German wines have never really enjoyed a good reputation in the UK market, thanks to huge exports of light, fruity wines that suited the English tastes for cheap, non complex, easy to drink wines. But since the 80’s an increase in New World wines took some of the ‘pressure’ off this sector of the market and the German wine making industry has quietly continued to improve its viniculture techniques and keep the good stuff for themselves!
But know where to look and you can find some amazing wines, from long living Rieslings to fruity and interesting Gewurtzraminers.
Most of the wine produced in Germany is white although red production is increasing steadily. Despite the reputation for sweet and medium sweet wine production, look for Trocken (dry) wines and Halbtrocken (medium dry) wines.
Wine laws are similar in Germany to other EU countries although the Germans also use sugar content as the main classification. The amount of sugar that a wine contains is expressed in degrees and measured on the Oechsle scale.
If you ignore the bog standard tafel or table wine classifications and get into the QWPSR wine categories then you will be drinking good stuff. There are five main quality wine classifications:
1. Kabinett – produce very delicate wines from a normal harvest
2. Spatlese – from late-harvested grapes to give an extra ripeness
3. Auslese – from specially selected extra ripe bunches of grapes
4. Beerenauslese – made from individually selected grapes
5. Trockenbeerenauslese – only made in the very best vintages and generally very expensive if you can get your hands on it
Finally keep an eye out for Eiswein, which literally means ‘Ice Wine’, picked from grapes deep in the middle of winter during heavy frost. The wine produced from these frozen, intense grapes is very sweet and a good acidic balance and is usually sold in half bottles as dessert wine.
German grape varieties
The three main white grapes used in German wine production are Riseling, Muller-Thurgau and Silvaner.
The main red grapes are Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir), Portugieser and Dornfelder.