Our historic penchant for the finest wines of the Rhine and the Mosel has dwindled alarmingly over the last few decades, says Bill Knott
What happened to hock and Moselle?
In Raymond Postgate’s The Plain Man’s Guide to Wine (the 1960 vintage), the author – ‘not to be mincing about it’ – declares that the best of these ‘Rhenish’ wines ‘are the finest white wines in the world’, with ‘an astonishing floral bouquet, which is unparalleled’.
He spends five pages extolling their virtues before mentioning Riesling, and then in relation to the wines of Alsace, ‘still most usually marketed under the names of their grapes’. Alsace rather stole a march on the rest of the Old World in putting the grape variety on the label.
Whatever the reason – perhaps it was the tidal wave of Liebfraumilch that engulfed Britain in the 1970s and 1980s, alienating serious wine-lovers – our historic penchant for the finest wines of the Rhine and the Mosel has dwindled alarmingly over the last few decades.
Our attitude to sweetness in food and drink has always puzzled me. Crab, fresh peas or beans, strawberries, tomatoes, peaches, even lamb: describe any of these as ‘sweet’ and it is a term of approbation. Not with wine; not any more.
But, as David Motion, owner of The Winery in Maida Vale, proved to me over a recent lunch, German Rieslings do not have to be sweet, or even ‘off-dry’, the modern euphemism for ‘medium’. David is a man on a mission. A former pop producer who still dabbles as a composer, he took over the Winery in 1998, started importing wines directly from Germany and has been selling a higher and higher proportion of dry – trocken – wines ever since.
David’s best-selling Riesling is made by Gerrit Walter, who was an intern at The Winery in 2009. His Walter Riesling Trocken 2019 (£10.99) is a great introduction to the joys of dry Riesling. Grown on vertiginous terraces beside the Moselle, its racy, green apple acidity has a hint of slate from the local soils.
Other favourites – it was a long lunch – included Christine Huff’s intense and complex Rabenturm [Ravens’ Tower] 2011 from Rheinhessen; the ornately-labelled Victoriaberg Hochheimer 2020 from Joachim Flick, which celebrates Queen Victoria’s love of hock and her visit to one vineyard in particular; and J B Becker’s gloriously honeyed – but still bone-dry – Riesling Spätlese 1998.
Lunch also demonstrated that Riesling is the finest of food-friendly wines, matching happily with langoustines, vitello tonnato and pasta with truffles.
The Winery is a sweetshop for grown-ups, one in which most of the sugar has been turned to alcohol. Should you not be able to visit, they will happily take phone orders and deliver to your door. David is a genial evangelist whose shop is a little cathedral, a shrine to a style of wine that we used to love and will, I hope, love again.
Reaching for the bookshelf, I will leave the last word to the great John Arlott. He wrote, in 1982, that ‘a good hock is never better than when it is drunk, reflectively, relaxedly, and most happy in the open air of a summer evening’.
The Winery, 4 Clifton Road, London W9; tel: 020 7286 6475; www.thewineryuk.com