The first wine I brought back from holiday was German. I had been visiting the Black Forest with a school friend and his family had served a nice Bavarian meal with a good wine – a novelty for me at the time. So I thought I would treat my family back home to the best of the local wine I could afford. Being an impoverished student at the time this didn’t amount to much but I was proud of the fact that my two bottles would knock the socks off my captive English audience! They were an Auslese from Nahe and my prize offering Niersteiner Gutes Domtal, both made from the Riesling grape (mostly).
Quality of wine wasn’t an issue in those days, novelty was enough. Latterly, German wines such as Liebfraumilch acquired a dubious reputation for being over-produced ‘sugar water’ with a resulting taste at the vanishing point; the dry or ‘trocken’ style hadn’t really arrived. A century before, quality was definitely an issue; in the face of French wines, Queen Victoria’s preference appears to have been a Hock. This was a light white wine from Germany and short for Hochheim a famous wine producing town in Hesse where the finest German Rieslings were raised. (You can still buy Hock today but it has come to mean something else of lower quality.) Ever since the Georgian ascendency, Riesling wine has been valued by the upper echelons of British society and to this day the best examples are almost revered by those ‘in the know’ – but, for the curious drinker in search of quality at a price, availability is a problem.
The Riesling grape is well known for reflecting its own ‘terroir’ or sense of place; it is highly expressive of variations of location and climate. Their wood is strong and resistant to extremes of temperature too. The coldest conditions produce the lusciously sweet ice wines of Canada and the similarly raised eisweins of the Rhineland region. Warm conditions in Australia produce heady and racy Claire Valley Rieslings. The intermediate climates of Austria, French Alsace, Chile and North America, all bring out different styles however all Rieslings are known to keep a distinctly Riesling personality and the fashion is to make the wines dry.
My choices are three wines, two from Europe and one from Australia. Again Covid-19 has prevented a serious tasting so these notes are borrowed with my kind acknowledgement. Firstly Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett from Waitrose at £15.99, gives the full German take on their signature grape – ‘a luminous yet zesty kabinett. … delightfully sweet and tart, boasting layers of pristine grapefruit and tangerine flavours catapulted by lime acidity’ according to Anna Lee Iijima of Wine Enthusiast magazine. (The sweetness she found is likely a sensation not an actual fact.) Next one up is a visit to South Australia and my choice here is O’Leary Walker Polish Hill, Clare Valley from Waitrose at £12.99 – ‘intense grapefruit and citrus flavours again but coupled with a long mineral finish’, the mineral bit is a nice way of describing a chalky mouth-feel and fresh aroma of a babbling brook over stones. Finally back to Europe and pushing the boat out a bit while still keeping to the dry ‘trocken’ style, my choice is Cave de Turckheim Grand Cru Brand Riesling and the 2017 vintage at £17.99 per bottle from Kwoff on-line ( www.kwoff.co.uk ) or from their Bury shop (8 Silver St, Bury BL9 0EX); it gets top points from Wine Enthusiast magazine with its ‘stony depth and hints of passion fruit to the concentrated, vivid body’, pure sensuousness from Anne Krebiehl MW, a lady who knows her German wines a lot better than I did back then in my ‘Black Forest’ days!
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