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7:00am Saturday 20th October 2012 in NewsXtra
Fancy a drink? Our drinks columnist Sam Wylie-Harris uncorks some refreshing Rieslings and sheds some light on this noble white grape
A vine day for riesling
Favoured by sommeliers and connoisseurs, German riesling is a classic table wine and a great workhorse for colourful menus thanks to its tingling acidity and beguiling flavours of apples, peaches and pear.
A lucky number for some, Germany has 13 wine regions and the cool climate Rheingau and Mosel Valleys are home to some of the country's most celebrated estates, where the vines are planted on steep slate slopes along rivers, and the picturesque landscape is dotted with pretty castles and endless ruins.
Indeed, the only thing that seems to stop the average wine drinker from reaching for riesling and seeking out these distinctive slender-necked bottles is a wine label in a language that's difficult to understand.
For anyone lost in translation, riesling is generally a light white wine in varying styles from sweet to dry and the lower the alcohol content, the sweeter the taste. In the same vein, the higher the abv, the dryer the style.
Spatlese (aka late harvest, so the grapes are very ripe) means semi-sweet and the Mosel Valley is famous for this higher sugar content. Trocken means dry and Rheingau rieslings are generally tangy and richer, while kabinett means off-dry, with a lower alcohol level of around 7% to 8%.
To whet your appetite - riesling is a brilliant match with spicy curries, sushi, stir-fries, roast pork and apple desserts - here are some suggestions for foodies who want to experience some of riesling's ripe rewards.
For an entry level medium style, try Simply Riesling 2011, Germany (£4.79, Tesco, 11% abv, Tesco) from the sunny slopes of the Rheinhessen area. The largest of the 13 regions, the wines have improved dramatically over the past 20 years and it's become famous for its dryer styles, as well as sweet. Served well chilled, this cheeky little number is smooth, sweet and sharp with honey giving way to flavours of tart citrus fruits - it's excellent with a lightly spiced prawn stir-fry.
Another good introduction, producer Zimmermann-Graeff & Muller has thrown away the rule book and packaged this modern-style riesling in a traditional wine bottle with a higher-than-average alcohol content. A little gem from the Pfalz region, which is renowned for its dry wines, try Peter & Peter Riesling 2011, Germany (£6.49, 13% abv, Tesco). Dry and clean with delicious peaches and apricots flavours, counter balanced by good acidity, it tastes extremely pleasant with sushi and sashimi.
Dr Wagner's sweet wines are aged in the biggest vaulted cellar in the Saar area of the Mosel Valley, and Dr Wagner Riesling 2011, Germany (£8.99, 9.5% abv, Waitrose) has a vibrant acidity that keeps it fresh, floral and citrusy without being too over the top. It's ideal on its own, or with warm apple strudel and a dollop of fresh cream for an after dinner treat.
As the name implies, Mineralstein Riesling 2011, Germany (£8.99, 12% abv, Marks & Spencer) is a minerally, lean and clean style, with citrus and peach fruits that take time to grow on you. Not a style I'd suggest on its own, but the brilliant balance of fruit and acidity works like a dream with chicken tikka masala, spicy potato curry, or even roast pork with crackling to cut through the fat.
A wine with history, Max Ferd Richter Mulheimer Sonnenlay Riesling QbA Zeppelin 2011, Germany (£10.99, 10.5% abv, www.laithwaites.co.uk) was served to passengers in the Graf Zeppelin's luxurious restaurant while crossing the Atlantic. Another off-dry style from the Mosel Valley, even non-riesling drinkers will be attracted to the zesty apple and peach flavours, lively minerality and good intensity that makes this a sweet partner with sushi and sashimi, and most spicy foods.
Off-dry and beautifully balanced, Leitz Riesling Spatlese 2011, Germany (£12.99, 10% abv, Sainsbury's) from the Rheingau region has zingy gooseberry and rhubarb crumble flavours racing through the palate, with a lovely honeyed freshness that makes this a special serve with a green Thai curry.
With slightly less punch but just as racy, Loersch-Eifel Blue Slate Riesling 2010, Germany (£13, 11.5%, www.germanwineagencies.co.uk) is a fine trocken from the Mosel Valley. Dry and tangy with notes of green apple, lime and lemon drops, there's a certain elegance to this mouthwatering riesling that lends itself to light chicken salads or Thai dishes. It can also be savoured on its own while planning your next tasting menu.
:: Best buy
Octoberfest... Waitrose is offering wine and spirit lovers some great deals during autumn with a grape and grain to suit every taste, from now until October 30. Favourites for shiraz lovers include De Bortoli DB Family Selection Shiraz SE Australia (£5.49 from £7.49, 25% off), Waitrose Reserve Shiraz, St Hallett Barossa Valley, S Australia (£7.49 from £9.99, 25% off), and sauvignon blanc fans should try Villa Maria Private Bin Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough, NZ (£7.49 from £9.99, 25% off) and Waitrose Sancerre La Franchotte, Joseph Mellot, France (£10.79 from £13.49, 20% off).
:: Liquid news
A basket of berries... Smirnoff has launched a limited edition range of four fruity flavours - Lime, Green Apple, Blueberry and Vanilla - to add an extra kick to a vodka and tonic or sinful cocktail. Each new taste comes in a snazzy, colour-coordinated textured bottle, so there's no mistaking the flavour, or the fruit. Smirnoff Limited Edition Flavours, £16.49, 70cl, Asda nationwide.