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Food and Drink: NZ rieslings: a home away from home

IT IS only a matter of three or four years since upstarts from the New World stormed the parapets of sancerre and pouilly-fume, practically reinventing sauvignon blanc in the process, writes Simon Cunliffe. In the vanguard were the wines of Marlborough in the South Island of New Zealand. Now, from Nelson, the province next door, and Canterbury just to the south, come examples of perhaps the next classic varietal to undergo the treatment - riesling (and here we are definitely not talking liebfraumilch).

Hermann Seifried, an Austrian who studied wine technology in Germany, with his New Zealand wife Agnes, established the Seifried Estate in the Moutere Valley near Nelson in 1973. Naturally enough, and in addition to the chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and cabernet sauvignon standards, riesling has become a strong presence in the Seifried repertoire. 'It's not so fashionable, but the conditions here are ideal for riesling and it makes an excellent wine - full of aromatic floral tones and fresh lingering acid,' says Mr Seifried.

The Giesen brothers, Theo, Alex and Marcel, originally from Neustadt, near Pfalz in Germany, are contributing to the New Zealand riesling push from their estate on the outskirts of Christchurch. 'Riesling has suffered badly from a marketing problem,' says Theo Giesen, reluctant to name any names, but nodding when I utter the dreaded L-word. 'It is a classical variety with a long history of making fine wines from the very sweet to the very dry. Any top 10 of world wines would have to include a riesling.'

Both Theo Giesen and Hermann Seifried agree that there is much to be done to restore the reputation of riesling; but both also agree that the wine has almost limitless potential. Perhaps in a few years' time wine drinkers will accord Canterbury or Nelson riesling the respect they now hold for Marlborough sauvignon blanc.

Availability: The agent for Seifried Estate wines in the UK is Margaret Harvey, MW, of Fine Wines of New Zealand (071-482 0093); Seifried Estate Dry Riesling 1992, about pounds 6.90; also from Seifried, but marketed in the UK as Redwood Valley Estate, is Nelson Late Harvest Rhine Riesling 1991 (Gold Medal winner in the 1993 Wine Challenge, about pounds 5.95, half-bottle).

The agent for Giesen Wines in the UK is AH Wines (0935 850 116); the 1992 Dry Riesling, not yet available, will probably retail for pounds 5.95; in the meantime try Hunter's Marlborough Rhine Riesling 1991, approx pounds 7.99 through the same agent.

For suppliers of other New Zealand rieslings, contact the New Zealand Wine Guild (071- 973 8079). The guild holds its 'Summer Tasting' at the Regent Hotel, 222 Marylebone Road, London NW1, on Tuesday from 6-9pm. Tickets cost pounds 10 from the guild.

(Photograph omitted)