Vineyard pic to come
Forget the sweet, watery confections of old. Today, almost 70 per cent of German wines are dry, and many others are off-dry enough to make refreshing aperitifs.
So what can you expect? Firstly, all quality German labels list the grape variety. In our recent tasting, we had sylvaner, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and the queen of German white grapes, riesling. So while you may find the rest of the label confusing, you will find a grape that you recognise.
Next look for the region. You will find lighter alcohol, racier acidity and slatey minerality in Mosel, Germany’s most dynamic region where the most exciting summery wines are produced. For even more minerality choose Mosel’s tributary, the Saar valley. If you like a little more body and fruit, try Rheingau, Rheinhessen. For sturdier, steelier dry wines, you need to go to Franken to the west. For a fuller spicier element, opt for the warmer southerly regions of Rheinpfalz or Baden.
Germany differs from other major European wine countries in the way it defines quality. In France, terroir is all important, while Spain and Italy also define how wine should be aged. In Germany, it is all about the sugar level with the sweetest at the highest Pradikat level. So if you memorise Pradikats ranging from lower sugar levels of Kabinett (dry-medium) and Spatlese (medium) – to later-harvested dessert wines Auslese (sweet), Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (both very sweet) – you are well on the way to understanding labels.
Just remember that Pradikat levels differ from region to region; Mosel Kabinett is slightly drier than Rheingau Kabinett. On a quality label you will also find the name of the village (with -er after it, like Saarburger) followed by the vineyard name. Look for the eagle insignia of ‘VDP’ estates’ association and their Erste Lage vineyard classification with Erste Gewachs and Gross Gewachs indicating premium dry wines.
Just one point: Trocken indicates dry – with Pradikat wines with sugar fermented out to dryness. In my mind, they work best at Kabinett level for easy summery quaffers.
With these basic points in mind you can knowledgably explore my recommended producers and discover the delights of Germany.
With a great run of vintages from 2006 to 2010, and two new UK-based German specialist websites: www.german wineagencies.co.uk and www.thewinebarn.co.uk, now is the time to go German.
RHEINPFALZ THE NAKED GRAPE RIESLING 2010 Dr Loosen
Ernie Loosen’s elegant off-dry, 7 per cent alcohol, spicy riesling is a perfect start for New World drinkers or Alsace wine lovers trying out German wines for the first time.
RHEINGAU RUDESHEIMER ROSENGARTEN RIESLING KABINETT 2010 Leitz
Off dry, moderate alcohol (10 per cent) and minerally undertones from the famous rose garden near Rudesheim.
RHEINGAU ROTLACK RIESLING KABINETT TROCKEN 2009 Schloss Johannisberger
(£22, Luvians, Cupar/St Andrews; Peter Green, Edinburgh)
Ripe floral notes, elegant, crisp, racy with 12.5 per cent alcohol; a lovely balance between acid and sugar.
MOSEL RIESLING KABINETT 2010 Selbach Oster
(£17, Berry Bros & Rudd, www.bbr.com)
Floral, exotic fruits, zippy acidity: rounded, lush, zesty palate and gentle sweetness with 9.5 per cent alcohol.
RHEINHESSEN SYLVANER TROCKEN 2010 Steinmuhle
(£11.65, German Wine Agencies, www.germanwineagencies.co.uk)
Floral, appley, minerally with creamy length and 11 per cent alcohol: expect a little more body than riesling, but still beautifully natural acidity: best value in our recent tasting.
SAAR CHARDONNAY SPATLESE TROCKEN 2009 Orea
(£11.99, Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh)
Chablis-lovers would enjoy this unusual, minerally, sleek, citrus-fruited, bone-dry, 12.5 per cent alcohol, unoaked chardonnay.