German riesling is arguably the best value wine on the market. It is of course a matter of taste but, whether the Riesling is dry or in a sweeter style, what's almost guaranteed is a bottle full of flavour and enjoyment.
But why are German wines such good value? Perhaps the answer lies in all those years that Liebfraumilch deluged the British market. We Brits quaffed gallons of the cheap low-quality white and in doing so the reputation of German wines suffered – deflating the price of better wines.
Perhaps only now is the stature of the world's eighth largest wine producer beginning to recover but to the connoisseur the quality of top German wines has never been in doubt and top vintages rightly fetch big money.
Riesling makes up more than a fifth of German vineyards and that figure's increasing. Production is concentrated along the River Rhine and its tributaries and so it's to this catchment area I head for a tale of two top wine-makers – one based along the mighty Mosel tributary and the other in France's Alsace on the Rhine's west bank.
Dr Loosen is a familiar name to many. Their ever-reliable entry-level Dr L Riesling often appeared to be the subject of a price-war between Tesco and Asda until recently when the former dropped it from their shelves. It's currently selling at £7.16 in Asda and at that price it's unlikely to disappoint. But Loosen's range is extensive with their top wines commanding prices to match the quality expected from a 200-year-old family business. occupying some of the Mosel's finest vineyards and leading the way in chemical-free natural wine-making.
Their Urziger Wurtzgarten Riesling Auslese 2011 is a stunner. German wines are graded according to their sweetness with a classification that regards the sweetest as being the highest quality.
Kabinett are the driest and Auslese are mid-spectrum, made from fully ripened late-harvest grapes which may be affected by the ‘noble rot’ fungus which serves to concentrate sugar levels. They are typically low in alcohol – around 7 to 7.5%.
Harvested from a steep, red-soiled vineyard above the Mosel the Urziger Wurtzgarten has a mineral lime nose with rich flavours of tangerine and apricot. It typically costs around £25.
Dr Loosen's Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese 2011 has an apple, pear and peach nose with similar sweet flavours. The Loosen Asabore 2012 is very different with an industrial nose of petrol, oil and a touch of phenol. There are also citrus flavours.
Loosen's Erdener Pralat Riesling Auslese 2009 is a cracker. Only 7% alcohol it exudes marmalade and lime aromas with rich and seriously smooth flavours of orange and tangerine. It is available from a number of sources online but wine of this quality doesn't come cheap. Tanners are selling it for £41.80 a bottle.
Finally, Loosen's Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2011 is a concentrated sweet mix of tangerine and lime flavours. Waitrose is selling the 2007 at £19.99 but this wine typically fetches upwards of £25.
So to Alsace and one of the region's best-known makers, Hugel. The family business started making wine in the beautiful village of Riquewihr in 1639, so with all that practice it's unsurprising they're good at what they do. Their entry-level Gentil Hugel 2011 is a white blend of sylvaner, riesling, pinot gris, muscat and gewurztraminer grapes with lovely floral characteristics.
The Riesling Hugel Jubilee 2007 is a superb dry white with lush flavours of lemon and honey and a petrol and mineral nose. It's available at £23 from The Wine Society as is Hugel's pinot gris Jubilee 2008 which is full-flavoured with apricot and honey dominating.
The gewurztraminer grape originates from northern Italy but Alsace has made the spicy aromatic variety its own. Hugel's Gewurztraminer Classic 2011 is dry, light and floral with classic varietal aromas and flavours of blossom, lychee and tropical fruit.
The French equivalent of Germany's late-harvest auslese wines is Vendange Tardive and Hugel's gewurztraminer 2005 is a blockbuster. If you're prepared to pay £33 a bottle from the Wine Society you're in for a special occasion treat of semi-sweet apricot and tangerine nectar. It's utterly gorgeous.
Finally a top tip from wine-loving colleague, Alastair Machray. He says: “Those of you devoted to the crisp Sauvignon Blancs of Marlborough, New Zealand, will struggle to beat the value on offer at Majestic Wines at present. Their Giesen 2012 is available for a jaw-dropping £5.99 a bottle. That's the same quality as the much heralded Cloudy Bay but at around a quarter of the price. Fill your boots!”
I suspect he'll fill more than just his boots.