Summer Riesling

Jon’s contribution to Cornwall Today this July focused on the often over-looked and little understood world of German Riesling – well worth getting to grips with this summer! 

It is July, so it must be time for riesling. Well, the German wine marketing people think so since they are promoting the month as the “31 days of German riesling”. Why should you care about this? Because there are indeed some great rieslings to try and because this is a sorely under-represented grape in the UK.

Some basics first. Pronunciation is “reese-ling”, not “r-eye-sling”. Second, these are not always sweet wines. There is a common misapprehension in the UK that riesling is sweet. Certainly they can be, many are completely dry, others live in the glorious off-dry hinterland.

What riesling is really all about though is purity of fruit. These are wines where the winemaker does everything possible to keep fresh, fruity, flavours intact. The grapes will be carefully picked, kept away from warmth and oxygen and fermented in super-clean conditions. Nothing is oaked and the wines are bottled young. Everything is done to preserve their pristine fruit.

Another key feature of riesling should be a delicious, mouth tinglingly, fresh acidity. This is the real driving force behind a good riesling – these high levels of acidity that keep the wine tasting crisp from first sip to last. It also means that these are wines that can age.

Fully dry riesling can be incredible with salad, or sushi, or antipasti and salami. In the off dry form it is perfect with spicy Asian dishes. The wonderful acidity makes riesling a great pairing for any sort of fatty food. Off dry ones work superbly with cheese, often much better than red wine in fact.

Germany does indeed make some the world’s finest examples. Although there are also superb wines to be had from Austria, Australia and New Zealand, in deference to the 31 days idea, I am going to suggest a few German regions to try.

Mosel. The lightest and crispest style of all. These will have low alcohol, and real delicacy, but a good one will still have tremendous fruit and that high tensile acidity to keep things moving along.

Rheingau. Expect a little more body weight and richness here, fruit flavours may be more towards stone fruit and less citrus. Possibly a higher price too as there are some famous vineyard names in this area.

Pfalz. Further South and warmer these will be richer and riper still, with more weight and riper fruit again. These can be great value wines and there are some great off-dry examples too.

It is worth pointing out that riesling labeling is something of a minefield. For some unknown reason most European bottles omit to tell you the most vital piece of information – whether it is dry or sweet. Also, German wine labeling is an absolute nightmare. It is a subject of stress and worry for anyone who has ever taken a wine exam, let alone someone just looking for a bottle. So, as usual, the solution is to ask your local merchant to advise.

So, one to look out for this month would be Blue Slate Riesling from Dr Loosen in the Mosel. It is around £12 a bottle and at only 8% alcohol is a perfect balance of fruit and acidity. It is off dry and absolutely delicious.