As I said in my last Bristol Wine Blog, we’ve just returned from a few days in Germany visiting the famous wine regions of the Rheingau and the Mosel. Of course, we sampled some of the local product which, in general, was made from Riesling. Not surprising given that almost 80% of the Rheingau and well over half of the Mosel vineyards are planted with that single variety.
Riesling has long had a poor reputation in the UK but that comes, in the main, from the bargain-basement German bottles which customers associate with Riesling but are usually some inferior variety such as Muller-Thurgau. So, set any preconceived views on one side; there are some real treasures to be discovered.
Riesling is a grape with naturally high acidity, a trait accentuated by being grown in relatively cool climates. To appreciate it at its best, the key is to find a wine where the acidity is balanced with just enough sweetness – I’m not talking about a dessert wine but one that just off-dry. The word to look for on the label is ‘Spätlese’. Made from grapes picked a little later than the usual harvest and therefore with a higher sugar content, these typically are allowed to reach between 8% and 10% alcohol before the fermentation is stopped. This leaves a few grams per litre of sugar to give that balance I mentioned earlier. Sadly, many of the wines we tasted are not available in the UK but Majestic have a good example: Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium’s Mosel Trittenheim Apotheke Spätlese (£9.99).
But, we didn’t just taste Riesling. We stayed in the village of Assmannshausen on the Rhine which is one of the few there specialising in red wines. They even hold a ‘Red Festival’ each year to celebrate, ending with a display of fireworks all in red. The grape they grow is known there as Spätburgunder, to the rest of us, it’s Pinot Noir. Not cheap and even more difficult to find in the UK than good Riesling, but if you see a bottle from there, it’s well worth trying.