German Riesling – Often Overlooked & Misunderstood
February 15, 2013
When German wine is mentioned one of two things run through one’s mind. One is extraordinarily delicate, complex, floral wines or one thinks of cheap, sweet mass-market sugary wines such as Leibfraumilch. Among German wine lovers, German wines primarily mean unbelievably good Riesling that are fruity, complex elegant wines that can range from very dry to unctuously sweet wines yet all braced with an acidity unmatched. Most of Germany’s vineyards are in western Germany near the Rhine river or one of its many tributaries. Most of the quality vineyards are on steep valleys that are unable to be machine harvested. This provides a selection of grapes that are of higher quality.
The history of German wines go back to Roman times with vineyard plantings on the Roman side of the Rhine River while they were defending against the Germanic Tribes. In Medieval times most of the vineyards were planted west of the Rhine and eventually spread eastward at the same time Christianity spread east. Charlemagne was very supportive and truly helped spread wine eastward throughout Germany. Because of this, the German wine industry of the day was mostly controlled by the Christian church. During this time, quality was emphasized over quantity and German wine was considered among the very top wine regions reserved for the royalty of the world. One other notable event happened in 1775. A courier delivering the harvest permission at Schloss Johannisberg was unexpectedly delayed for two weeks. Because of this delay, noble rot infected the grapes. This created a sweet rich wine which became popular and widely sought after. Now many German wines are intentionally infected with noble rot, which produce some of the most legendary and rare dessert wines in the world.
Classification of German wines generally boil down to two types for quality wine. There is the Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete or simply QBA. These wines are typically blended and are allowed to chaptalize there wines. This means sugar can be added to help fermentation. The other type are finer wines called Prädikatswein, recently renamed from Qualitätswein mit Prädikat wines made from grapes of higher ripeness. As ripeness increases, the fruit characteristics and price increase. Categories within Prädikatswein are: going from least sweet to most sweet, Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. They are not allowed to chaptalize.
German wines can be confusing and foreign for many people because of the unfamiliar terminology. One thing that is simple is that German Riesling can be of the highest quality and can offer a balance and complexity that is hard to match in the wine world.
- Dr. Thanisch Bernkastel Badstube Kabinett ($25): Bernkastel in the Mosel Valley is dominated by slate soils which provide intense mineral notes and very steep vineyards. This allows the fruit to ripen nicely. It is light and sweet in the midpalatte with a crisp, mineral laden finish.
- Dr. Nagler Rudesheimer Berg Rosenate Spatlese ($25) A beauty from the famous Rheingau region. This wine combines beautiful crisp acidity with fine and elegant fruit. A touch of sweetness but not overdone. It is tough to find a more beautifully balanced white wine!
- Dr. Loosen “L” Riesling ($13) This wine is a QBA. It is concocted of fruit from some of Dr. Loosens top land holdings in the Mosel. It is then blended for tasted and consistency. Because of this, you get a well crafted, elegant and complex wine for a song!