Chatting to Gerd Stepp, the man behind M&S's refreshingly tasty dry riesling, Mineralstein, I was reminded that most of the quality German riesling in the major wine-producing regions of Rheinhessen, Rheinpfalz, Baden and Franconia is now dry. It's roughly half and half in the Rheingau. Only in the Mosel is sweet riesling still prevalent because, exceptionally in this picturesque, northerly region, ripeness at low sugar levels conspires to make sweet wines with moderate alcohol. A far cry from the liebfraumilch types, which, thanks to the liberal addition of sweet concentrate to help the medicine go down, have for so long tainted German wine with a reputation for dullness.
Four in every five wines Peter Jakob Kühn makes in the Rheingau are dry where half his wines were sweet 15 years ago. "Younger people wanted drier styles with food. There's been a marked change," says Kühn. The switch to dry was all very well, but the problem was that dry was just too dry for most palates. Riesling is naturally high in acidity and acidity can be demanding. One solution was to set the bar for the level of natural grape sugar remaining in the wine to nine grams per litre. Thus, a wine like Künstler's Hochheimer Hölle Riesling Kabinett Trocken, £14.99, Waitrose, is not just intensely aromatic but fruity and dry at the same time.
"Better vintages and ripeness have made it easier for us to go dry," says Hans Lang, who explains that the Rheingau has changed from 90 per cent sweet till the late 1970s to 70 per cent dry today. The result is that today's dry German rieslings are richer and juicier with none of the battery acid of yesteryear, and, whisper it quietly, a yet-to-be-discovered treat for consumers. "Acidity makes riesling lively," says Lang. "Tasting it and drinking it can be an acquired taste, but once you've acquired it, there's no going back." Hans Lang's 2009 Rheingau Riesling Kabinett Trocken, £9.49-£10.99, laithwaites.co.uk, virginwines.com, is a new-style German dry riesling, a summer sipper on its own yet refreshing enough for mild chicken curry.
In the warmer Rheinhessen, Wittmann is one of many producers who switched from sweet to almost entirely dry in the early 1980s. The 2009 Wittmann Westhofener Riesling Trocken, £19.79 bottle/case, The Wine Barn (01256 391211), is a magnificent, smoky dry organic white cut by a crisp pink grapefruit zestiness. From Jochen Dreissigacker, one of the region's up-and-coming young producers, the 2009 Dreissigacker Riesling, £11.61-£13.95, The Sampler (020-7225 5091), The Secret Cellar (01892 537 981), Valvona & Crolla (0131 556 6066) is a fine bio-dynamic dry riesling, delicately floral and rich in appley fruit with a lively freshness. Equally, Stefan Winter's 2010 Winter Estate Riesling Dry, £10.20 bottle/case, The Wine Barn, displays a mouthwateringly spritz-fresh palate of greengage plum and limey intensity.
The Rheinpfalz follows a similar pattern with the help of its naturally warmer climate. Dr Bürklin-Wolf's 2008 Riesling Trocken, Ruppertsberg, £14.75, Jeroboams shops, is aromatic with a vibrant fruitiness, a well-crafted medium-bodied dry white from one of the region's top producers. For Germany's answer to a grand cru, the 2009 Reichsrat Von Buhl Pechstein Forst Riesling Grosses Gewächs, £25-£29.99, Laithwaites, Avery's, is a fine dry German white, smoky and richly textured. Eins, zwei, dry...Reuse content