Posted on October 21, 2016
It seems that every wine region has its fair share of mysterious idiosyncrasies, little quirks and traditions which may take years to fully understand. The tiny parcels of Burgundy, the cru classé of Bordeaux, the hills of Chianti... Well they’re nothing compared to Germany. A relatively small producer of wine on a global scale, they have one of the most complex systems of wine classification which relies on levels of ripeness when grapes are harvested (kabinett, spätlese, auslese, and onwards) that often (but not always) relate to sweetness in the wine.
In recent decades, more of a push has been made towards showcasing the remarkable dry styles of wine coming out of Germany, spearheaded by the VDP (Verband der Deutschen Prädikats), a group of winemakers committed to elevating the reputation of German wines on an international scale. These producers, though still producing the iconic sweet wines that Germany is renowned for, are putting more and more emphasis on the powerful, mineral-driven wines that demonstrate the remarkable soils of their finest vineyards.
Gone are the days of cloyingly sugary Tafelwein, and the’s a whole new expanse of styles of Reisling to explore, often far drier than your California Chardonnay and your New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. So join us on Friday, October 21st from 6-8 PM, as we taste some of the excellent dry wines coming out of Germany from renowned producers Clemens Busch in the Mosel and Pfeffingen in the Pfalz. We’re also pleased to welcome German wine expert and portfolio manager Evan for David Bowler Wine, who will be pouring these bottles and elucidating the mysteries of the German wine industry. Here are a few terms to get you started, and we’ll see you there!
Some Key Vocabulary:
Riesling: a white grape that dominates wine production in Germany, and far and away the most noble grape. Late ripening, with relentlessly high acidity, the ability to reach high sugar content, a hardy resistance to cold, frost, and pests, Riesling is perfectly suited to the generally cooler climates of Germany’s wine regions. It also produces wines in a variety of styles, often capable of aging extraordinarily long and well, especially for a white wine.
The Mosel: probably Germany’s most famous wine region, this cool climate produces razor sharp wines, often off-dry, but with such precise acidity that can drink bone dry. The region sits on a turn in the Mosel River, offering ideal southern exposure on steep slopes covered in famous slate soils, excellent for drainage and, arguably, producing a clear mineral character in the wines.
The Pfalz: further south than the Mosel, the Pfalz once produced bulk table wine; some of you may remember Liebfraumilch, the sickly sweet white wine that dominated the American market for decades. In the 1980s, winemakers took a stand for more quality production, introducing a usually dry, fuller-bodied style of Riesling that takes advantage of the warmer climate to add power and structure, while retaining delineating acidity.
The Rheingau: on the banks of the Rhine River, the steep slopes of the Rheingau are protected by the Taunus mountain range to the north, providing the perfect climate for Reisling. The Rheingau holds some of the most famous vineyard sites in Germany, though developments in other regions have somewhat shifted the focus from this region’s wines.
The Prädikat: the classification system, based not on qualities of the wine after fermentation, but rather the ripeness levels of the grapes at harvest. Before a certain point, grapes below a certain quality level can only be made into Qualitätswein (wine without a Pradikät). Subsequently, in order of increasing quality and rarity, the levels are: Kabinett (dry to sweet), Spätlese (“late harvest,” dry to sweet), Auslese (“selected harvest,” usually sweet, can be dry), Beerenauslese (selected harvest of botrytis affected grapes, sweet), Trockenbeerenauslese (selected harvest of raisinated botryris affected grapes), and Eiswein (frozen grapes).
Erstes Gewächs/Großes Gewächs: “first class growth” and “great growth” respectively, these are terms used by the VDP to designate the finest wines from certain sites considered to be the best in the region. Erstes Gewächs is the term used in the Rheingau (where the VDP started), while Großes Gewächs is used in all other regions except the Mosel, which typically retains the Prädikat system. A top-level vineyard site is called an Erste Lage (first class site). Each region, or anbaugebeit (there are 13), has its own association of winemakers in the VDP to determine regional practices and standards.