If you think you know German wine, think again. German wines are some of the most complex, interesting and delicious wines in the world. If you are a German wine fan, you are aware of this little secret, but for those who skip the tall bottles labeled with unfamiliar German text, you are missing out. Through my wine-centered academic pursuits, I often encounter resistance to look past one’s own inexperience with German labeling and pronunciation, and that is a shame. If we can add foreign terms like “Chateau” and “Grand Cru” to our wine vocabulary, we can learn to recognize the German counterparts of “Schloss” and “Grosses Gewächs” — and open ourselves up to a whole new world of electric Rieslings and elegant Pinots. Here are some educational tid-bits that may help you in understanding and buying German wine — you’ll soon realize that reading German wine labels is as easy as drinking Riesling.
The White Grapes:
The most common grape associated with Germany is Riesling. Germany is the homeland of Riesling and it is the region’s most-planted varietal, so this is a reasonable association. In Germany’s cooler climate, Riesling quite often produces a dry wine, with an array of fruit flavors backed by incredibly refreshing acidity (hello, summer!) and a mineral undertone. What makes Riesling unique –and possibly misunderstood — is its ability to be bone dry yet carry such juicy and ripe fruit through its aromas and flavors. And oh, did I mention the crisp and refreshing acidity? And…should you prefer sweeter wines, no better place to find top-quality than Germany; late harvest German Riesling is some of the best and most age-worthy sweet wine in the world!
In addition to Riesling, Germany produces Müller-Thurgau, an easy-drinking, refreshing white wine with apple and pear flavors perfect for hot summer days, Silvaner, a traditional variety in the Rheinhessen and Frankenregions that offers subtle notes of stone fruits with an herbal edge, Pinot Gris (also known as Grauburgunder) and Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder). The latter two are grapes you probably know from other regions, but here in Germany they are a bit more rich and round than their other European counterparts, with loads of ripe fruit and soft acidity.
The Black Grapes:
While the region is most well-known for its fresh, elegant whites, Germany also produces bright, fruit-driven reds. Pinot Noir (also known as Spätburgunder) accounts for 11% of Germany’s total vineyard area, producing red wines with cherry, vanilla and pepper characteristics. In fact, Germany now grows more Pinot Noir than New Zealand and Australia combined, making Germany the third largest Pinot Noir producer in the world.
In addition to Pinot Noir, Germany produces Dornfelder – a thick-skinned grape that produces deeply colored red wines with flavors of blackberry, plum and Elder Flower. If you are hesitant to stock up on German wines because you fear it’s sweet or don’t understand the label, here are a couple of tips for diving in.
Understanding the wine style:
If you don’t want sweet, look for words that indicate dry. One of those terms used is Trocken. Trocken means “dry” in German and some wineries add this word to their labels to alert consumers that the particular wine is indeed dry. Then there is Grosses Gewächs. Sometimes shown as simply “GG” on the bottle, it means two things — first, it’s a dry style, and, second, it comes from a top vineyard site. Typically these will be higher in price, but also in quality. Kabinett, a term that indicates the sugar level of the grapes when they are picked, is typically light in body and can range from off-dry to drier in style. An easy way to determine just how dry the wine is? Look at the alcohol content. Kabinett Riesling with an alcohol level between 8-9% ABV will have more residual sugar, while drier styles can reach 12% ABV. If you want to start with Riesling on the delicate side, go to the Mosel. You will see Mosel on the label, but you can also tell because Mosel wines are bottled in a tall flute-shaped greenbottle. The Mosel, dominated by slate soils on steep slopes near rivers, produces some of the best quality dry (and sweet!) Riesling of Germany. Across all price points, these wines offer citrus and stone fruit, backed by a steely minerality. They are delicate and delicious and a perfect foray into the delights of German wine.
We encourage you to embrace German wines, especially this summer, and enjoy that perfect summer mix of delightful acidity and juicy fruit flavors. You will be the hit at every summer party!