After the excesses of the festive season many drinkers opt for a short period of abstinence. Some won’t even touch a drop of alcohol for a month. For those of us who are not so abstemious, it’s still a good idea to cut down on alcohol by seeking out wines made in a lighter style.
Initially, this may seem about as appealing as a fat-free yoghurt, but you don’t have to forgo aroma, flavour or interest if you turn to grape varieties that are naturally low in sugar, grown in regions where they have been carefully cultivated through the ages, such as Riesling and Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder) grown and vinified in Germany.
German wines have improved dramatically in the last few decades and bottles from the best domains are now fetching the prices they deserve. The reputation of German wines suffered from overproduction; insipid bottles of very poor quality drunk in volume by British consumers who didn’t really like wine. Those days have long gone, but the reputation for making sweet white wines persists despite the fact that Germany produces some fabulous reds and that two-thirds of German production is of dry wines.
The ancestral reason for so much sweetness in wines of the Rhine is the same reason these wines have extraordinary longevity: the cold northern climate. Cold cellars often halted the alcoholic fermentation leaving high levels of residual sugar in the wines, while vineyard temperatures preserved the acidity. Nowadays, the winemaker can use techniques to guide the fermentation, ensuring most of the sugar is converted into alcohol. Even so, alcohol levels in Riesling remain light at 10-11 per cent by volume. And in Alsace, where they prefer a drier style, the alcohol level of Riesling seldom rises above 12 per cent. One can enjoy a glass of these wines at lunchtime without drowsy after effects, and the bottles keep well once opened due to high levels of acidity, which also give Riesling a cool, lime-edged cleanness on the palate.