If I had £1 for every time I read that the riesling revival was just around the corner, I'd be laughing. And if I were a rich man, I'd fill my cellar with 2009 German riesling. In fact, compared to extravagantly priced 2009 Bordeaux, current offers of 2009 German riesling look positively cheap. Places such as Alsace, Austria, Australia and New Zealand are spearheading the current riesling revival.
But this wine has had its personality problems. Often mistaken for the lesser rieslings of central Europe, it's been derided and debased. Dismissed as a bland, sweet wine, it's been much misunderstood. Baptised a German, it's missed out on French kudos. Appended to incomprehensible names on unfashionable labels, it's been ignored. As an aromatic grape with no oak and a thrilling streak of acidity, too much character does not a popular grape make (look at pinot grigio if you don't believe me).
Character, purity, freshness, moderate alcohol and a sense of place: these are what good riesling stands for.
Where it scores handsomely over chardonnay is in its versatility; it has the capacity to be both deliciously dry and sweet. Germany has re-discovered dry riesling and even if we in the UK haven't yet fully cottoned on to the style, there are some excellent 2009 rieslings around. Notable among them, try Georg Mosbacher's intense, mineral 2009 Pechstein Forst Grosses Gewächs, £17 per bottle/£102 for a 6-bottle case, in bond, Howard Ripley (020-8877 3065). Alsace produces some of the world's finest dry rieslings, Trimbach in particular, as the rich, yet restrained 2008 Trimbach Riesling, £9.99, Majestic, illustrates.
Austria too, alongside its grüner veltliner, makes superb dry riesling; one of the best is the pure, complex 2008 Prager Kaiserberg Riesling Smaragd, £25.99, waitrosewine.com – floral, fresh and full of grapefruit-like zest. As for Australia, it's a byword for riesling value with such wines as the 2008 Peter Lehmann Eden Valley Riesling, £8.69, buy 2 = £6.95, Majestic: typical cool climate, citrus-crisp Eden Valley riesling at an atypically affordable price.
Dry is good, but it's riesling's ability to produce thrilling sweet wines varying from off-dry to lusciously rich that sets it apart. This is where Germany excels, with voluptuously off-dry beauties such as the delicately grapefruity 2007 Hattenheimer Pfaffenberg Riesling Spätlese, Schloss Schönborn, £14.99, Corney & Barrow (corneyand barrow.com), or the intensely aromatic and peachy 2008 Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck Riesling Spätlese, £19, Marks & Spencer, whose refreshing spritz and featherweight alcohol act as a counterweight to the honeyed richness.
New Zealand has started to get in on the sweet riesling act with marvels such as the 2006 Forrest Collection Noble Riesling, Brancott Valley, Marlborough, £19.99, half bottle, Adnams Cellar and Kitchen Stores (adnams.co.uk), a scented liquid pudding with a fusion of apricot jam viscosity and crystallised citrus fruits. Which brings me back to the 2009 offers from Germany. Try the gorgeous spätlese rieslings of Fritz Haag, von Schubert, Dr Loosen, Dönnhoff, Willi Schaefer, Robert Weil and many more and you will not be disappointed. Offers (in bond, delivery next spring) of the 2009 German vintage from Justerini & Brooks (020-7484 6400), Howard Ripley and OW Loeb (020-7234 0385)