Everyone knows about German wines but they are amongst the least understood of any in Europe. Being one of the most northerly wine growing country in Europe, the principal vineyards areas are mostly centred on rivers, which create a gentler micro climate. Rheingau and Rheinhesse lie along the Rhine, Mosel Saar/Ruwer along the beautiful Mosel valley, and Franconia on the Main. The Palatinate, or Pfalz, which is dominated by the Haardt mountains is one of Germany’s largest regions and is the exception to this. Aware that their wines were falling behind in the international market place, German wine growers have made a huge effort to reposition themselves. There are now far fewer nondescript, slightly sweet whites, with many more, fragrant drier offerings available. Labelling, often puzzling and near incomprehensible in the past, has become much clearer too. However, the traditional gloriously apple fresh, peachy light white wines which define German wines at their best, and which keep and ripen longer than almost any white wine in the world are, happily, still in the ascendant. View our selection.
German wine labels give a lot of information but can be confusing. The main quality levels are as follows:
Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (Qba): a ‘quality’ wine from a large named wine region.
Prädikatswein (QmP): quality wine which meets the highest criteria
Kabinett: an added distinction, may be dry or semi dry
Spätlese: late harvest, with more natural residual sugar
Auslese: late harvest, high levels of natural sugar, hand selected bunches, sometimes botrytis affected
Beerenauslese: made from very ripe hand selected berries, often botrytis affected, intense and sweet
Trockenbeerelauslese: made from hand selected, shrivelled berries, often botrytis affected. Very intense and sweet
Eiswein: ice wine i.e. from berries that have been frozen on the vine, giving tiny yields but great concentration and sweetness
Trocken: dry wine
The Mosel valley has a surprisingly warm, continental, climate for a region so far north. Reflected heat from both the river and from the porous slate in which the vines are planted helps ripen the grapes making this one of the finest of all German viticultural regions. From Trier to Koblenz, where the river enters the Rhine, vines cling to the steep slopes but it is in the middle section, where the river twists and turns back on itself like a demented serpent, that the best Mosel wines are made; the most desirable sites are those which have a south facing aspect, attracting the most sunshine. So steep are the hillsides that the terraced vineyards have all to be tended by the growers own hand, no mechanisation is possible. Berncastel-Kues and Piesport are amongst the best known villages and are famous for their wines; however both lend their names to Grosslagers, which cover large areas and can sometimes produce wines of dubious quality. In this part of the valley, Riesling reigns supreme, but on the lower Mosel, below Cochem, the higher yielding Müller Thurgau and Kerner are also used. Wines made along the two tributaries that enter the Mosel above Trier, the Saar and the Ruwer, make excellent wines in fine years but can be a touch lean in lesser vintages. At their glorious best, wines from the Mosel are floral, zesty and intense, with wonderful levels of fresh, steely, acidity.
German grape varieties
Germany is a country of white wines, the main varieties being Müller Thurgau, Sylvaner, and the king of them all, Riesling. That having been said, however, there are an increasing number of fragrant, delicate, elegant reds being produced these days, mostly from Spätburgunder (the German name for Pinot Noir) and Dornfelder and these are well worth looking out for.
Dornfelder: a relatively new German red variety which suits northern climates. Hardy and high yielding. In Germany it is grown mostly in the Pfalz and Rheinhesse. Popular in England where it is often blended with Pinot Noir. Makes medium bodied wines with strong colour. Sometimes used to make rosé.
Müller-Thurgau: this white variety is grown extensively in Germany, principally in the Rheinhesse, the Pfalz and Baden. Also cultivated in Austria and Luxembourg where it is called Rivaner. Has found a place in English vineyards as it is tolerant of northern conditions. Makes easy, aromatic wines with low acidity.
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