FOOD & DRINK / The secret joys of riesling: Rizling may be gunk but the real thing is delicious, says Kathryn McWhirter

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The Independent Culture
THE Victorians prized it and paid more for it than for Chateau Lafite or Montrachet. To the British wine drinker of today, its name is mud. Riesling is down and out - and deeply misunderstood. I would argue that riesling is the finest white wine grape in the world, and I'm confident that many wine merchants and wine writers would say the same. There are crisp, flavourful, dry ones; lusciously sweet ones; and fine medium ones which the most discerning dinner-party guests will guzzle.

I asked my neighbour what she thought of riesling. 'Sweetish gunk,' she replied. What many people don't know is that the 'gunk' that goes by the name of riesling is not real riesling. Laski rizling is quite unrelated to the fine Rhine riesling (the latter is what you will almost always get if the label says just 'riesling'). Bland and medium-sweet Lutomer Laski Rizling is, amazingly, Britain's best-selling individual white wine. The simple, at best vaguely flowery Laski riesling grape produces some of the cheapest 'medium' wine on the market. It may go by various names - Pecs rizling in Hungary, Banat riesling in Romania, riesling Italico in Italy, for example - but it's the same old Laski.

The USA and South Africa have another set of false rieslings. Australia's Hunter riesling is really semillon, but there 'riesling' is used for any 'medium white wine'. If what's in the bottle is true riesling (all these places do grow a little) the label will usually say plain 'riesling', 'Johannisberg riesling,', 'White riesling' or 'Rhine riesling' (the last in interpretable spellings such as riesling Renano or Rajinski rizling). The finest come from Germany, Alsace, Australia and the USA. Latest newcomer is New Zealand.

Germany, source of the riesling beloved of Victorians, still produces many of the finest. I love the traditional, slightly sweet style of good German Riesling Kabinett, steely-crisp, elegantly flowery, mineraly and honeyed, with alcohol often as low as 7 per cent.

Dry riesling is much more consistently successful in the warmer climates of Australia and Alsace. The Australian Wine Centre (The Strand, London WC2) will have a special promotion of rieslings next month.

DRY AUSTRALIAN RIESLINGS

Dry, intensely flavoured, limey, crisp and very fruity; excellent with food.

****1990 Henschke Dry Riesling, Eden Valley, Australia ( pounds 7.49 Australian Wine Centre, London WC2, pounds 7.15 Lay & Wheeler, Colchester)

***1991 Mitchells Watervale Rhine Riesling ( pounds 5.99 Australian Wine Centre, pounds 6.70 Lay & Wheeler)

**1991 Scotchman's Hill Riesling Goolong ( pounds 8.95 Justerini & Brooks, London SW1 and Edinburgh)

**1992 Pikes Clare Valley Riesling ( pounds 7.83 Haughton Fine Wines of Chorley nr Nantwich, Cheshire)

**1991 Pewsey Vale Eden Valley Rhine Riesling ( pounds 5.95 Les Amis du Vin, London W1 and - mail order - NW10, pounds 5.95 The Winery, London W9, pounds 5.99 Australian Wine Centre)

*1992 Wynns Coonawarra Riesling ( pounds 3.99 Thresher Wine Shops, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up)

*Hardy's ( pounds 3.99 Victoria Wine)

DRY NEW ZEALAND RIESLINGS

Lighter than the Australians, but very ripely fruity, appley, elegant and crisp.

**1991 Hunter's Marlborough Riesling ( pounds 7.50 A H Wines, West Camel nr Yeovil, Somerset, pounds 8.11 French Connection, Caerleon nr Newport, Gwent)

**1991 Shingle Peak Marlborough Rhine Riesling ( pounds 4.69 Victoria Wine)

**1991 de Redcliffe Marlborough Rhine Riesling ( pounds 5.61 or buy six, get one free, Rodney Densem Wines, Nantwich, pounds 56 a case Francis Stickney Wines, London NW3, pounds 5.99 Connolly's, Birmingham)

DRY ALSACE RIESLINGS

Dry and full like the Australians and New Zealanders, less vibrantly fruity, more minerally.

****1990 Zind Humbrecht Herrenweg Turckheim Riesling ( pounds 11.69 Wine Rack)

**1990 Riesling Herrenweg Cuvee Speciale, Charles Schleret ( pounds 9.12 Lay & Wheeler of Colchester)

**1990 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Riesling ( pounds 9.39 Wine Rack)

**1988 Hugel Riesling, Cuvee Tradition ( pounds 9.92 O W Loeb of London SE1)

**1988 Riesling, Le Concert des Anges, Cuvee d'Unterlinden, Ville de Colmar ( pounds 5.99 Majestic)

DRY GERMAN AND AUSTRIAN RIESLINGS

Dry German rieslings can taste thin and austere - this is a rich, spicy-tangy exception. The Austrian also excelled in an unexciting collection.

***1989 Lingenfelder Spatlese Trocken, Freinsheimer Goldberg, Germany ( pounds 9.85 Adnams of Southwold, pounds 11 Harcourt Fine Wine, London W1, pounds 12 Fortnum & Mason)

**1991 Riesling Cabinett Trocken, Anton Wober, Austria ( pounds 6.11 Penistone Court Wine Cellars of Penistone nr Sheffield, by the case only)

MEDIUM-DRY GERMAN RIESLINGS

Fine, off-dry wines with complex fruit, flowers and honey flavour, lively acidity and fashionably lowish alcohol. They also make delicious aperitifs.

***1983 Serriger Heiligenborn Riesling Spatlese, S W Trier ( pounds 6.39 Victoria Wine)

***1988 Wachenheimer Rechbachel Riesling Kabinett, Burkin-Wolf ( pounds 5.99 Asda)

***1983 Oestricher Doosberg Riesling Kabinett, Schloss Schonborn ( pounds 5.79 Gateway and Somerfield)

***1985 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett, Wwe Dr Thanisch ( pounds 6.99 Fullers)

**1986 Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett, St Johannishof ( pounds 4.99 Thresher Wine Shops, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up)

**1988 Ruppertsberger Nussbien Riesling Kabinett, Rheinpfalz ( pounds 3.69 Safeway)

*Sainsbury's Riesling, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer ( pounds 4.45).

SWEETER GERMAN RIESLINGS

Not quite sweet enough for puddings, these are aperitif wines again, similar in styles but sweeter and more intense.

***1989 Binger Scharlachberg Riesling Spatlese, Villa Sachsen ( pounds 6.99 Safeway).

***1990 Kaseler Nies'chen Riesling Spatlese, von Kesselstatt ( pounds 7.92 O W Loeb of London SEl)

***1989 Geisenheimer Schlossgarten Riesling Spatlese, Schloss Schonborn ( pounds 7.60 Justerini & Brooks of London SW1 and Edinburgh)

***1983 Oberemmeler Karlsberg Riesling Auslese, von Kesselstatt ( pounds 8.79 Gateway and Somerfield)

**1986 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spatlese, Monchhof ( pounds 5.95 Waitrose)

All the individual wine merchants listed will supply wines by mail order

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