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.
There's more to Germany than Riesling.
Not all German wine is sweet! (In fact, the Germans make a lot of
wonderful dry wine.)
The wines are often very fairly priced.
Photo Taken By Gerald Weisl.
The cellars of Zilliken in the Mosel...underground, with lots of old
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%
German Wine Label Terminology
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.
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!
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
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.
alcohol. When they're fermented to just 8%-10% alcohol, you have a fair bit of
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.
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.
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
So then, a "chicken and egg" situation arises: Is it that smart
people knowGerman wines or are German wine drinkers simply smarter than the
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
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.
Pinot Blanc. Grown in Germany since the 1500s!
Known as Pinot Gris or Pinot Grigio. Grauburgunder is,
typically, a rather dry white wine. Old style, sweeter wines are often called
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.
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!
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.
The oldest cultivated "cross" in the world, being
Riesling x Silvaner...first produced in 1882. Some call their wines
Not much of this planted at the moment, but it's another crossing
of Silvaner and Riesling.
A crossing of Gutedel and Courtillier Musqué, this is rather like
Muscat and best when made as a late-harvest, sweet wine.
A cross of Riesling and Trollinger, these tend to lack a bit of
elegance and acidity, but are often nice sweet wines.
A new variety capable of making some of Germany's most
intensely-colored red wines. These end up being comparable to a pretty nice
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
EVEN STRANGER !!
CABERNET SAUVIGNON?? !!
CHARDONNAY ?? !!
Yes. There's even a bit of Chardonnay. Most are similar in style to a Macon
Near Trittenheim along the Mosel in July of 2005.
For our some suggestions, check out the following page: