It is certainly an exiting time for fans of Riesling – and German Riesling in particular – as the German Wine Institute has recently laid out plans to increase its investment in the UK wine market. One of the key objectives behind this increased investment is to create better awareness and understanding about the charms of German Riesling among UK consumers.
In order to help achieve this, the DWI has recruited 3 brave souls – dubbed the “Riesling Revivalists” – to take the Riesling mission to the masses. This Riesling triumvirate, which includes yours truly, will help to preach the Riesling gospel at various wine tastings and food festivals.
The exact dates of the events have not yet been confirmed but you can find more details about the DWI’s plans in the press release below.
“The German Wine Institute is “significantly” increasing its UK investment to boost its burgeoning growth of the above £5 price bracket.
The country is still losing volumes in the UK – they are down 17% against the overall UK decline of 3% – but the body is confident it is nearing the tipping point and will start to see volumes go up soon.
“We always lose volume much quicker than value,” said Nicky Forrest, managing director of Wines of Germany in the UK. But she is hopeful that “maybe in the next 12-18 months we will reach the tipping point and will start increasing volumes.” Forrest says most of the volume decrease has been at the below £4 level. Its value stands at £11.9 million, down only 2% on 2011.
When it comes to Germany’s volumes sales by price point, the below-£4 section of the market has declined by 23% from 75% in 2010 to 55% to the end of May 2012, according to Nielsen. Meanwhile the £5+ market has grown by 36% from 7.4% to 16.8%.
German Riesling reaches an average price point of £6.47, ahead of the average bottle price of £4.90, according to Nielsen MAT figures to the end of June 2012. Its Riesling wines also have 57% of the overall Riesling market here, up 9 percentage points on 2011.
The generic body unveiled its marketing plans for the UK which will focus on Riesling and Pinot Noir. It has recruited three “Riesling Revivalists” to spread the word on the variety. Writers Anne Krebiehl and Matt Walls and lawyer-turned-sommelier Alex Down will “evangelise” about the variety to consumers.
It will launch a Dragon’s Den-style competition called “Get it on” where winemakers pitch their UK-specific German wines to trade experts with prizes including listings and financial support from Wines of Germany on offer.
It is also relaunching its Riesling Fellowship after a five-year hiatus, which will see Riesling producers and ambassadors from around the world recognised by the German Embassy, similar to the Gran Orden de Caballeros for services to Spanish wine.
Also planned for next year is a gastronomic tie-in with a number of food festivals and masterclasses on german wine with Jeannie Cho Lee MW.
In addition it plans to grow it Riesling Summit, and double the size of its 31 Days of German Riesling promotion, which attracted 50 trade outlets this year.
The UK is the country’s biggest export market for wine, following the USA.”
Let’s face it, we foodies have never had it so good. 20 years ago, most of us had to rely on the likes of the late Keith Floyd to travel the world for us in search of culinary adventure. But nowadays, for a few quid we can hop on a flight and hours later be merrily sipping and munching away in our gastronomic location of choice. And what more, through the globalisation of the produce market, we don’t even need to leave British shores to experience exciting and exotic flavours and ingredients, as many of them are now widely available in our supermarkets and restaurants.
Whilst I support the current trend to “buy local” and support local growers and producers, one has to admit that the arrival in the mainstream over the past few years of exotic ingredients such as galangal, wasabi and holy basil has signalled exciting times for chefs and domestic cooks. In addition, the arrival of these new and exciting ingredients – many from Asia and the Indian Subcontinent – has also created huge potential for unusual and innovative food and wine pairings.
Admittedly, finding the right wine to match a dish is not always an easy task. There are, of course, certain old favourites such as Roquefort and Sauternes, Chablis and oysters, Port and Stilton which have stood the test of time. But as we become more creative with our ingredients so we need to rethink our wine choices – a bottle of claret may go well with your roast lamb but what about when faced with a fragrant and spicy beef Thai salad?
It’s fair to say that some wines suit certain types of food better than others but if there is one grape variety that stands out from the pack in terms of its versatility and food-friendliness, it has to be Riesling. Many people think of Riesling as a sweet German wine but this is not always the case. In fact, Riesling is a wonderfully versatile grape and is produced in many parts of the world in many different styles ranging from the bone dry to the lusciously sweet. It is this range of sweetness levels and diversity of flavours that makes Riesling uniquely placed to compliment not only traditional cuisine but also more exotic flavours.
For example, Australian Rieslings are usually very dry and often exhibit intense citrus notes which make them excellent partners to seafood, shellfish in particular. But they can also pair very well with sushi and sashimi. Look for a Riesling from the Clare Valley or Eden Valley which are particularly good growing regions for Riesling in Australia. Top producers include Jim Barry, Grosset, Mount Horrocks and Pewsey Vale, to name but a few.
The Rieslings of Alsace in France tend also to be dry but are fuller bodied and richer than their Aussie counterparts. This weightiness together with their high acidity makes them particularly good companions to fatty foods such as pork belly or roast goose. There are many excellent producers of Riesling in Alsace but look for the likes of Trimbach, Hugel, Zind Humbrecht and Schlumberger which are widely available in the UK.
And then there are the German Rieslings. German Rieslings can range from the bone dry to medium sweet to very sweet which makes them food-friendly across the board. The drier Rieslings go particularly well with fish and white meats (think Coq au Riesling!) but, for me, it is the off-dry category which is hugely underrated. An off-dry German Riesling (or one from New Zealand for that matter) is the perfect partner for hot and spicy foods. These wines, often only 7% or 8% alcohol by volume, tend to be jam-packed with aromatic fruit which allows them to stand up impressively to spicy and fragrant flavours, whilst a good hit of residual sugar has the effect of soothing the heat of the chilli. Recommended German producers making both dry and off-dry Rieslings which are available in the UK include Ernst Loosen, Josef Leitz, Dönnhoff, Franz Künstler, JJ Prüm.
Riesling may not have the greatest reputation here in the UK but I urge you to cast aside the stereotypes and give it a go – it is a true food-friendly wine and really has the potential to make a worthy companion to your next meal!
For those of you who regularly tune in to The Riesling Revolutionary, you will be familiar with me waxing lyrical about how I believe the Riesling grape is unrivalled in its ability to deliver a diversity of styles of white wine.
You won’t be surprised to hear therefore that I jumped at the chance to put this to the test at the New Zealand Wine Annual Trade Tasting at Lords back in January of this year in the form of the so-called Riesling Challenge.
By way of background, The Riesling Challenge was thought up by Neil Charles-Jones, the director of Mud House Wines in New Zealand. The concept involved Mud House Wines harvesting a load of grapes during the 2010 vintage and then sending 12 equal amounts to 12 of New Zealand’s most revered winemakers.
So, back in April 2010, The Riesling Challenge began when 48 tonnes of Riesling grapes were harvested by Mud House from one of their vineyards in the Waipara Valley and then delivered to the following 12 Kiwi based winemakers:
- Paul Bourgeois, Spy Valley (Marlborough)
- Mike Brown, Golden Hills Estate (Nelson)
- Matt Dicey, Mount Difficulty (Central Otago)
- Matt Donaldson, Pegasus Bay (Waipara)
- John Forrest, Forrest Estate (Marlborough)
- Duncan Forsyth, Mount Edward (Central Otago)
- Patrick Materman, Pernod Ricard NZ (Marlborough)
- Simon McGeorge, Waipara Hills (Waipara)
- Larry McKenna, Escarpment (Martinborough)
- Ant McKenzie, Te Awa Farm (Hawke’s Bay)
- Jules Taylor, Jules Taylor Wines (Marlborough)
- Simon Waghorn, Astrolabe (Marlborough)
The winemakers were then left with the challenge of using their allotted 4 tonnes of grapes to make at least 250 cases of whatever style of Riesling they so wished – dry, medium, sweet, fermented in stainless steel or oak, you name it, they were allowed to do it.
By December 2010, all of the wines had been bottled and each of the 12 winemakers assembled to taste blind and score each other’s wines. After much lively discussion and deliberation, first prize went to Matt Donaldson of Pegasus Bay. Second place went to Matt Dicey and Mike Brown took third place.
Moving forward to 2012, I was quivering with excitement when I heard that attendees at the New Zealand Wine Annual Trade Tasting would have the chance to try the 12 Riesling Challenge wines. However, this time, it would be the attendees at the event casting their votes for their favourite Riesling, not the winemakers!
Arriving at the event, it didn’t take me long to track down the table in question, as I steadily worked my way through each of the 12 Rieslings.
The two wines that stood out for me, in particular, were those produced by Matt Donaldson and Larry McKenna. Looking back at my notes, I wrote that Donaldson’s wine was “off-dry, showing beautiful balance with firm citrus notes on the nose which develops into pineapple and tropical fruits on the palate. This winemaker has shown no fear”. For McKenna’s Riesling, I wrote that it was “off-dry, with honeysuckle and juicy green apple and a hint of pineapple on the palate and shows excellent balance and an impressive finish”.
In the end, 139 votes (including my own) were cast by the attendees and once again Matt Donaldson was crowned the victor. However, this time, first and second places went to Dr. John Forrest of Forrest Wines and Simon Waghorn of Astrolabe, respectively.
I later found out that Donaldson had freeze-concentrated his grapes to intensify flavours and sugars, a move that appears to have given him the edge over this competitors.
For me, the joy of this exercise was twofold. Firstly, it showed what an important role the winemaker plays in shaping the wine’s style. The variety between the 12 wines was a clear example of just how much the style of the finished wine can be dictated by decisions made by the winemaker during the fermentation and maturation processes. Secondly, it confirmed my belief that the Riesling grape lends itself wonderfully to being made in a number of different styles.
In that respect, as an aside, I was most interested to discover that 8 of the 12 wines were off-dry. Off-dry Riesling as a category is much misunderstood and, in my opinion, hugely underrated. So, it was great to see so many of the winemakers choosing to make their wines in this style. (I actually did a really cool tasting of sweet NZ Rieslings with the team at HowToBakeACake.org other day to great effect!)
Also, I have discovered that a few cases have been exported to us here in the UK. Tanners Wine Merchants appear to have a few cases still in stock (£119.99 for case of 12) so if you pick up a case be sure to let us know which of the 12 is your favourite!
The novelist and critic, Kingsley Amis, once wrote that “a German wine label is one of the things life’s too short for”. And for good reason. German producers are required by law to provide very detailed information on their wine labels ranging from quality levels to control numbers. Whilst you would think that this information would help inform the consumer in his or her choice of wine, it actually often has the opposite effect. A combination of words in the German language, terms relating to a seemingly impenetrable classification system and information overload leaves many consumers scratching their heads and reaching for the closest bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
But, in fact, a German wine label actually contains lots of very useful information. The key, of course, is knowing how to decode it. So, what I have tried to do is pick apart the label below to hopefully give you greater confidence when faced with a shelf of otherwise irresistible German Rieslings!
1. Name of producer
Let’s kick things off with an easy win. It seems blindingly obvious but every German wine label will contain the name of the producer or bottler. The producer’s name will often (but not always) be preceded by the word “Weingut” which simply means “winery” – in this case the producer is Weingut Dr Hermann. The address of the producer will also appear on the label.
2. The vintage
Again, another easy win here. This bottle is a 2010 vintage. Vintages in Germany tend to vary from region to region but generally speaking 2007 and 2009 were particularly good across the board. 2010 was a difficult vintage with lower yields but quality was still high among top producers.
3. The grape variety
Unlike a lot of Old World wine producing countries such as France, Italy and Spain, German producers will usually always state the grape variety on their labels. You will see that this bottle quite clearly says it’s a Riesling. This means that you shouldn’t have any problems tracking down the varietal you are looking for as it will be plastered across the label! Contrast this to the French system which (with the exception of Alsace) labels its wines by geographical region – for example, a bottle from the Northern Rhone may be labelled ‘Crozes Hermitage’ (the geographical location) rather than ‘Syrah’ (the grape from which it is made).
4. The growing regions
There are 13 wine growing regions in Germany, namely: Ahr, Baden, Franken, Hessische Bergstraße, Mittelrhein, Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen and Württemberg. Generally speaking, Riesling is the dominant grape variety when it comes to these regions’ premium wines, with the exception of Ahr and Baden, which are known in particular for their Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).
There are a handful of regions in particular which are worth putting to memory and which you are likely to see with reasonable regularity outside of Germany – Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau, Baden and Pfalz immediately spring to mind. You will see that this bottle is from the Mosel region. But I should point out that there are some very exciting wines being produced in the other regions, many of which are seriously underrated.
5. Style of the wine
Ok, here we hit more difficult territory. What most people want to know is whether the wine will be dry, off-dry, or sweet. The label will not always tell you this but by learning these simple terms you give yourself an excellent chance of working this out.
Trocken means dry; halbtrocken and feinherb mean off-dry; Classic and Selection indicate a dry wine; Erste Gewächs and Grosses Gewächs mean First Growth or Great Growth (i.e. Premier Cru) respectively – these Cru wines will always be dry.
To be on the safe side, you should therefore assume that if you don’t see the words trocken, Classic, Selection, Erste Gewächs or Grosses Gewächs then there is likely to be some residual sugar in the wine.
This wine label does not contain any of the words listed above so we should assume that the wine will be off-dry or sweet (even though it does not say it is halbtrocken or feinherb).
6. The quality level of the wine
If there is one piece of information that leads to more confusion and uncertainty than any other it is the German quality classification system. But it is key to determining the wine’s style so unfortunately you have no choice but to take the pain on this one.
The first thing to understand is that there are 4 quality levels. These are, in ascending order: Tafelwein (table wine – equivalent to vin de table); Landwein (land wine – equivalent to vins de pays), Qualitätswein (quality wine from a specified region) and Prädikatswein (wine with distinction). Less than 5% of wine produced in Germany is classified as Tafelwein and Landwein.
Within the top category – Prädikatswein – there are 6 categories. If you can recognise which category a Prädikatswein belongs to it will help you massively in determining the wine’s style.
The 6 categories ascend according to the level of ripeness of the grapes at the time they are picked – they are: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese (or TBA) and Eiswein. You should note that Kabinett and Spätlese wines will often be dry but this will not always be the case (so look for the word trocken). Auslese will invariably be off-dry but watch out for a few very rare exceptions where they can be dry. Beerenauslese, Eiswein and TBA will range from the sweet to the outrageously sweet in the case of Eiswein and TBA.
This wine says it is a Spätlese which means it could be either dry or off-dry. Given the absence of the word trocken or any of the other terms at 5. above indicating a dry wine, we should assume that this wine will be off-dry.
7. The town and vineyard
It will usually be the case (especially with Prädikatswein) that the name of the village and vineyard is contained on the label. The name of the village will often end with the prefix -er and then be followed by the vineyard name.
This wine is labelled Erdener Treppchen which tells us that it is from the village of Erden and the specific vineyard is Treppchen.
8. The quality control number
This seemingly random stream of digits actually indicates that the wine has passed the chemical and sensory tests required of all German quality wines. Feel free to happily disregard.
So by breaking down the constituent parts of the label we can establish that this is a bottle of Riesling from the 2010 vintage produced by Weingut Dr Hermann. It was produced in the Mosel region of Germany and more specifically in Treppchen vineyard in the village of Erden. It is classified in the highest quality category (Prädikatswein) and is most likely to be an off-dry wine.
With these tools now at your disposal I have every faith in your ability to successfully decode the label the next time you are faced with a bottle of Schlossgut Diel Dorsheimer Pittermännchen Riesling Spätlese or Weingut Künstler Riesling Hochheim Hölle Erstes Gewächs!
Never shy to get out there and preach the Riesling gospel, I teamed up with Wines of Germany to shoot a couple of videos to get people in the mood for mass Riesling consumption!
This first video gives a brief introduction to German Riesling and I also talk a little about why I am such a big fan:
I also made the trip to one of my favourite restaurants in London, The Glasshouse in Kew, which is one of the restaurants participating in 31 Days of German Riesling. The Glasshouse has a cracking list of German wines (including some great Rieslings) and the head sommelier, Sara Bacchiori (@tasteinwine), was kind enough to let me ask her a few questions about German Riesling. So here you are:
Both of these videos are now posted on the 31 Days of German Riesling homepage which you can find by clicking here so why don’t you head over there and check out the website.
That’s it for now but be sure to check out some of the retailers and restaurants participating in 31 Days at www.31daysofgermanriesling.co.uk as they are making a superb effort to raise the profile of this much underrated grape variety! Cheers!
In this video, I review the Dr L Riesling 2011 produced by the Loosen winery in the Mosel in Germany.
If you want to try an off-dry German Riesling that is fresh, lively, affordable and widely available, this is the Riesling for you. You can find the Dr L Riesling in many of our supermarkets in the UK and it is usually priced around the £7 to £8 mark.
At only 8.5% abv, it would make for a lovely aperitif on a warm summer’s day, or alternatively a great match for a fatty meat like pork belly or a meaty seafood dish like scallops and bacon or lobster ravioli.
Thanks to Richard @richard_R2K for the camera work
I have recently teamed up with online wine retailer, Winedirect.co.uk, to help them launch Winedirect TV. A number of the larger wine retailers such as Majestic, Bibendum and Slurp are all using videos on their websites and on YouTube to good effect to engage with potential customers (and especially a younger generation of wine drinkers).
As wine geek and social media guru, Gary Vaynerchuk, has shown in the US (read more about Gary here), video reviews can be a very useful sales tool, as well as giving customers an opportunity to learn more about the wine they are thinking about buying from the comfort of their own homes.
So, the idea behind WinedirectTV - which will feature videos of myself and Winedirect’s Helen Tate – is to carry out wine reviews, winemaker interviews, give tips about wine regions and lots of other stuff. Essentially, the idea is to give potential customers a better idea of the wine they are considering buying by giving them informative and relevant information which is delivered in a fun and approachable manner.
Naturally, the first few videos that I shot for WinedirectTV were Rieslings, so over the coming weeks I will share these videos with you on The Riesling Revolutionary.
And what better way to get the ball rolling than with the 2008 Pegasus Bay Riesling from the Waipara growing region in New Zealand. This is a dry, complex white wine that really pushes the boundaries. I hope you enjoy the review!
p.s. any feedback, good or bad, on my videos is very welcome! You can leave comments below or also on The Riesling Revolutionary’s Facebook page. Cheers!
Video review for Winedirect.co.uk – Wines from Weingut Thanisch
After having recently spent an immensely enjoyable month working in the vineyards of Germany, I was delighted when Winedirect.co.uk asked me to review a couple of stunning Rieslings and a Dornfelder from Weingut Thanisch in the Mosel region of Germany. The following wines were reviewed in this video:
- Weingut Ludwig Thanisch - Alte Reben R 2010
- Weingut Ludwig Thanisch - Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Auslese 2010
- Weingut Ludwig Thanisch - Dornfelder 2010
After a really successful campaign in the US 31 Days of German Riesling was launched just a few days ago for the first time here in the UK.
The idea behind the campaign is for selected restaurants and retailers throughout the country to team up and promote Riesling wines for the month of July.
If you ask most sommeliers or wine professionals for their favourite white grape variety, they will usually answer: Riesling! But in the UK, most wine drinkers still associate Riesling with cheap and sweet German wine from the 1980s.
So, 31 Days of German Riesling is a great opportunity to get the word out there about Riesling and explain to people that the Germans are producing some really world class dry Rieslings which have character and originality.
You can check out which of your local retailers and restaurants are involved in 31 Days of German Riesling here.
There will be more to follow from me as the month continues as I will be doing various things to drive the Revolution forward. But, in the meantime, I know with your support we can convert some of those Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc drinkers to the charms of German Riesling!
As I mention in Part 1 and Part 2, I recently made the decision to leave my job as a lawyer in the City to follow my passion for wine. The first stop on my wine adventure was a month’s work experience at legendary German winery, Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff.
Now that I have returned to UK soil, I thought it would be a good opportunity to reflect on the four weeks that I spent at Weingut Dönnhoff and share with you some of my highlights.
New vineyard. After spending an exhausting first week bottling wines from the 2011 vintage, much of my second week was spent outside working in the vineyards. The final two weeks were a combination of the two but a real highlight was helping to plant young rootstocks in a new vineyard plot in the Norheimer Dellchen. One of the really smart things that Helmut Dönnhoff has done over the last 20 years is to acquire parcels in numerous vineyards throughout the region. By cherry-picking the best sites as they become available, he has been able to maintain very high quality not only in his top single vineyard wines but also in his more generic estate Rieslings.
Lunch breaks. The way that we took our lunch breaks was a breath of fresh air for me. Each day we would all assemble in the communal galley at 12.30 to have lunch together. Lively conversation would flow – often about wine and football (which suited me down to the ground) – and there was also usually a bottle of something to hand so that we could wet our beaks on the good stuff before heading back to work. A definite improvement on my time as a lawyer, where I routinely spent my lunch breaks alone at my desk!
Driving the Unimog. What a rush! Google search “Unimog” and you’ll get the idea.
My housemates. I was fortunate to have the company of three other lads in the accommodation block where I was staying – one from Germany and two from Poland. The German, Sebastian, 20, is currently carrying out a year-long work placement at Dönnhoff as part of his wine studies. The two lads from Poland, Mateusz and Mateusz, both 23, are in Germany for the year just to earn some cash. They are genuinely three of the hardest working people I have ever met and their humour and goodwill kept me in high spirits throughout my stay.
Visit to the Mosel. It was brilliant to have the chance to make my first trip to the Mosel, the most famous of all German wine regions. As we made our way from village to village, it was amazing at last to see so many of its magnificent vineyards after having spent so many years quaffing the region’s wines! The most striking feature was without doubt the steepness of the slopes. Previously, I had thought that the vineyards in the Nahe were steep but the Mosel takes it to a whole different level – some of the vineyards reach 80% gradient in places!
VDP Weinbörse. On my penultimate day in Germany I travelled to the city of Mainz for the annual tasting of VDP members. The VDP is an organisation to which most (but not all) of Germany’s top wine producers are members. Like any wine fair, you need a well laid out plan of action before you go into battle otherwise you won’t stand a chance. My focus was on the Rheingau, Mosel and Baden regions, as well as a cursory stroll through the Nahe section to say hello to Team Dönnhoff. After a good six hours slurping and spitting, I walked away exhausted but content in the knowledge that 2011 is generally speaking a magnificent vintage for Germany across the board.
Plugging English wine. Having drank so many impressive Germany wines, I could not head back to London without first spreading the word about the rapidly improving English wine scene. Our wineries continue to improve year-on-year – especially in the sparkling category – and I could not resist leaving boss, Helmut, a bottle of sparkling from East Sussex winery, Breaky Bottom – the Sparkling Brut 2008 (100% Seyval Blanc) to be exact.
It is amazing how quickly time flies when you are working hard and having fun but this experience was invaluable and I cannot thank Helmut and Cornelius Dönnhoff enough for this opportunity.
One thing’s for sure – it has certainly given the Revolution fresh impetus. Roll on 31 Days of German Riesling!