Is it time for unfashionable wines of bygone days to make a comeback? Victoria Moore sings the virtues of German wines and suggests food pairings for them.
We may snigger about Blue Nun, but I’ve poured it for unsuspecting friends towards the end of an evening and had them rave about it. What do they love? The girlish, meadow-like scent, for one thing. The sweetness, for another. Yes, I know it’s not popular to talk about sweetness in wine, but this is sweetness like the juice of a ripe nectarine or the cool flesh of a fresh grape – which is exactly where it comes from. It’s an attractive quality, if you think about it like that.
Back in the day, medium-dry German wines such as Blue Nun and Black Tower were all the rage, but nowadays we sneer at them. The words ‘hock’ and ‘liebfraumilch’ are also wine no-nos, though I suspect most of us cringe without really knowing what they mean. Let me tell you:
Hock is an entirely British term. It comes from the word Hochheimer, meaning wines from the town of Hochheim am Main, near Frankfurt. Dating back to the 17th century, it supposedly denotes any white wine from the Rhine area, though I’d argue that we use it now to talk about a certain style of cheap, sweetish German riesling.
Liebfraumilch is more specific and actually has a legal definition. At least 70% of the wine must be made from silvaner, riesling, müller-thurgau or kerner; it must come from one of four regions (Nahe, Rheinhessen, Pfalz or Rheingau) and it must be medium-dry (with between 18 and 45 grams per litre of residual sugar, to be precise).
Unless you’re a wine geek (geeks love a bit of German riesling action) or a time traveller from the days when Doctor Who had white bouffant hair, there’s a decent chance these wine styles won’t sound appealing to you. Here’s a good reason to try them, or at least something like them:
Modern versions of medium-dry German riesling are amazing with many contemporary foods that can otherwise be tricky to pair wines with. One example: Asian-influenced salads and rice noodle dishes doused in lime, chilli and fish sauce dressings. The bright tang of riesling is great with lime, and the fruity succulence of sweet versions mediates the effect of the chilli and goes well with mango or papaya. A non-dry German riesling can also work well with the heat of harissa. I use this north African chilli paste to add some spice to chicken dishes, or mix it with olive oil, pomegranate seeds and garlic, and use it as a marinade for roast quail. Either way, sweeter German rieslings go beautifully with the finished dish.
In more traditional cooking, the presence of sweet fruit also makes a case for one of these non-dry wines. Perhaps the most perfect match here is roast pork, or a pork chop with a herb crust, served with stewed apple sauce, or pommes boulangère with slices of eating apples layered between the potatoes and onion. Try eating some of these dishes with a glass of the apple-y, refreshing, not-dry Dr L Riesling 2016, Germany (Adnams, £9.99).
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Victoria Moore is an award-winning wine columnist and author. Her new book, The Wine Dine Dictionary (£20, Granta), is out now.