WineInk: The Wines of Germany
UNDER THE INFLUENCE
2010 Markus Molitor Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Auslese Riesling Mosel
This late harvest riesling from one of the premier Mosel based winemakers comes from ungrafted old vines (some older than 80 years) that are planted on stony, steep hillsides. The wines are balanced, beautiful, and while sweet, they are certainly not cloying. It was golden nectar in a glass.
I have a friend who served in the U.S. 7th Army at the now-shuttered Campbell Barracks in Heidelberg, Germany. While there, he developed what became a life-long love affair with German wines.
In all the world’s superior wine regions, I likely know less about the wines of Germany than any other. And I’m not alone in my ignorance. In 2016, Germany exported $1 billion worth of wine, putting it sixth among global producers, just behind New Zealand and ahead of Argentina. But no doubt, in the U.S., most wine drinkers are much more familiar with the sauvignon blancs of the Kiwis and the Argentine malbecs.
I think language and labeling play a part in our national lack of understanding. Ask those who study for wine exams, like the Masters of Wine or the Master Sommelier exams, and they will quickly tell you that no region is harder to make sense of than Germany. Even Italy, with its curious wine regulations and hundreds, if not thousands, of varieties, seems easier.
Then there is the history of German wine in America. While German wines were once considered among the best on Earth, a couple of world wars and then the proliferation of sickly semi-sweet Liebfraumilch wines sold under the Blue Nun label in mass quantities, turned American palates in different directions.
And yet the wines of Germany can be magnificent. Last year, on a brief trip to Berlin, I stumbled into a restaurant/winebar called Rutz the menu of which was built around German wines and foods that paired well with them. I ordered two different kinds of sausages and asked our waiter to pair a wine with the disparate plates, assuming she would bring a red from the German equivalent of pinot noir, which is called spätburgunder, or perhaps a dornfelder, a dark, spicy grape that has a following.
But no, she pulled from the prodigious wine wall a dry riesling that she said would go perfectly with the two plates, one of which included a blood sausage. The pairing was my favorite part of that trip.
While I have a lot to learn about Germany and its wines, here are a few facts to help illuminate us both:
1. Germany is a white wine country
Nearly 60 percent of the vineyard plantings in Germany are devoted to white wines with the majority of that being held by riesling. The aforementioned spätburgunder is the most widely planted red wine grape.
2. German wines are products of a cool climate
3. Not all German wines are sweet
4. German wine labels provide a wealth of information.
5. Can You Say? That would be Prädikat.
Prädikat is the designation for the top tier, the highest quality German wines. Ripeness is a big deal in German wines. In the Prädikat system there are six levels of ripeness, ranging from Kabinett (bone dry wines) to the sweet dessert Trockenbeerenauslese or TBA wines.
Just when you thought it was easy, right?
Kelly J. Hayes lives in the soon-to-be-designated appellation of Old Snowmass. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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