I remember my delight when, during one of the blind exam tastings for the WSET Diploma a few years ago, I was faced with three wines sharing a common grape variety. The very first whiff told me I was dealing with Riesling. The task was to work out where each of the three wines came from. Fortunately they were textbook examples and I recognised the bone-dry Australian Riesling with its trademark high acidity and that typical lime-like and characteristic petrolly smell. The richer and rounder Alsace Riesling stood out for its remarkable balance and finally there was the lighter, peachy sweetness from a Mosel Riesling, which was balanced with a lively, lemony freshness on the palate, owing to the ever-present acidity in the wine as well as a little bit of a sparkle.
It’s that Mosel style I absolutely love but I’m acutely aware of the association this has in many people’s minds. Sweet German Riesling equals Liebfraumilch I seem to hear all to often. Let’s put that one to rest. Although Riesling is allowed in the blend for Liebfraumilch, in practice this is much more likely to be dominated by a grape like Müller-Thurgau, which has nowhere near the nobility of Riesling. Frankly, most Liebfraumilch is not much more than sugary water, made from overcropped vines on the flat lands, quantity over quality. Compare that to the steep, slate-covered slopes facing the Mosel river, where Riesling finds its characterful side.
German Riesling comes in a multitude of different styles and these days the dry Rieslings (look out for ‘Trocken’ on the label) are increasingly popular. One thing that can provide a key is the level of alcohol. If it’s around 12% you’re more than likely dealing with a dry version, below 9% and it’s almost certainly sweeter. Invariably I try to convince people of the merits of German Riesling, with mixed success, but I was absolutely delighted with the reaction when I presented a sweeter style from the Mosel with a chicken and mushroom paté starter served with toasted brioche at the Wine Unearthed workshop in Edinburgh this weekend. I don’t know if it was the wine itself, the combination that worked so well, or if the tasters just had an open mind. The wine, Dr Loosen ‘Blue Slate” Riesling from the Mosel (around £11, Bibendum), is from one of the top producers in the region, which clearly helped. The name refers to the steep blue slate slopes the grapes were grown on. Quite a sweet style, but its fruity freshness and zippy character worked beautifully with that paté as well as the sweetness of the toasted brioche. Combine with that the gentle 8% alcohol level and it made for a perfect lunchtime wine.
I’m sure I won’t be able to convince everyone of its merits but you should really make time in your wine calendar for this amazing grape. It might just pleasantly surprise you.