Wine & spirits: Riesling rapture
At my table, German Riesling rivals lemonade as the perfect summer drink. With its vibrant fruity bouquet, fresh, tart flavours and comfortably low alcohol level, Riesling is suited to sipping on sunny days.
Lower alcohol – German wines average eight to 10 per cent by volume – can prevent the onset of those pounding headaches that oaky Chardonnays and monster Merlots can trigger when the mercury rises.
Germany's cool climate drives Riesling's normally high acidity to the limit. As a result, Rhine wines are crisp and refreshing, ideal with the light, fresh foods we tend to enjoy in the warmer months. And the aromatic intensity of Riesling is delightful outdoors, where even a gentle wind can blow away the delicate bouquet of other wines.
Once the most expensive and sought-after wines for those in the know, German wines fell out of favour after the Second World War. Young imbibers (who are more willing to try new things) were intimidated by the labels and switched to simpler names. Happily, this enchanting classic variety is being rediscovered around the globe.
A guide to the German label
Modern producers have followed the lead of the Sichel company, which created the user-friendly Blue Nun brand in the 1930s. In general, the first word on a label is the name of the nearest town, the second identifies the specific vineyard or group of vineyards, the third indicates grape variety and the fourth shows the level of ripeness at the time of picking. If a grape variety isn't mentioned, the wine is a blend; if the ripeness level isn't stated, the grapes are most likely picked during the normal harvest; and if the town or vineyard isn't named, the wine is a general blend.
Here's a list of terms you'll come across.
• Trocken Bone-dry with no noticeable residual sweetness.
• Spätlese “Late-picked”; grapes must be left on the vine for a minimum of one week after the beginning of the normal harvest.
• Kabinett Worthy of storage in a wine cabinet or cellar; enjoyable immediately but can be aged for up to 12 years.
• Auslese Made from individually selected grape bunches with higher sugar concentrations and potential alcohol.
• Schloss A castle and its estate; all the grapes come from the owner's private vineyards.