GRAPEVINE

Mature German Reisling
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The Independent Culture
"Will be great," said the faded note at the bottom of our tasting- notes cupboard, "tremendous, honeyed concentration and very good acid." Luckily, while I was soberly taking A-levels in June 1973, my husband was already a budding wine buff. And he bought three dozen of that "will be great" Saar Valley wine (1971 Wiltinger Kupp Auslese, Bischofliches Priesterseminar) for pounds 2.75 a bottle (we had just gone decimal).

Nineteen, 20, 21 years later, we used to raid the last of the Wiltinger Kupp boxes to match our au-pairs' birthdays. Now the wine is a little older than the average au-pair, but the last few bottles are still delicious, with the honeyed, petrolly, toasty character that good mature Riesling can develop, while still preserving the original appley fruit and crisp acidity.

Good German Rieslings are amongst the longest-lived white wines in the world. There are not many white wines that improve with age, but fine German Riesling tastes positively better after five to 10 years - and often lasts much longer. Elsewhere in the world, the white wines that can cross decades tend to be the finest of the very sweet whites, but the Wiltinger Kupp Auslese was and is only gently sweet. It's to a large extent the high acidity of German Riesling that preserves it. Good Riesling from elsewhere ages well, but turns up its toes years before fine German Riesling, especially ones from Germany's cooler Mosel, Saar and Ruwer valleys, and the best of the Rheingau section of the River Rhine.

You don't have to marry a mature German wine buff to drink mature German Riesling. 20-year-old Rieslings may be hard to buy nowadays except at auction (Christie's at South Kensington might still yield Auslesen from the wonderful 1971 vintage at pounds 80 to pounds 100 a case). But you can often sniff out 10-year-olds for very reasonable prices. The Germans themselves tend to drink their Rieslings younger, and, nowadays, drier than the traditional styles. "You can pick up small parcels of wonderful wine at very competitive prices - they need to sell it," enthuses Jeremy Palmer, German wine buyer for Majestic Wine Warehouses. And "small parcels" are quite enough, because demand in Britain is undeservingly tiny for these perfect aperitifs with their positive but light flavours and low alcohol (typically only 7.5 to 10 per cent, compared with 11.5 and up for most white wines).

Majestic is regularly a good source: their new 1985 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese, Dr Loosen (pounds 8.99 Majestic) is mature but still lively, with lovely, complex, toasty, lemony flavours and gentle sweetness. The slightly drier 1987 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett, Dr Loosen (pounds 6.49 Majestic) is also mouth-wateringly mature and complex, a real bargain. The lovely 1984 Erdener Treppchen Riesling QbA, Monchhof (pounds 4.99 Waitrose Direct by the case only, freephone 0800 413331) is an exceptional snip, perfect now, not for much longer keeping.

Or to buy now and drink later, try the 1994 Niersteiner Pettental Riesling Auslese, Graf von Metternich (pounds 6.99 Asda), too young yet to taste at its best, but rich, toasty, not too sweet, with plenty of time ahead of it. And it would be worth splashing out on the stunning 1989 Scharzhofberger Riesling Auslese, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt (pounds 13.50 The Wine Society, mail order 01438 741177), also too young, but ripe, honeyed, characterful.

My other current favourites could be drunk now, or kept. Driest, but with a clear touch of sweetness is the scrumptiously rich, creamy, lemony 1994 Forster Pechstein Riesling Kabinett, Reichsrat von Buhl (pounds 7.49 until August 14, then pounds 8.49 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up). The sweeter, very special, wonderful value 1989 Mulheimer Helenenkloster Riesling Spatlese, Max Ferdinand Richter (pounds 7.49 Majestic) is still zingily young and lemony with an added dimension of toasty, honey flavours. The 1992 Durkheimer Nonnengarten Riesling Spatlese, Vollmer (pounds 5.49 until August 14, then pounds 6.49 Thresher, Wine Rack and Bottoms Up) is nearly as good, slightly sweeter again with concentrated honey and apricot flavours. And sweeter again but not too sweet and still a lovely aperitif wine, the new 1989 Oberemmeler Rosenberg Riesling Auslese, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt (pounds 9.99 Majestic) has stunning apple, honey and flower flavours.

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