Around the beginning of the 20th century Germany’s legendary sweet Rieslings were more expensive than today’s world-famous Sauternes wines.
German single-vineyard white wines of successful vintages have graced the tables of kings and queens, dictators and emperors. They are the aristocrats of white wines, particularly those produced exclusively from the noble Rheinriesling.
These days world wide, German wine sales are much lower than they have been before World War I. The reason for this seems to be more political than quality.
It is true that in the past decade a lot of mediocre poorly made low quality German wine was exported to meet price point demands of shortsighted importers everywhere. Eventually consumers got tired of “the sameness” of all mid-priced German white wines and their residual sugar abandoning them altogether.
In the 1980’s and early 1990’s a buoyant German economy pushed internal demand prices to astronomical heights, prompting importers to resist. Ultimately, lucrative markets in both USA and UK were lost; Canada and Japan are relatively small but consistent markets.
Now quality German wines are enjoying a renaissance, and what is more, prices have been kept at reasonable levels to encourage sales and expand markets.
Truly, a fine German Riesling from a well-established, single-vineyard cannot be beat,
German wine laws originally redrawn in 1971 has undergone several revisions since and represents a marvel of precision and logic; if only officials would enforce everything it contains strictly and vigorously.
There are four levels of quality:
Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA)
Qualitatswein mit Praedikat (QmP)
The sub-categories of QmP are:
Eiswein, a German invention, must be at least of Auslese quality.
When sweet wines fell from grace some German wineries started producing completely, dry wines, using spaetlese quality grapes. (Spaetlese quality grapes contain more sugar, hence yield high-alcohol, full-bodied wines). However, few winemakers to date have been able to produce dry wines of distinction as German grown fruit contains naturally high levels of acidity.
German winemakers excel in producing off dry, sweet, and very sweet, but never cloying, wines from all kinds of grapes, but when it comes to Riesling their mastery shows!
One could say that Riesling in the hands of caring and well-trained winemakers represents a “work of art”.
Undoubtedly, the best indigenous grape is Riesling- Rheinriesling to be exact, followed by Sylvaner, Muller-Thurgau, Kerner, Traminer, Gewürztraminer, Rulaneder, Weissburgunder, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Ortega, Sheurebe, Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Morio-Muskat, Rieslaner just to name a few.
German red wines tend to be pale-red and light with little or no concentration resulting from feeble and less sunshine than Italy, France, Spain or Portugal. Regardless, Pinot Noir (Spaetburgunder), Portugieser, Trollinger, Dornfelder and Lemberger are planted and yield acceptable, sometimes even fine red wines. This most northerly located wine growing country in the world cultivates a little more than 100,000 hectares of vines in 13 regions, the most famous of which are Rheingau, Mosel, Palatinate, Hessia and Nahe (Baden, Wurttemberg, Ahr, Middlerhein, Saxonia, Franconia, Saale-Unstrut and Hessische Bergstrasse are the others).
Young wine aficionados constantly try to judge a wine by its residual sugar and think this will enable to predetermine its quality and appeal. Wines must be balanced between acidity and sweetness. German white wines offer just that, balance and fragrance!
Off dry Rieslings go exceedingly well with delicate sushi, sashimi and certain Chinese specialties.
One can successfully match off dry German wines particularly from Mosel with poached trout and Sauce Hollandaise, vegetable risottos, plain veal cutlet with mushrooms and cream sauce, baked ham, apricot or prune stuffed roast loin of pork, mild cream cheeses and stone fruits (apricots, peaches)
German wines provide a lot of information to the initiated. Before making a purchase decision check the vintage, the Amtliche Pruefungsnummer, the name of the winery, the alcohol content and the name of the wine.
If the name consists of two words, i.e. Wehlener Sonnenuhr, the first refers to the village and the second to the specific vineyard. By reading a German label carefully you can literally pinpoint the exact location of the vineyard, the village, and the region.
Here are a few terms that may come in handy:
Erzeugerabfuellung = estate bottled
Lieblich= off-dry, semi-sweet
Schloss= chateau, a large vineyard with the winery on it
Er- a= as a suffix after the bane of a village combined with the name of a vineyard means a single vineyard wine from the village i.e. Berkastel-er (the village) Badstube (Vineyard)
Diabetikerwein= wine with less than four grams of residual sugar per litre