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Get ready for a Riesling revival

03 November 2005
Get ready for a Riesling revival

Germany has always made some of the world's greatest white wines and I, for one, am a great Riesling fan. I particularly like those steely, stylish wines from the Mosel.

But the general opinion seems to be that getting restaurant customers to try German wine remains a slog. A recent report said German wines are still not performing in the on-trade, but I challenge this statement.

I feel the statistics don't represent the full on-trade sector because the information was supplied primarily by the UK's largest distributors rather than smaller independent merchants. These stats are interesting in terms of volume sold, but it's important to remember that many high-end, opinion-forming restaurants are seeing excellent sales of German wines.

Martin Lam, chef-proprietor of London restaurant Ransome's Dock, says German wine sales have really taken off in the restaurant sector. "Today's hottest restaurant trend is for Asian, Japanese and Thai-style cuisine, and it's a sector where German wines, probably more than anywhere else, show their amazing versatility," he says. "You need not look far to see their popularity.

"Nearly every modern restaurant wine list stocks the best German wines, and they sell - customers are buying, drinking and enjoying them."

Ronan Sayburn, executive head sommelier for Gordon Ramsay Restaurants, says some consumers have negative preconceptions about German wine, but he has never had a customer reject one upon tasting it. The trick, he thinks, is to include a couple of German wines by the glass alongside a tasting menu.

"We kick off a seven-course tasting menu by pairing a foie gras starter with a light and refreshing Riesling Sptlese rather than a Sauterne - its lush, tropical flavours and lightness in alcohol are a great counterbalance to the richness of the dish. People who return to the restaurant remember the great German wine they tried by the glass, so you can sell them a bottle the second time around."

Finally, I admit Germany can still be a turn-off for some of our parents' generation, those who fought in the Second World War, and the baby boomers who were subjected to Liebfraumilch in the 1960s and 1970s. But it seems younger consumers are much more amenable to trying something new.

Just remember that the fine wines of Germany are anything but new - they're just grossly underestimated.

Are German wines as unpopular as everyone says?

Iris Ellman, managing director, The WineBarn, Winchester
"Riesling makes a very versatile food match and the message that Germany produces some of the best Rieslings - many of them dry - is getting through to the consumer. Restaurants which promote or encourage customers to try German Rieslings have seen customers come back for more."

Julian Payne, former general manager, the Ritz "A lot of UK travellers visit places in the New World such as Australia and California, which encourages them to buy their wines at home. Not many UK travellers visit Germany, and I think German wine merchants will have to do a lot in terms of marketing to convince Brits to drink their wares."

Nigel Blundell, consultant and ex-chairman of Siegel Wine Agencies "To increase German wine sales, get restaurants to serve at least one Riesling by the glass. Most German Rieslings contain half the alcohol of other wines, making them ideal as an aperitif. Also, wine lists should be divided by style rather than country, as Germany can still be a turn-off for those aged over 33."

Stephen Skelton MD, master of wine "The days when the Germans led the wine market are over. Their style of wines cannot compete with leading wines from Australia and the USA. German wines hold their own in the specialist sector and sommeliers and wine merchants do value them, but on the consumer market they can't compete."

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