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GERMAN WINES

germany.gif (39716 bytes)The reason German wines aren't more popular here in the U.S. is that most consumers don't like being embarrassed by appearing ignorant.  The names are difficult to pronounce and the labels have so many differentiations that a consumer might die of thirst attempting to ask for a bottle of their favorite wine!

"I'd like a bottle of FREIHERRLICH LANGWERTH VON SIMMERN'SCHES RENTAMT'S RAUENTHALER BAIKEN RIESLING SPATLESE but in the HALB-TROCKEN style, please!"    And that's one of the easier names!

Okay.  They're tough to pronounce.  But Riesling makes such stunning wine!   It doesn't require the oak of a Chardonnay to be a complex and fabulously satisfying bottle of wine.

bulletThere's more to Germany than Riesling. 
bulletNot all German wine is sweet!   (In fact, the Germans make a lot of wonderful dry wine.)
bulletThe wines are often very fairly priced. 


Photo Taken By Gerald Weisl.
The cellars of Zilliken in the Mosel...underground, with lots of old cooperage...
It was a rainy day and you can see the water pouring down in the cellar.
It's a cool and humid place, ideal for aging wine.

One of the odd things of German wine is that they basically make wines from relatively un-ripe fruit and find a market for it!   You can taste wines with the designation Qba (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) which are made from grapes a California winemaker would simply leave on the vine.  

Then they have a higher quality category and these will have Qualitätswein mit Pradikat on the label and a further designation as to how ripe the grapes were at harvest.  This varies according to the region (for example, a Mosel need have a potential alcohol of just 10% for Spatlese designation, while in the Rheingau, it must have a potential alcohol of 11.4%).   Compare these figures with California Chardonnays which often weigh in at more than 14% alcohol !!!!

German Wine Label Terminology

Tafelwein Table wine.  Some wines are truly of very modest quality, while others simply don't conform to German "standards" (maybe a wine made from an unapproved grape variety.
QbA
Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete
QbA must come from one of 13 wine growing regions, be made from approved or permitted varieties, have a (low) minimum sugar level at harvest. 
To add to the confusion, a Rheinhessen group allows its members, if they're wines are so selected, to have the use of a Rheinhessen Selection label.  Though the wines are of better quality, they permit these to be sold only as Qba level wines!
QmP
Qualitätswein mit Prädikat
These are wines which are not "chaptalized" (no sugar added to the juice or must!), grapes must be from a particular area and quality-tested.   (We wonder, though.)  There are five sub-categories of Qmp

Just as  many people have mastered the art and science of reading a German wine label, there's a new wrinkle.  Member wineries (about 200 of them) of the VDP organization will, from 2012 on, label their dry wines as Qba level bottles.  This means the wines from VDP producers which are offered as Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese level wines, will, in fact, have residual sugar.  These producers will no longer be selling a Spatlese Trocken Riesling, for example.
However, for the hundreds of vintners who are not VDP members:  they will continue, if they like, to make "Spatlese Trocken" wines and label them as such.

KABINETT-- 8.6%-9.5% potential alcohol

SPATLESE--10.0%-11.4% potential alcohol  (now you're talking!  For my palate, this is the minimum for most wines, especially wines which are dry.)
Curiously, most wine books tell you this is "late harvest" wine!   Ha!   A California Chardonnay of this alcohol would be regarded as feeble and weak.

AUSLESE--11.1%-13% potential alcohol  Since these are rarely fermented to total dryness, unless the word "trocken" appears on the label, these are usually a bit sweet.  Trocken and Auslese on the same label usually means an extraordinary and expensive wine.

BEERENAUSLESE--15.3%-17.7% potential alcohol.  When they're fermented to just 8%-10% alcohol, you have a fair bit of residual sugar.

TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE--something like 21.5% potential alcohol, being made from dried or raisined fruit. 

EISWEIN--Now must be at least Beerenauslese sweetness as a minimum and be made of grapes harvested in a frozen state.

Someone sent me this photo of a picker in Germany harvesting frozen grapes which had been purposely left on the vine for harvesting in December during a freeze.

Curiously many Americans know only wines from Piesport (easy to pronounce), J.J. Prüm (a famous Mosel winery), Zeller Schwarze Katz (with a black cat on the label), Kröver Nacktarsch (with kids being spanked depicted on the label) or branded wines such as Blue Nun or Black Tower (which are names of Liebfraumilch, a relatively meaningless designation of rather modest quality). 

Another curiosity is that many customers come in and ask for "Spätlese wines" and will buy these without the slightest clue as to where they come from (Mosel, Rheingau, Rheinpfalz, etc.) or as to who made the wine!  Imagine customers in other parts of the world buying California Zinfandel and not caring whether its label is "Turning Leaf" or "Ridge Vineyards"! 

So then, a "chicken and egg" situation arises: Is it that smart people know German wines or are German wine drinkers simply smarter than the average bear?


wpe1.jpg (13305 bytes)
Photo:
The door to a German winetasting room.
Sometimes these are meant more for social gatherings and selling wine by the glass and snacks more than for "serious" wine evaluations.


 

 

 

German Grape Varieties

RIESLING Grown in many areas of Germany, it makes fabulous wines.  It reflects the climate and soil, perhaps more so than any other grape variety (Pinot Noir, perhaps).  This is the grape called White Riesling or Johannisberg Riesling in our part of the planet.
WEISSBURGUNDER Pinot Blanc.  Grown in Germany since the 1500s!
GRAUBURGUNDER/ RULANDER Known as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio.  Grauburgunder is, typically, a rather dry white wine.  Old style, sweeter wines are often called Rulander. 
SPÄTBURGUNDER Pinot Noir.  These used to be exceedingly wimpy wines.   However, some producers take a lot of care and now make some terrific wine of this grape.
SILVANER Though not as "noble" as Riesling, we've tasted some very good wines of this white grape.   Sadly, California allows Silvaner to be labeled "Riesling" as though it were real "Riesling" wine! 
SCHEUREBE A cross of Silvaner and Riesling, said to have blackcurrant fruit aromas or grapefruit notes.  We're big fans of Hans Wirsching's dry Scheurebe.
MÜLLER-THURGAU/
RIVANER
The oldest cultivated "cross" in the world, being Riesling x Silvaner...first produced in 1882.  Some call their wines "Rivaner" (Riesling/Silvaner).
RIESLANER Not much of this planted at the moment, but it's another crossing of Silvaner and Riesling.
HUXELREBE A crossing of Gutedel and Courtillier Musqué, this is rather like Muscat and best when made as a late-harvest, sweet wine.
KERNER A cross of Riesling and Trollinger, these tend to lack a bit of elegance and acidity, but are often nice sweet wines.
DORNFELDER A new variety capable of making some of Germany's most intensely-colored red wines.  These end up being comparable to a pretty nice Beaujolais.
SCHWARZRIESLING This is what the French call "Pinot Meunier," a variety used for sparkling wine.  Also known as Müllerrebe in some parts of Germany.
Other Interesting Varieties Lemberger (a red of modest quality), Frühburgunder (also known as Clevner or "early Burgundy"), Elbling (brought by the Romans around 300AD), Gutedel (also called Chasselas), Blauer Portugieser (a modest red) and Trollinger (or Vernatsch). 
EVEN STRANGER !! CABERNET SAUVIGNON?? !!
Syrah?  Merlot?  
CHARDONNAY ?? !!
Yes.  There's even a bit of Chardonnay.  Most are similar in style to a Macon wine.

 


Near Trittenheim along the Mosel in July of 2005.

For our some suggestions, check out the following page:

Some of our German Wine Selections
CLICK HERE



A Great German Tasting 2001

Another Great German Tasting 2002

2001 VINTAGE NOTES 

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