Sugar and Spice
Whenever I'm asked to name my favourite wine, obviously I can't pick just one, because that would be like picking a favourite child, but one that I always have on my list is Riesling. If you're looking for an insider's wine to try, this is it.
Revered by hip sommeliers, wine writers and people in the wine trade, somehow, despite being touted as the next big thing for years, it has not managed to break out into the public consciousness. For some people, it's the association with Black Tower and Blue Nun, but that was nearly 40 years ago; so it doesn't account for the image problem that still exists.
Although it grows in the US, Australia, New Zealand, Austria and the Alsace region of France, Riesling is predominantly associated with Germany, where 13 wine regions cover four degrees of latitude. Riesling is grown in all these regions, where a huge cross section of different soils means that you get many different styles. Despite this, Ann Krebiehl, who is a master of wine, says that there is a misperception that Riesling is always sweet. While there certainly are sweet Rieslings, the most expensive of which are the Trockenbeerenauslese dessert wines, there are different degrees of sweetness in Riesling wine.
But of course, there too is the problem. Unless you're familiar with the German language, reading words like that on the label of a German wine can be completely baffling. Generally, looking out for the word Trocken, which means dry, is a good idea, but there is an even simpler way of identifying Riesling wines that are dry.
Typically, Rieslings are very low in alcohol, ranging from 7pc to 11pc, compared with 13pc-plus for other whites; but the thing to remember is that any Riesling at 11pc or more will be dry. One of the things that is great about German Riesling is that, even at entry level, you can have a squeaky clean wine that delivers freshness and refreshment. It is lovely as an aperitif if you are having friends around as it is not a wine that will weigh people down.
While you may like to start with a dry Riesling, it's worth trying the different styles. What makes this wine so unique is its clean, crisp acidity, which balances the sugar in the wine beautifully. "You always need to think about sugar in relation to acidity," Ann told me when I met her at a Riesling masterclass earlier in the summer.
"If you take a perfectly ripe strawberry at room temperature and put just a few grains of sugar on it, it will make the strawberry taste more of strawberry. A tiny amount of sugar does not act as a sweetener, but acts as a flavour enhancer. Sugar means nothing without its counterpart in acidity. The best Rieslings are always like a high wire act, balancing the sugar against acidity."
Added to that, Riesling is spectacularly good with food. "Off-dry wines open completely new possibilities with food," says Ann. "A Riesling with a pork taco with pineapple works so well, the hit of spice and pineapple sweetness. The magic of having that little bit of sweetness with that acidity is like a spot light that brightens everything."
Two wines to try
Alsace Riesling Vielles
Vignes 2016, €8.99
12pc, from Lidl
An Alsace Riesling which is in Lidl’s French Wine sale, this is drier and fruitier than a German Riesling with delicate flavours of baked apple; a good match with fish and creamy sauces. For just a few euro more, there’s Alsace Riesling Lieu Dit Patergarten 2015, €12.99.
Lingenfelder Estate Bird-label Riesling, €12.95 (reduced from €14.95 until tomorrow, September 24)
11.5pc, from O’Briens
A well-balanced, crisp Riesling from the Pfalz area of Germany, the floral aromas of lychees on the nose are followed with peach blossom on the palate. Great on its own or partner with lightly-spiced Asian food.