How to… sell Riesling

27 January 2009 by
How to… sell Riesling

The Princess Victoria opened this summer in Shepherd's Bush, London, and owner and sommelier Matt Wilkin has created his own Riesling fan club. He has 30 Rieslings on his list in all and they skip the globe, kicking off in Germany. "There's so much value for money there," he enthuses.

To drum up local business when he first opened he sent out flyers that highlighted the style of the food but also focused on the wine - singling out his love of Riesling. But has he actually managed to sell much of it yet? "People have come in clutching my leaflets. I've already flogged dozens of cases of 2007 Dönnhoff dry Riesling, on the list at £30 a bottle," he says.

First you need to throw out any misconceptions that Riesling is cheap, sweet and Germanic. These days the grape is more likely to be dry, even in Germany, the home of Riesling. And it can provide you with some of the world's greatest wines for less than £30.

Remember: everyone seems to be moaning about the homogenisation of wines these days, declaring little distinction between commercial Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio.

Riesling is also generally lower in alcohol. Many of us would rather not have to work our way through a 14% abv-plus overextracted, oak-heavy fruit bomb and many spicy, smoky or salty dishes work well with its pure, fresh, zippy character. It's the fastest-growing white wine in the USA, and where the Americans go, the British follow.

Award-winning wine bar Vinoteca in London's Clerkenwell enjoys healthy Riesling sales, selling 10, the most of any variety on their list. How does co-owner Brett Woonton do it? "Our top tip for selling Riesling is to by-the-glass it and to give a little to try before you buy. Also, putting the wine with a specific dish really helps people to understand the versatility of this grape with food," advises Woonton.

"All our Rieslings sell well," he confirms. "People are more informed about grape varieties these days and they are willing to experiment. We are finding fewer and fewer people with the attitude that Riesling is too high in sugar and too low in alcohol."

Kate Thal is another London operator who shifts a fair amount of Riesling at her south London wine bar, Green & Blue, in East Dulwich. "We list five at Green & Blue - an Australian Riesling at under £10 sells really well the Grand Cru Alsace less well, but that is entirely related to price," she explains. Thal's top tip for selling more Riesling is to continually remind people that not all of it is off-dry or medium and to talk up the crisp fruitiness, which a lot of people really like, she reports.

Eric Zwiebel couldn't possibly narrow down his favourite Riesling producers to any fewer than 40. The Alsace-born sommelier, who is based at the Summer Lodge hotel in Dorset, has an enviable list stashed with dozens of different Rieslings - 86 at the last count.

He agrees with Thal, the way to sell Riesling is to make people understand that they aren't always sweet, nor are they oaky, and that they can be dry, crisp and refreshing, with such an individual character. And he tells them that Riesling shows off its terroir better than any other grape. "I also remind them that Riesling is the best white grape in the world," grins the former UK Sommelier of the Year.

Pairing Riesling with food is Zwiebel's forte, so what are his favourites? "I love dry styles with smoked fish, such as trout or salmon and I love sweeter Riesling with foie gras, white fish in cream sauce, poached chicken with morels - and white truffles, especially with the older vintages. Imagine an old Riesling with a velouté of asparagus and a white truffle cream or a trockenbeerenauslese with panna cotta," he adds, wistfully. I am - and I'm rushing off to open a bottle right now.

Riesling grapes: the most widely planted variety in Germany is enjoying a global renaissance with crisp, dry wines that belie its cheap reputation

Brett Woonton (left) and Charlie Young at Vinoteca, where their list has 10 Rieslings - all selling well

The latest vintage

The 2007 was particularly kind, with most wines showing a purity of fruit and a real sense of place, plus a racy vibrancy that helps set German Riesling apart. A warm April led to early vine development, followed by a cool, dry summer and ideal ripening conditions in September, making 2007 one of the longest growing seasons in German history. In short, if you haven't already, then stock up on them now.

Prinz zu Salm-Dalberg'sches Weingut in the Nahe region has 10 of Germany's best 50 estates. "We have got so many different soils here. You can actually taste the stones in our vineyard," says 28-year-old Prince Constantin - yes, he really is a prince - who lives above the cellar with his wife.

"Sushi and tempura with Riesling is my favourite match," he declares. The prince says that his wines, like many other German Rieslings, have got a lot drier in recent years, with producers making a real effort to keep alcohol levels down.

Peter Siener knows more than most about the diversity of soils. His Pflaz vineyard ranges from the spicy, mineral-heavy, heat-retaining "red soil" to the lanoline, waxy note-giving slate soils further up the hill. His Sandstone Riesling is more fragrant and fatter.

Andreas Laible's vineyards in Durbach, in Baden, are steep. Voted Germany's Young Winemaker of the Year, Laible reveals: "I put straw between the newly planted vines to stop the erosion of the soil."

The roots dig deep in the vertiginous vineyards, which hit inclines of up to 80%. How does he feel about being voted the best? "It's lot of work - and there are always too many questions from journalists," grins the 32-year-old.

Laible makes 30 different wines from just 7.5ha of vineyards, juggling 10 different varieties, including Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, but Riesling is his main focus, using 12 different clones, from the Mosel to the Nahe.

The best producers

Grosset, Rolly Gassmann, Schloss Vollrads, Loimer, Heymann-Lowenstein, Frederic Mochel, Prager, Kreydenweiss, Ostertag, Zindâ€'Humbrecht, JJ Prum, Kunstler, Donnhoff, Wittman, PX Pichler, Henscke, Felton Road.

Winemakers and chefs
Constantin zu Salm-Salm takes a slurp of his Riesling followed by a spoonful of classic lobster bisque. "This is a much better match than a plate of traditional German food, which drowns out our refined, elegant Rieslings," he announces.

Salm-Salm is a member of Nahetalente, a group of young winemakers and restaurateurs in the Nahe region ( who get together regularly to pair wines.

The creator of the lobster bisque is chef Jan Treutle, who worked for many years for Germany's top chef, three-Michelin-starred Harald Wohlfahrt, and is also a member of the group. His restaurant, Im GÁ¼tchen, in Bad Kreuznach, lists all the best Nahe wines.

In the Pfalz, a group of five young winemakers calling themselves the Sudpflaz Connexion (, among them Peter Siener, also get together at Weinstube Brand in Birkweiler.

The 30-year-old chef-owner, Christian Knefler, has been cooking here for four years, putting a modern twist on traditional dishes at his 35-seat restaurant. Sweet corn and foie gras, a ball of parfait coated in local breadcrumbs served on corn purée with a cardamom jus, matches the Pflaz spÁ¤tlese Riesling trockens.

Knefler trained at the three-Michelin-starred Black Forest hotel restaurant, the Bareiss, before buying the lease at the weinstube where he cooks on a four-ring stove with just a washer-upper for company.Sales tips

Sales tips

â- Send out flyers proclaiming your love of Riesling.

â- Offer it by the glass, so people aren't risking it all on a bottle and are more likely to try.

â- List a Riesling alongside a specific dish, just to show it really can go with food.

â- Talk up the crisp fruitiness rather than sweetness or off-dry characteristics.

â- You have a good story with Riesling use it - many experts think it is the best white grape in the world, with a range of flavours that no other can match.

â- Describe those flavours: "steely, dry and intense" or "headily sweet and decadent", or even, if you're feeling up to it, "lime-kissed and minerally" that you find in the Clare Valley, Australia.

By Fiona Sims

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