Prost! German wines come out of the shadow of Black Tower to win over British drinkers

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Indy Lifestyle Online

From Blue Nun to Black Tower, German wines have received a savagely bad press over the years. The Liebfraumilch brand never recovered from having a starring role in Mike Leigh's stinging Seventies portrait of suburban bad taste, Abigail's Party.

But while the image of German viticulture may have been badly damaged by the imports of cheap plonk in the late twentieth century, a stunning renaissance is now well under way.

According to figures collected by the market analysts, A C Nielsen, retail sales of German wine priced above £6 have grown dramatically, with an increase of more than 89 per cent in the past three years.

This figure, which is far higher than the 16 per cent rise in the general increase for wine sales in the same price bracket, suggests that British consumers have truly begun to take German wine seriously.

Some suggest the trend could be down to the critical acclaim that quality Reislings have received lately from industry experts.

Weingut Loosen wines for example, produced by Ernie Loosen, was named decanter man of the year at the Decanter Awards this year. Mr Loosen was also awarded white wine-maker of the year at the International Wine Challenge.

Wines by Donnhoff and Paul Furst have also received recognition from the German press, which has helped to strengthen their reputations abroad.

Guy Woodward, deputy editor of the consumer wine bible, Decanter, said the damaging associations with cheap wine labels were being severed as expensive German wines received "good press".

"In the past, they were given a bad name as the general public thought that all German wines were cheap and many associated them with being sweet. Although different levels of sweetness are indicated on the label, it is in German so anyone who is not a wine expert does not understand.

"The riesling grape has proved very popular with wine connoisseurs and critics and this message, I think, has filtered down to the consumer, that not all German wines are sweet and nasty," he said.

He added that the great critical acclaim of reislings produced in the New World, especially Australia, had a "knock-on effect" for German riesling.

"Riesling is Germany's flagship variety. It has proved to be very successful in New World wines and it's probably taken New World savvy marketing for this to filter back to the originators of riesling in Germany," he added.

David Wright, director of Siegel wine agencies, which imports award-winning German labels including Ernst Loosen, Donnhoff and Paul Furst, said German estate rieslings were becoming popular with British consumers for their delicate flavours and lower alcohol content.

"German wines offer a very broad palate of flavours from the very dry to the sublimely sweet. They can have as little as 7.5 per cent alcohol so they make a good aperitif or they can be drunk at lunch.

"Their versatility means that they complement an enormous range of foods, especially fusion cuisine. With the advent of culinary programmes, many consumers are choosing wines more carefully to complement food," he said.

Siegel wine agencies has seen a significant growth of sales in German wines over the past five years, with a 200 per cent increase in sales in 2003.

Finding the perfect match

* 1999 Ruppertsberger Gaisböhl Riesling Spätlese trocken (dry), Dr Bürklin-Wolf, Pfalz £22.75, Jeroboams, or Fareham Wine Cellars

Sits well with oysters, rich fish dishes, or poultry, with intense flavours such as curry, saffron or black truffles.

* 2003 Riesling, Bassermann-Jordan, Pfalz £6.64, Waitrose

A medium-dry wine with peach aromas which pairs brilliantly with roast goose or oriental dishes.

* 2004 Bernkastler Lay Riesling Kabinett, Dr. Loosen, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer £9.99, Oddbins

With its lovely flavours of clementine, lime, peach and apricot, this medium-dry wine would be ideal served with a green salad with pomegranate dressing.

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