Description 1 of 2
Germany is the producer of some of the most admired wines in the world. These are its Rieslings, both sweet and dry, from top sites and producers. Though these wines typically have the most delicate and elegant of frames, they support incredible intensity, purity of fruit, and nuanced expression of terroir. It’s doubtful that any other wine, except perhaps the greatest Burgundy, can send wine writers into such fits of lyrical frenzy.
Germany has been known for its great Rieslings for hundreds of years. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the prestige and prices Germany’s Rhine wines equalled those of the best Bordeaux.
Germany is also known for the travesty that is Liebfraumilch. That stuff became common -- but mostly as an export -- after Germany’s wine industry was devastated by two world wars.
Particularly after World War II, many growers adopted early-ripening, high-yielding hybrids such as Muller-Thurgau, which edged out the noble Riesling grape. These low-quality grapes were blended and Sussreserve was added to them to make the infamous table wine Liebfraumilch. The postwar labor shortage, among other factors, made it very difficult to produce quality wine.
Today, wine at the highest quality level makes up about two-thirds of Germany’s total production. That sounds great, but in truth, it can still be difficult to interest people in making the kinds of wines that have given Germany its reputation. The steep, terraced vineyards that produce them must be worked manually and require an immense amount of passion, commitment, and diligence. It’s simply easier to make mediocre wine on flat land while sitting in a tractor than to scale frighteningly steep hillsides and do all the work by hand. But it is these wines that send people into raptures, and they are becoming increasingly fashionable and available.
Germany’s most important wine-producing regions are the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (now just called the Mosel, to the consternation of many), Franken, Nahe, Rheinhessen, Rheingau, and Pfalz. One may also encounter Hessische, Bergstrasse, Ahr, Mittelrhein, Wurttemberg, Baden, and Saale-Unstrut-Sachsen. Riesling remains Germany’s most important grape variety, but Pinot Noir is slowly catching up. One region that is known for excellent Pinot Noir is the Ahr.
It’s not hard to locate a source if you want to learn the minutiae of German wine law. Instead, I’ll offer a primer on how to read a wine label.
Many top estates did not put grape variety on their labels in the past. The idea was that these wines were so great that it was obvious that they were Riesling. Now, they’re all labeled with the grape variety, and you can find things besides Riesling on the shelf.
German wine, like French wine and many others, is divided into quality levels. The first of these, Tafelwein and Landwein, are the rough equivalents of the French Vin de Table and Vin de Pays. They are not that important in the context of German wine because they make up such a tiny percentage of the production.
The next two are much more important, because they’re common on American store shelves. The first is Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebeite (QbA). This is quality wine from a specified region, which will appear on the label. Chaptalization is allowed for these. From a great producer, they can offer outstanding value. To get a clue to the sweetness level, you should look first for words such at Trocken (dry) and Halbtrocken or Feinherb (off-dry). If none are given, you can look at the alcohol content. Anything below 10% probably leans more toward sweetness, but this is not an absolute rule. And if it says “Sekt,” it’s sparkling.
The highest-quality category is Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (QmP), also called Pradikatswein. Here, too, the region will appear on the label. Chaptalization is not permitted, so growers must rely only on the natural sugars in the grapes. This is where Pradikat levels like Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese come in.
The Pradikats do not refer to the sweetness of the wine. They refer to the ripeness of the grapes, with Kabinett being the lowest. The last three (Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese) are always made in a dessert style. Auslese is usually quite sweet, but can be totally dry. Again, wines may be labeled “Trocken,” “Halbtrocken,” or “Feinherb.” And yes, often, Spatlesen are sweeter than Kabinetts, but there are too many exceptions to really say so anymore, especially since Germans increasingly prefer dry wines at both of these Pradikat levels. What you can count on is that Kabinett is generally a delicate, fresh wine while Spatlese has more heft.
Germany’s equivalents to Grands Crus are labelled Grosses Gewachs, Erstes Gewachs (Rheingau only), or Erste Lagen (Mosel only). The last of these three may be made in any style, from grapes of any Pradikat level. The former two must be at least Spatlese and must be dry. Some of these bottlings are surprisingly affordable, so do look out for them.
If you become more than a very casual drinker of German wines, you’ll want to learn about the various regions and how you can know where your wine comes from.
A wine that comes from a single vineyard will have the name of the town it comes from listed first, followed by the vineyard name. For example, a wine labelled “Urziger Wurzgarten” comes from the famous vineyard of Wurzgarten in the town of Urzig.
At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work. The 1971 wine law attempted to put an end to the proliferation of local vineyard names by consolidating them from 30,000 Einzellage (individually named vineyards) to 2600 and setting a minimum vineyard size of five ha. It also included the option of labelling wines with the names of Grosslagen, which are groups of Einzellagen. Bereiche are districts, which is a still larger category.
This upset a lot of people, because they felt that if you care a lot about the wine you are drinking, you need to know much more precisely where it comes from. They felt that this law ignored what it is that causes one plot of land to develop a reputation distinct from another -- namely, terroir. And Germany’s best vineyards are notorious for the vast variety of microclimates and mesoclimates that are found within them.
Many top growers have responded to the law by jettisoning the official vineyard labeling terms altogether and replacing them with informal lieu-dit names or with stars that have meaning only for their particular estates. They succeeded in undoing the labeling law’s blurring effect, but have also made things even more confusing for buyers. What’s a consumer to do? Buy by producer. Get to know particular producers, their styles of winemaking, and their labeling.
Description 2 of 2
German wine is mostly produced in the southwest region of Germany, along the river Rhine. Almost 60% of the production comes from Rhineland-Palatinate, where 6 of the 13 regions for quality producing wines are situated. White wine accounts for most of the production in Germany. When it comes to global ranking, Germany has a mixed reputation, with some associating Germany with elegant and aromatic white wines while others see Germany as producing cheap, mass-market semi-sweet wines. Germany's reputation is mainly based on wines made from the Riesling grape which is know for it's fruity and elegant white wines that could range from crisp and dry to well-balanced and sweet wines. Red wine is hard to produce in the German climate which results in light coloured red wines. The differentiating characteristic of German wines is the high level of acidity in them, which is caused both by lesser ripe grapes due to the cold north climate and by riesling which is high on acidity even when it is ripe. German wine classification is confusing for most non-German wine consumers. The classification is based on region of origin, ripeness of the grape and if sugar was added. Some of the high-quality German wines have been classified based on the Prädikat designations. The different Prädikat designations are based on required must weight, the sugar content in the grape juice and the level required is based on the wine growing region. The Prädikat designations used are below in order of increasing sugar levels in the must: Kabinett - fully ripened light wines from the main harvest, usually semi-sweet with crisp acidity. Spätlese - meaning "late harvest" usually semi-sweet, often fruitier than Kabinett. Auslese - meaning "select harvest" made from selected ripe grapes, typically sweet. Beerenauslese - means "select berry harvest" made from individually selected overripe grapes, which makes rich dessert wine. Eiswein (ice wine) made from grapes that naturally freezed on the vine, making a very concentrated wine. Trockenbeerenauslese - This is "select dry berry harvest" made from selected overripe grapes usually affected by noble rot. – Description from arorge00
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