Riesling

Von Othegraven, Riesling Sekt brut, 2007

Things have changed since we last reported on this old and well-respected Saar winery. Having run into some dire straits commercially - though not quality-wise, it needs to be pointed out - the estate was hurriedly taken over by one Günther Jauch, who was already in line for the eventual succession in ownership. This was a big piece of news far beyond the wine community in Germany, because Günther Jauch just happens to be a celebrity television host. A corporate makeover duly followed, streamlining label design and setting up what is probably the slickest website in the german wine business.

Reinhold Haart, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Riesling GG, 2008

For over 700 years the Haart family has been making wine in the Mosel valley village of Piesport. While I have no idea what wine they may have grown in the middle ages, these days it is exclusively Riesling - and most of it is sweet or off-dry. A small percentage of the wines are dry though, and this Great Growth (GG) is the top dry wine from the famous Goldtröpfchen (=little drop of gold) vineyard.

The colour is a clear, strawish yellow, more on the gold-dark side perhaps. The nose features cool mineral, herbs (more on the sage-mint side) and a hint of petrol (that almost disappeared on the second day).

Heiner Sauer, Gleisweiler Hölle, Riesling Kabinett trocken, 2009

After exploring in some depth the potential and perception of residually sweet Riesling, we turn, very briefly, to a style of the variety that is hardly known or appreciated outside of Germany: light, basic range dry Riesling. That type of working man's white is most reliably produced not along the more glamorous Mosel, but in down-to-earth Pfalz (the Palatinate), where vineyards are less capriciously steep and the climate more dependable, and it goes by the name of Kabinett trocken. Almost every half-decent winery there produces a few of those from different vineyards, and almost every inhabitant of the region will have one on their dinner table - almost every day.

The Sultans of Sweet. Learning about matching Residual Sugar in Mosel Riesling with food

Sweet wine is evil. Just mentioning it can make people's faces go grumpy bulldog on you. Even the faces of those who haven't tried any yet. Wine with residual sugar is often seen as nasty plonk, suitable for a cheap hangover or perhaps as a wine for the ladies, and that is usually not meant as a compliment either. In the UK, it is particularly associated with Germany 'thanks' to brands such as Liebfraumilch.

So I have to deal with a lot of bulldog faces in my mission to interest people in German wine. The most successful approach, I find, is to get them to taste the wines, especially with food, but that is a slow process if you are just one guy with a wardrobe full of Riesling in a nation of millions of wine drinkers.

So imagine my delight when I was recently invited to a lunch workshop designed to explore how off-dry and sweet Rieslings pair with food: Who is afraid of Residual Sugar? was organised by St. Urbans-Hof, one of the premier Mosel estates. What started as a very exciting and tasty experiment turned into a far-reaching discussion on the world of wine, customer perception, national (wine)stereotypes and wine marketing.

Kung Fu Girl Riesling 2009

If you come across a wine called 'Kung Fu Girl Riesling' you can be pretty certain it is a new world wine. I first heard of it on Twitter, where every other day a random American hipster would tweet about how much they liked it. The more radical souls seem to take the Kung Fu aspect literal and share kick ass opinions such as 'Yes, bitch, I like Kung Fu girl riesling. No I don't buy it as a joke. Go fuck yourself sideways you pretentious c-word.' Clearly, a wine that attracts interest, I thought, and made a mental note to get my hands on a bottle. So, when I recently found a bottle of Kung Fu Girl in a New York wine shop for fifteen bucks, I had no choice but to go for it. Is it really as kick ass as Twitter and the label make you want to believe?

Let's start with a few words about the winemaker. Charles Smith is a bit of a rock star among the wine crowd, and that is not only because he used to managed rock bands before going into the wine business.

Reinhold Haart, Piesporter Spätlese, Riesling, 2003

New York City is hipster territory - or at least that is the message it is trying very hard to project during my current visit. Interestingly, most things German do seem to be considered hip, especially German beer culture. The Lower East Side for instance welcomed me with German brass music, schnitzel and beer served by busty wenches dressed in pseudo Bavarian outfits. German Riesling, it turns out, is also very popular among the cool wine kids here, so it was quite fitting I brought one over to share with my host: a late harvest Riesling made by one of my favourite producers at the Mosel, Theo Haart. Usually, I would have opted for a Haart Riesling from one of the famous vineyards such as Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, but a few years ago I came across this late harvest from several vineyards around Piesport, which to me seemed almost more interesting than some of the wines from the top sites. Did it hold up as well as Haart's premier wines though, I wondered, or were we in for a disappointment?

Peter Jakob Kühn, Oestricher Doosberg, Riesling trocken, drei Trauben, 2007

It is moments like this when I feel a little embarrassed to write about a wine. I often wish we had more wines to complain about so that we can prove that we are wine bloggers of the really critical sort. However, this is a blog about the wines we drink for pleasure, not for profit, so we try as hard as possible to find wines that we think we might like. When I bought this Riesling from the Rheingau, I hoped it would be good, really good. I had no idea it would be so good that even after going to bed I could still be heard mumbling 'this is fantastic'. Before you read on be warned though: you may seriously hate this wine.

Künstler, Kirchenstück, Riesling Kabinett trocken, 2008

Rheingau - rumour has it was here where Charlemagne had a vineyard and where the concept of 'Spätlese' (late harvest) was invented in the 18th century (albeit by accident). While red wine is on the rise pretty much everywhere else in Germany, the Rheingau (think of the Rhine near Wiesbaden/Frankfurt) is still unchallenged Riesling country. The Künstler family are among the most prominent producers in the area, known mostly for the Riesling from the 'Hölle' (literally 'hell') and 'Kirchenstück' ('church piece') vineyards.