Christine Austin slurps her way through top wines from Germany in the hunt for best Rieslings

One of the best tastings I have been to is held each year in the delightful spa town of Wiesbaden in Germany. It is the VDP tasting when top wines from all the wine regions are presented in a format that only the Germans could manage. In a vast, air-conditioned room we sit, as if in an examination, with a range of glasses in front of us. There is a comprehensive book showing all the flights of wines available and a quick wave to the extremely attentive pourers brings them to your table, briskly, but silently. You indicate which flight of wines you want to try next and they arrive almost immediately, are poured into your glasses and you taste. The whole room of over 100 people is silent during this process. Apart from the slurping and spitting noises that generally accompany a tasting, there is only the sound of the clickety keys of dozens of computers as wines are tasted, assessed and marked.

 

Silence in the tasting room

This whole process continues for two days, allowing tasters to experience over 400 top-class German wines.

What astonished me most about this tasting was the sheer quality of the wines. Vibrant, concentrated, linear and precise, these were wines that lifted the spirits, not just the taste buds. There are flavours that shift across the spectrum of citrus, floral and mineral, backed by freshness and acidity that underpin the wines and demonstrate that these are here for the long haul.

Compared with some of the offerings from Germany that languish on the bottom shelves of supermarkets they could have been from another planet.

VDP stands for Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter – roughly translated that means the Association of German Quality Wine Estates – and because that is such a mouthful, VDP is used universally for these wines. All these wines bear a symbol on the capsule of an eagle with a bunch of grapes on its chest.

There are around 200 members of the VDP, all of them the top estates and they have a set of rules and classifications for their wines. Essentially they are trying to turn the clock back to the time before the German Wine Law of 1971 came into existence. That law decided that ripeness and sugar were the only factors in determining quality, while VDP is definitely terroir and vineyard driven. VDP only allows estates with vineyards and cellars to join and members must obey many quality-boosting regulations about yields and grape varieties. In short VDP is a way of navigating all the difficult words and designations on labels to find some of the best German wines on the shelves.

They have also graded certain vineyards belonging to their members. The top level is Grosse Lage, equivalent to Grand Cru. Next is Erste Lage (Premier Cru), with Ortswein and Gutswein making up the rest. The ones that really matter when selecting top wines are Grosse Lage and Erste Lage. Most of these selected vineyards are on perilously steep slopes and are difficult to work, but they produce the best wines.

And while German wine has been distinctive for its sweetness in recent years, many of the wines from top vineyard sites are dry. These are labelled as Grosse Gewächs and recent vintages come in a bottle with GG embossed on the shoulder.

The wines that impressed me most were the dry Rieslings and it is at this point I fear that I shall lose half my readers. What is it about this glorious, lively, minerally grape that just puts drinkers off? Admittedly it won’t really go with a steak or pork ribs, but it does line up perfectly with fish and shellfish, salads, spiced foods and creamy dishes. It is the ideal wine in summer weather, and today marks the start of 31 days of Riesling, a worldwide celebration of this neglected grape.

Glorious, lively, minerally Riesling grapes

So if you and Riesling have become strangers then this month is the time you should make an effort to go and try some of the best Rieslings in the world. Look for VDP and GG and ignore all the complicated names until you have pulled the cork and tasted it. Then you can try to get your head around exactly which bit of which region it comes from. Dive in and try a Riesling. You may be surprised by the quality.

Here are some to start with:-

Künstler Hölle Riesling Trocken Rheingau, 2014 Ocado £16.99

Delicate light floral, peachy nose with fresh, juicy, stone fruit on the palate, balanced by lime freshness and a salty tang.

Dönnhoff Roxheimer Höllenpfad Riesling Trocken 2015, Nahe, Harrogate Wines £28.99

From the fabulous 2015 vintage when conditions were perfect, this has pure citrus fruit on the nose, broadening out to yellow plums and a hint of herbs. Lively acidity leaves the palate fresh and clean.

Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck Riesling Trocken GG, 2012, Ake and Humphris £29.75

From a parcel on the steep slopes of the Rheingau, this is perfectly precise Riesling, it starts with some floral notes, then is backed by glorious freshness and minerally acidity. Now with a few years of age it is opening up and developing complexity. This deserves some serious fish, maybe grilled turbot alongside.

Dönnhof Schlossbockelheimer Felsenberg Felsentürm Riesling Trocken GG 2015, Halifax Wine Co. £37

Astonishingly good Riesling from the Nahe. Fresh, lightly floral with pure, intense minerality and brilliant linear acidity. Wonderful now, but this wine is built to age. Don’t expect it to go into kerosene and dusty petrol stations, this one will just get deeper, bigger and even more beautiful.

 

If these wines are just too expensive to start your new relationship with Riesling then try some of the new wave of dry Rieslings that are appearing on the shelves.

Peter and Ulrich Dry Riesling 2015, Mosel, Majestic £10.99

A perfect introduction to the grape, with crisp apple and ripe peachy notes and citrus on the finish.

 

Ernst Loosen in his vineyards

Naked Grape Riesling 2015, Loosen, Field and Fawcett £8.85

Just slightly off dry to make it family-friendly, this is full of juicy, refreshing lemon and elderflower notes with just a suggestion of green herbs. Chill it down and serve with nibbles of food and sunshine. This is an ideal way to start your summer of Riesling.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

About The Author

Christine Austin

Christine is a wine writer, broadcaster and a wine judge for several international wine competitions. She has a technical background and spent five years as a buyer for a major supermarket before moving to wine writing.She writes for The Yorkshire Post Magazine and organises the York Festival of Food and Drink. She has won both the Lanson and the Roederer prizes for wine writing.

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