The last decade or two has really seen the stocks of German wine fall. Waves of cheap Liebfraumilch sloshing round the globe plus the current fashion for dry wines have really hurt this great wine producing country. And they certainly haven’t been helped by some of the most complex labelling of any product that you will ever see. But make no mistake, German wines, especially Riesling, are absolutely top notch and many are superbly priced for the quality in the bottle. If you are a lover of the Riesling grape, certainly one of the best white grapes going round, you just cannot afford to ignore the subtlety, grace and longevity of what are clearly great wines.
Riesling is king in Germany. From the Southern vineyards to those in the very coolest regions, the best wines are largely made of Riesling. And they come in a range of styles, from dry and very fresh wines to botrytis-affected sweet and sometimes luscious styles. Importantly, while many of the quality wines are sweet, they are also balanced by a slash of cool climate acidity giving glorious balance to the wines.
Quality German Rieslings are labelled according to the level of sweetness with the following terms used starting with dry and ending with the sweetest; Trocken (dry); Haltbtrocken (half-dry); Kabinett; Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein and Trockenbeereneuslese. A good place to start is with the Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese styles where there is enough sugar to balance the crisp acidty but without being lavishly sweet.
Importantly while Riesling rules, it is not the only grape from which quality wines can be made. Other common grapes in Germany include Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and Silvaner.
One hurdle to cross in getting to know German wines is that the labelling is fairly complicated. For example, quality wines are labelled with not only the wider region, such as Rheingau, but also the village and individual vineyard. For example, Dr Loosen Wehlenher Sonnenuhr is from within the village boundaries of the town Wehlen, with the suffix ‘er’ added, and the Sonnenuhr vineyard.
Within Germany there are a couple of great regions to look out for, with the regions always included on the label of quality wines. At the very top level are the wines from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and the Rheinagau, each producing classically styled Rieslings that are built for the cellar. The wines from the Rheingau are normally more full-bodied and powerful while those around the Mosel are more fragrant and delicate. The vineyards of these regions are centred on steep riverbanks giving the wines adequate ripeness but also great complexity.
The Nahe is located south of the Rheingau and does produce some good wines, especially near the towns of Niederhausen and Schlossböckelheim. Another fine wine region is the more Southerly Pfalz, which is relatively warm for Germany, and as a consequence can produce some exceptional dry Rieslings. If wines with some sweetness are not your cup of tea, the Pfalz is a good place to explore. In addition, it does also produce some pretty decent Weissburgunder and Spätburgunder. Others wines worth looking out for include the Ahr for Spätburgunder and Franken for Silvaner and Riesling.