When considering what bottle to uncork for Christmas dinner, German offerings are unlikely to top the average shopping list. Cheap, sweet, and weak, Germany's wines enjoy the opposite reputation of its cars.
Indeed, sales figures show that Germany's grip on the throats of British drinkers is weakening yearly from its 1970s heyday, when sweet, low-alcohol Liebfraumilch and Blue Nun filled glasses at cheese and wine parties. Retail sales of German wine slipped from £146m to £138m last year, a fall from 3.1 per cent to 2.7 per cent of shop-sold wine in the UK.
Word is getting round, though, that perhaps a Teutonic tipple is worth a try. In their own adjectival torrents, wine writers are extolling the elegant virtues of bottles from the Rhine and the Mosel. Wine critic Jancis Robinson, for instance, lauds riesling as "indisputably the greatest white wine grape in the world".
"To me the apogee of riesling is its range of wine styles on the steep, slaty sides of the Mosel valley," she writes in her blog jancisrobinson.com. "Here the light, refreshing character of riesling is most emphasised, in off-dry Kabinett, medium-dry Spätlese and Auslese and some quite stunning sweet but delicate nectars labelled Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and, made from frozen grapes, Eiswein."
Ms Robinson, one of the world's 279 Masters of Wine, serves dry Mosel riesling rather than champagne as her "standard aperitif" at home. Ordinary drinkers, too, are getting a taste for the better stuff, which costs between £6 and £20. In the past year, the volume of German wines sold over £5 has increased by 36 per cent. Most of these are dry rieslings.
In Germany, production is switching from cheap sweet to higher quality dry, or off-dry. In the past 30 years, the proportion of "trocken" (dry) and "halbtrocken" (half dry) wine has almost doubled, from 35 per cent to 64 per cent. Germans themselves are the biggest drinkers, followed by the Americans and Japanese.
When it comes to promotion, Germany's wineries do things gently, entering their bottles into international competitions and, tasted blind, they do rather well. German wines increased their haul at premier events such as the Decanter World Wine Awards by over 30 per cent this year, with 331 gold, silver and bronze medals compared to 251 last year.
One of the Mosel's boutique winemakers, Martin Conrad, hopes word of this success will soon be heard across the Channel.
He says: "There's still a big need to tell the people that German wine is very crisp, very fresh and very tasty, especially in winter when you have more rich food. It's very refreshing."
So where do you get hold of a decent German riesling? Supermarkets still tend to view German wines as being at the lower end of the wine league. Majestic has seven German rieslings priced between £6.99 and £12.99 but, otherwise, it's down to the local wine merchant.
David Motion, a German wine specialist whose shop, The Winery, in Maida Vale, London, sells bottles from small producers points out German wine was the most celebrated in the world in Victorian times. But when the British became more interested in wine in the Sixties and Seventies, they turned to the eight per cent volume sweet yuk. Decent German wine, he says, is now very affordable. "We're not talking about £30 to £100 bottles, though there are some of those, but £10 to £20 will get you an amazing dry riesling of similar quality to a £40 white Burgundy," he adds.
Heroes & Villains
Hero: Regina Finn
What is it with Irish regulators? In his four years as chief executive of the Office of Fair Trading, John Fingleton has sorted out BAA's airport monopoly in the south, builders' collusion on public contracts, drug pricing, and taken on the banks over payment protection insurance, credit card late payment fees, and overdrafts fees – losing a test case on that this week. Now Regina Finn, chief executive of Ofwat since 2006, has cut water companies' plans for bills between 2010 and 2005 by 10 per cent. Over the next five years bills will fall by £3 before inflation. The steely Ms Finn says: "People can shop around for the best deal on many things, but not water. Our job is to do this for them. "We will now make sure the companies deliver on their promises."
Villain: Marks & Spencer
Poor old M&S, its staff must have terrible backs. Three years ago Britain's favourite retailer launched Plan A ("Because there is no Plan B") to make itself a kinder, greener business. Since then it's done a lot of ethical heavy lifting, but not on Pledge 91: toremove Percy Pig and his sugary porcine mates from tills. A number of "trials" have taken place. How hard can it be to move sweets to the sweets aisle? Ah, don't move! Phone the osteopath!