine makers can struggle for ripeness in the cold conditions. In some cases grape growing conditions are improved by grand rivers such as the Rhine and the Mosel. These large masses of moving water draw the frosty weather away and temper the climate in the large rivers valleys. Sunlight is reflected from the waters surface and the sloping sides help warm the grapes. Grape growers cling to these steep slopes risking life and limb to harvest their crops. It is in these adverse conditions that only the most conscientious and devoted winemakers that would even attempt to prove their worth.
The heart sinks when I see customers turn up their noses at a glass of this wine – but I do understand why – it is to do with sweetness. But on this issue hangs the most common misconception; yes the wines can taste sweet but not unbalanced, not sweet like fizzy children’s drinks, a sweetness that is backed up with acidity. It is acidity that adds freshness and vibrancy to wine. German Rieslings – due to the cool climate – have plenty of acid. The key word is balance. These wines walk a tightrope between sugar and acidity, between delicacy and power, between finesse and flavour – they are the ballerinas of the wine world, combining great depth and power with incredible grace and elegance.
Generally the wines are low in alcohol (7-11%) and off dry (labelled kabinett or spätlese ) to sweet (auslese, trockenbeerenauslese or eiswein). Bone dry ‘trocken’ wines are quite common although do have higher alcohol levels. In youth they present aromas of apples, pears, stone fruits, yellow plums, lemons and limes – with mineral and slate-like undertones. In age they can show kerosene or petroleum hints, dried fruits and quince.
Try with these wines fatty poultry like goose or duck, salted meats and charcuterie, scallops and shellfish with cream sauces or exotic spices and flavours. Mild blue cheese off-sets the sweet fruit well, as does cold foie gras or pâté. It is the most excellent aperitif to serve with salted nuts or pretzels (anything salty) with its low alcohol level being beneficial here too at the start of a long evening.
But how do you find the best wines? It is still not easy – due to confusing labelling laws, long complex German wording and unreadable gothic scripts they are still an enigma to many people. Names to watch out for include Prüm, Egon Müller, Donnhöff, Kesselstat, Thanisch, Bassermann-Jordan. Maybe the best indication is price – as with any product – too cheap means poor quality, but anything above the £10.00 mark will begin to reveal good wines of complexity and character.
I will continue to persevere with my customers, to see peoples perceptions changing with one sip of these delicious wines is a very rewarding sight; as long as the Germans keep scoring goals of a vinous nature we should all be supporting their team.