Wine Club: Sweet and sour power

The steep slopes of the Mosel, perfect for growing Riesling
The steep slopes of the Mosel, perfect for growing Riesling
  • Christine Austin raises a glass to a ‘Summer of Riesling’ washed down with lashings of Yorkshire sunshine.
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It was started by a group of sommeliers in New York and has gradually spread around the world, so it is good to welcome the “Summer of Riesling” to Yorkshire.

The aim is to encourage wine drinkers to enjoy a glass of Riesling at this time of year when its fabulous, fresh flavours are just perfect in sunshine. With this in mind, Harrogate Fine Wines has just taken delivery of a huge range of top-quality German Rieslings from producers such as Leitz, Loosen, Egon Müller and Dönnhoff and there will be at least two wines from this range on taste every Saturday afternoon in July.

For those of you who gave up drinking Riesling dozens of years ago when the shelves were crammed with crisp Sauvignons, light, easy-drinking Pinot Grigio and frothy Prosecco, maybe it is time to think again. Riesling has come a long way since then and now represents some of the most vibrant, lively, zesty, mouth-watering wines around and there are enough styles and flavours to make this a Riesling summer.

There was a time when Riesling just came from Germany. Back in the mists of time the best Riesling wines from vineyards in the Mosel and Rheingau commanded higher prices than top Bordeaux but with more competition from great wines around the world, the demand for Riesling dropped and to some extent, so did quality. The grape has been in the doldrums for decades and that is just what it needed to have a facelift and personality change. And it doesn’t have to come from Germany either. Some of my favourite Rieslings come from New Zealand or Australia where the style is fresher and more zingy.

Riesling is essentially a cool-climate grape, which means that it likes marginal places such as cool, steep slopes in Germany, the breezy Clare Valley in Australia and coastal parts of New Zealand. The key to retaining those light fresh, fruity flavours is warm sunshine during the day followed by cool nights so that ripening is slow and acidity is not lost. Some Riesling wines have just a hint of sweetness in the profile, but since that is coupled with vibrant, zesty acidity they make the perfect accompaniment to salads, fish and stir-fries. Think of Rieslings like a lemon sherbet dip. The sweet/sour combination is irresistible.

At various tastings I have come across a whole host of Rieslings which I have enjoyed over the last few months, so here is my list of the ones to aim for. Most of these are dry or taste dry, bearing in mind the level of natural acidity in Riesling can be balanced by just a shade of sweetness without tipping over into a medium style. They can all be enjoyed with a savoury dish and the good news about Riesling is that alcohol levels are generally lower than many other grapes which means you can sip more over lunch. Riesling also has enough character to develop as it ages so you don’t have to search for the youngest bottle. Those with a few years’ age are probably better.

Germany

Dr Loosen Estate Riesling 2013, Mosel, £10.99, Harrogate Fine Wine: This is a terrific introduction to German Riesling from Ernie Loosen, one of the Mosel’s most dedicated and energetic producers. The wine is fresh-tasting with touches of peaches and citrus, and with clean, clear acidity on the palate. Perfect as an aperitif.

Dönnhoff Tonschiefer Dry Slate, Nahe, £17.99, Harrogate Fine Wine: Helmut Dönnhoff is a top-notch winemaker and it shows in this lean, racy, mineral-charged wine. The Nahe style is midway between the floral notes of Mosel and the weight of Rheingau.

Dr Loosen Grey Slate Riesling 2013, Mosel, £9.99, Waitrose: This shone out at the Waitrose tasting for its upfront floral notes which swiftly became more serious with crunchy, gravelly, minerally notes. It has a perfect balance of acidity and just a shade of sweetness. Try it with a salad of spice-dusted chicken and peppery leaves.

New Zealand

The region known as Waipara, just north of Christchurch, is noted for its Rieslings, although there are good ones from Marlborough, Hawkes Bay and Nelson.

Main Divide Riesling 2013, Pegasus Bay, Waipara, Majestic Wine Warehouse, down from £14.49 to £10.87 until August 31: This has a fair amount of sweetness left in it, mainly because they used a small proportion of botrycised grapes which have boosted the aromatic fruit to delicious levels. Plenty of stone fruit, citrus backed by lively acidity and that hint of sweetness which you won’t notice if there is plum sauce or soy sauce on your dish.

Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling 2014, Marlborough, Majestic Wine Warehouse, down from £10.49 to £7.86 until August 3: This brand is so widely available it is easy to become blind to the sheer quality of Villa Maria wines. This one in particular gathers up zesty lime and green apple flavours and it makes for a refreshing aperitif in sunshine.

Australia

The Clare Valley of South Australia is the key region here, with Jeff Grosset and Stephanie Toole the most impressive producers.

Mount Horrocks Riesling Watervale 2013, Clare Valley, Australia, Field & Fawcett, £18.25: Made from unirrigated vines, there is real concentration in this wine, but it is dry, with distinct white blossom notes as well as tight, lively citrus and minerally flavours. This is a terrific wine to enjoy with fish and shellfish.

Grosset Polish Hill Riesling 2011, Clare Valley, Australia, Field & Fawcett (York) £28.80: Jeff Grosset is married to Stephanie Toole and they make their wines in the same winery so it is odd that they manage two quite different styles. Grosset wines are like cold showers with vibrant, lime-infused flavours and concentrated minerality, while Stephanie’s wines have a floral edge, slightly softer and perhaps more easily appreciated. Try this Grosset wine with oysters and other shellfish.

Tesco Finest Tingleup Riesling 2012, Western Australia, £9.99: For a supermarket own-label wine this is really very good. Sourced from Howard Park winery, it is tangy, lime-fresh and tastes completely dry. This is an aperitif wine but it can carry through to go with salads, especially ones with some raisins and peaches in the mix. It is also good with fish and shellfish.