Sweet need not be sickly

People are rude about liebfraumilch, and quite right too, says Anthony Rose

It is easy to be snooty about liebfraumilch. Yet in the UK more of this wine is sold than any other plonk, be it lambrusco, vin de pays, hock, vin de table or Bulgarian red. Liebfraumilch was a respectable wine when P J Valckenberg created it in the mid-19th century, mainly from riesling grapes grown at the Liebfrauenstiftkirche in Worms in the Rheinhessen. The downmarket slide began after the First World War, when Valckenberg started competing with Blue Nun to create a bestselling brand.

Blue Nun was developed between the wars as a medium-dry white. At its peak in 1984-85, annual sales reached 2 million cases, but fell to half that by the Nineties. Where have the defectors gone? Sainsbury's, whose liebfraumilch sales are down 5 per cent this year, says people are buying eastern European reds and drier Spanish whites.

I thought it was high time to shed a prejudice or two and do some blind tasting. As with the French non-affair with Piat d'Or, Germans do not drink liebfraumilch. How sensible, I thought, as I laboured through a dozen own-label examples from the supermarket and high street chains, varying in price from £2.12 at Tesco and Somerfield to £2.99 at Thresher and Oddbins. The two best-known, Black Tower and Blue Nun, £3.49 and £3.69 respectively, did not distinguish themselves.

In Waitrose's Liebfraumilch, at £2.49, there was a touch of the floral aroma and fresh grapiness you should expect from a decent liebfraumilch. Thresher's, £2.99, betrayed a modicum of mller-thurgau fruitiness. Otherwise, even allowing for the fact that the wines were all 1993s and perhaps past their "best", the overall level of confected sweetness masked any real life or fruit.

There was certainly nothing to which the word quality could legitimately be attached. Yet officially liebfraumilch is a quality German wine (QbA), a category which encompasses an immodest 95 per cent of the annual German vintage. The wine must come from the Rheinhessen, Pfalz, Nahe or Rheingau, contain not less than 18 grams per litre of residual sugar (in other words, be medium sweet), and consist of at least 70 per cent of the riesling, silvaner, mller-thurgau and kerner grapes. In practice, it is mostly made from the innocuous mller-thurgau and souped up with unfermented grape juice.

The German wine industry missed a golden opportunity to get to grips with the quality problem when the new German wine law came into force at the end of last year. Instead of making any radical change it merely tinkered with the laws, adding a new and confusing QbU, or "Qualittswein garantierten Ursprungs", a designation based on origin like France's appellation contrle.

Peter Hallgarten, a wine merchant whose German sales have declined considerably over 10 years, believes Germany needs to act fast to avoid the sort of crisis Spain found itself in during the Seventies: "Germany should distinguish its quality from its mass-market wines by taking liebfraumilch out of the quality category and raising the minimum ripeness qualification for quality wines."

Until Germany's producers get to grips with the problems, the relentless promotion of cut-price plonk will continue to obscure the fact that the country is capable of producing some of the world's most refreshingly delicate, fragrant and long-lived white wines. And not necessarily at fancy prices. Mostly made from the riesling grape, they range from the elegantly dry to the deliciously fruity at kabinett and sptlese level, and up the sweetness scale to rich, honeyed auslese and beyond.

A residue of loyalty remains among the older generation of wine drinkers brought up to regard Germany's traditional hocks and mosels as every bit as classic as top bordeaux and burgundy. But this is not a growing market. The cheap plonk image, not to mention some of the incomprehensible labels, make it far more difficult for anyone under 50 to appreciate such exciting new wines as those coming from producers such as Ernst Loosen, Kurt Darting, Rainer Lingenfelder, Toni Jost and Mller-Catoir.

Sadly, this is mirrored by the decreasing presence of fine German wines on lists and retailers' shelves in the UK. It has been suggested that Germany needs a juicy scandal like Austria's diethylene glycol dbcle of 10 years ago to sort itself out. The trouble is it already has a quality scandal and no one seems to want to do anything about it.

Wines of the Week

1983 stricher Doosberg Riesling Kabinett, Schloss Schnborn, £5.79, Somerfield. No great price for a sprightly 12-year-old, petrolly Rheingau riesling with plenty of tang and flavour.

1993 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, von Kesselstatt, £5.99, Asda. Perfectly proportioned floral mosel riesling with mouthwateringly crisp apple fruitiness and lemony bite.

1992 Bacharacher Schloss Stahleck Riesling Kabinett, Toni Jost, £6.99, Findlater, Mackie, Todd (John Lewis; 0181-543 0966). Classic new wave, refreshingly off-dry citrus tang.

1992 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, Max Ferdinand Richter, £8.11, Avery's of Bristol (0272 214141). Fragrant, off-dry mosel riesling with a delicate, feather-bedding of peachy fruit.

1986 rziger Wrz-garten Riesling Kabinett, Mnchhof, £5.79, Findlater, Mackie, Todd (John Lewis). Pungent, mature petrolly whiff over juicy, refreshing fruit from Robert Eymael's aptly named spice garden of rzig (or two bottles of liebfraumilch for same price).

1983 rziger Wrzgarten Riesling Auslese, Mnchhof, £7.95, Findlater, Mackie, Todd (John Lewis). Smoky, typically mature keroseney riesling aromas and a seductively honeyed fruitiness.

1987 Erbacher Marcobrunn Riesling Kabinett, Schloss Schnborn, £7.99, Victoria Wine. Straw yellow with an attractively complex nose, this is a mature, appley off-dry white with a surprising degree of concentration.

1992 Haardter Mandelring Scheurebe Sptlese, Mller-Catoir, £8.99, Oddbins. Richly flavoured, grapefruity off-dry white from one of Germany's great exponents of the scheurebe grape.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
tech

Board creates magnetic field to achieve lift

News
There have been various incidents of social media users inadvertently flouting the law
news

Life and Style
Stack ‘em high?: quantity doesn’t always trump quality, as Friends of the Earth can testify
techThe proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
News
Bourgogne wine maker Laboure-Roi vice president Thibault Garin (L) offers the company's 2013 Beaujolais Nouveau wine to the guest in the wine spa at the Hakone Yunessun spa resort facilities in Hakone town, Kanagawa prefecture, some 100-kilometre west of Tokyo
i100
Sport
CSKA Moscow celebrate after equalising with a late penalty
footballCSKA Moscow 2 Manchester City 2: Premier League champions let two goal lead slip in Russia
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    SCRUM Master

    £30 - 50k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a SCRUM Master to joi...

    Franchise Support Assistant

    £13,520: Recruitment Genius: As this role can be customer facing at times, the...

    Financial Controller

    £50000 - £60000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A successful entertainment, even...

    Direct Marketing Executive - Offline - SW London

    £25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A fantastic opportunity h...

    Day In a Page

    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

    'You need me, I don’t need you'

    Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
    How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

    How to Get Away with Murder

    Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
    A cup of tea is every worker's right

    Hard to swallow

    Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Which animals are nearly extinct?

    Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
    12 best children's shoes

    Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

    Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
    Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

    Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

    Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
    Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

    Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

    Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
    Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

    Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

    Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
    British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

    British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

    Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
    Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

    Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

    UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London