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Ep 394: Germany Overview

Wine for Normal People

Release Date: 10/04/2021

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After 10.5 years of doing the podcast I realized that we have never done an overview of Germany! Shame on me! Well, now we have.

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After 10.5 years of doing the podcast I realized that we have never done an overview of Germany! Details, yes, but never the whole deal. Well, now we have.

Photo credit: Pexels

We discuss an overview of the most important things to know about Germany so you can buy and try the wines more easily. We begin with an overview of the German wine industry, and a reassurance that most of the stuff for export is pretty darn good. Then we tackle the climate and land, both which are completely unlikely places for great viticulture, but for a few dedicated people and a few quirks in geography.

 

We talk about the major grapes (spoiler alert: Riesling is huge here) and then we discuss various wine styles before giving an overview of the very rich history here, which is meant to give you context for how long Germany has been in the winemaking game and how significant the country has been in wine.

 

The second half of the show is an overview of the major regions in Germany and then we wrap with a quick discussion of the classification system, which hopefully makes much more sense once you hear about the history, climate, and terroir of Germany.

 

I love German wine. I think you could too, if you don’t already. I hope that this show (and the Germany section in the WFNP book, which gives a lot of great detail) can convince you to put it in the rotation more often!

 

Here are the show notes:

  • German wine regions are mainly in the southern and southwestern part of Germany, and are quite northerly, many at around 50-51˚N latitude
  • There are 103,000ha/252,00 acres of vineyards
  • 2/3 of the wine is white, with Germany’s wine reputation pinned to Riesling
  • Most people who make wine in Germany are small producers by New World standards. 25,000 cases/300,000 bottles is considered a huge winery, whereas in the US that’s on the small side of medium!

Photo of Riesling: Canva/Getty

Climate and land

  • Germany is a cool climate country, grapes can only grow and ripen because of the Gulf stream from western Europe and the warmer air the comes in from Eastern Europe
  • Rainfall in Germany’s wine regions occurs DURING the growing season, not during harvest. There is significant disease pressure on the vineyards but irrigation is not an issue and the long, dry fall enables easier harvesting and allows for late harvest wines to flourish

  • The very steep slopes face south, southeast, or southwest. The slopes experience intense solar radiation, helping ripen the grapes


Photo (C)Wine For Normal People: Slate in the Mosel

  • Slate is a preferred soil in Germany because it retains heat and imparts spicy, minerally notes to the wine

Grapes of Germany

  • Riesling is about 23% of production
  • Müller-Thurgau is about 12%
  • Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) is 11.5%
  • Dornfelder (a red) is about 7.6%
  • Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) is 6%
  • Weisburgunder (Pinot Blanc) is 5%
  • Silvaner is 4.8%
  • And many other grapes are grown in small percentages all over the country

 

Wine regions: We review all 13 Anbaugebiete...
Map from the Wine For Normal People Book

  • Ahr is the northernmost region. It is small and grows a majority of red wine, mainly spätburgunder

  • Baden is Germany’s southernmost region and accordingly it is the warmest, sunniest region. It is close to France, and grows a lot of Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Blanc as a result

  • Franken is known for its flagon – a flat, round-shaped bottle called a bocksbeutel. The regions specializes in earthy, white Silvaner from the limestone shores of the Main River

  • Hessische Bergstrasse is a teeny region with Riesling as the lead. You don’t see these wines outside of Germany

  • Mittelrhein is in the middle of the Rhine (fitting name, huh!?). It is dominated by Riesling, which grows on steep slate slopes

  • Mosel is the most famed region in Germany and makes what many consider to be the best Riesling in the world. The first winegrowing in Germany was in Mosel and it contains the steepest vineyard: at 65˚ grade, Bremmer Calmont has this distinction. Slate soils are dominant and the wines are known for low alcohol levels, high acidity, pure fruit and floral (jasmine, gardenia) notes, along with strong minerality. They are generally off-dry to sweet, to offset the very powerful acidity the terroir imparts to Riesling.

    Photo (C)Wine For Normal People

  • Nahe is located around the river Nahe, the volcanic soils create wines with fuller, richer textures than in other parts of Germany. It is a medium-sized area and not all vineyards or wineries are created equal – there are excellent producers and less good ones too!

  • Pfalz is the second largest area after Rheinhessen. It is consumed heavily in the domestic market and can make rich, fuller stules of dry Riesling because the climate is slightly warmer. Red wines are growing here as well, given the warm conditions and the ability to fully ripen red grapes.

  • Rheingau is the home of Riesling, the creator of Spätlese and Auslese, and highest percentage of Riesling (nearly 80%) and the home of Geisenheim University, one of the best viticulture and oenology schools in the world. The wines range in sweetness and in stule but they are subtler than Mosel wines and tend to develop intricate flavors of petrol, flowers, chamomile tea, and herbs with a few years in the bottle.
    Photo (C) Wine For Normal People

  • Rheinhessen is the largest production area in Germany. It has the dubious distinction of being nicknamed “Liebfraumilch land” from its mass production of the sweet plonk that kind of tanked Germany’s reputation. Rheinhessen has tried to shirk that image and focus on quality wine made from Riesling. The areas of Nackenheim, Nierstein, and Oppenheim can produce excellent quality wine.

  • Wurttemberg specializes in red wines that aren’t grown in other parts of Germany – Trollinger, Lemberger (Blaufränkisch), and Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier) are all big here.

  • Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen are in the former East Germnay. Both specialize in dry wine and are at 51˚N latitude. The wines are improving with the help of climate changes and better viticultural practices.

 

Finally we tackle the levels of German Classification:

  • Deutscher Tafelwein: German Table Wine, consumed domestically
  • Deutscher Landwein: German Country wine like Vins d’Pays in France or IGP in Italy, consumed domestically
  • QbA (actually stands for Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete): Wines from a defined region. It can be blended from a few regions but generally it’s from one of the Anbaugebiete, so you’ll see Mosel, Pfalz, Rheingau, etc on the bottle
  • Prädikatswein is made from grapes with higher ripeness levels. The levels are:
    • Kabinett: Ripe grapes. Can be dry or sweet
    • Spätelese: Late Harvest wines. Can be dry or sweet
    • Auslese: Select Harvest wines. Can be dry or sweet, very flavorful wines
    • Beerenauslese: Berries of the Select Harvest. Always sweet, generally have experienced the effects of botrytis so the wines are honeyed, waxy, and apricot like. Berries are selected off the vines for the best of the bunch
    • Trockenbeerenauslese: Dried Berries of Select Harvest. Always sweet, very rare. Grapes are very ripe must have been affected by botrytis. The grapes are raisined with very high concentration of sugar. Very expensive and rare wines
    • Eiswein: Grapes are harvested after the first frost. The water in the grapes freezes, the winemakers squeeze out the frozen water and then press the sugar that remains. These wines should not be affected by botrytis

 

We wrap up with other terms that are good to know:

  • Trocken means the wine is dry
  • Halbtrocken wines are off-dry and can seem very sweet
  • Feinherb wines are sweeter or as sweet as halbtrocken wines
  • The VDP: A private marketing organization of about 200 producers around Germany, with its own standards of quality that it expects its members to live up to. Not all great producers are VDP members but it is a safe bet if you know nothing about the wine

    VDP Logo

  • Weingut is a winegrowing and wine-producing estate
  • Gutsabfüllung refers to a grower/producer wine that is estate bottled

 

Much of the data for the podcast was sourced from the Wines of Germany

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