FIONA SIMS - columnist

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Wine, Germany

With a run of good vintages and some very affordable offerings, there's never been a better time to put Riesling on your wine list

Time to let Riesling shine

As the lights went out on another World Cup, I started thinking about the host nation's contribution on the wine front. Now I've banged the drum for German wine once before on these pages, and I'm going to do it again - but with a bit more focus. Namely, Riesling.

If you didn't already know it, most serious German wine is made from Riesling. And no, Liebfraumilch, Bereich Nerstein et al are not made with Riesling (or rarely anyway - nor are they serious).

The real McCoy is a wonderful thing - a complex medley of flavours ranging from peach, apple, honey and apricots to a whiff of smoke, a waft of petrol, a touch of spice, a streak of lime and a dollop of minerals.

Sounding tasty? Well, they are - some of the most exciting whites in the world, in fact. Ask any wine buff. The thing is, you generally have to spend a bit - and wait a bit - to drink the good stuff. So what about the cheaper German Rieslings on the market?

Well, Wines of Germany has been rather active of late with a series of tastings that show off just what the country can do. It got together some samples costing from £4.49 to £7.95 (ex-VAT) and most were good - not fireworks-good, but very drinkable with decent fruit and a dryness that should appeal. But more to the point, they make great pub gluggers; those with a tad more residual sugar were perfect for knocking back without food, while the drier styles had enough weight and fruit to cope with more than just the pub pie.

Riesling's all about balance

At its best, Riesling is all about balance - the subtle interplay of sweetness, fruit, acidity and alcohol. And you can really taste where it comes from - it responds well to the delicate nuances of soil and microclimate. But its big thing, other than its upfront fruitiness, is a racy acidity that makes the nerve ends tingle and produces the kind of longevity that we all crave - we're talking a century or more for very sweet styles.

Germany has a whopping 20,627 hectares of Riesling territory - which is 60% of the entire world's Riesling. No one quite knows when it first made an appearance in Germany, but there was mention of it in a German document in the Middle Ages. The Riesling capital is the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, while the Rheingau boasts the highest Riesling density on the globe (about 80% of the region is planted with Riesling).

Why does this grape do so well here? It thrives in a cool climate. The variety flowers and ripens late, but resists frosts well and has been known to survive temperatures as low as -25°C. It can also deliver pretty high yields without losing too much intensity. That said, the top producers aim for much lower yields so that they can produce

wines of balance and structure that will stay

the course.

But I hear you - you've had a lovely bottle of Riesling from Australia, which is a tad warmer, isn't it? It's true, Riesling does well here, too - the Clare Valley, particularly. But these are fuller, toastier, and limier, and are seldom as long-lived as those from Germany.

A run of excellent vintages

And if you have never looked beyond Liebfraumilch, now is the time - Germany has had a run of excellent vintages. The most recent - 2005 - was a cracker, with warm weather and acidity levels a tad fresher than in 2004, which was itself deemed a classic year. Both 2002 and 2001 were declared real corkers, with only 2003 suffering a mite for being too ripe from the unusually warm vintage.

So what to drink? My top mark went to 2004 Blue Slate Riesling from Dr Loosen in the Mosel, at £6.50 ex-VAT (from Bibendum 0207 449 4100); also good was 2004 Basserman Jordan Estate Dry Riesling from the Pflaz, at £6.99 (The Wine Barn, 01256 391211), with similar marks awarded to the 2004 Dry Riesling from Dr Burkin-Wolf, at £5.58 ex-VAT (Laytons 0207 288 8888).

If you want something with a bit more sweetness, try these Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Rieslings from Nick Dobson Wines (0800 8493078); 2003 Bernkastel-Küser Kardinalsberg Riesling Spätlese Trocken from Weingut Anton Zimmerman, and the 2004 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Kabinett Trocken from Weingut Philipps-Eckstein, both £5.71.

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