Wine Guide Germany
Wine Guide Germany – Wine Region Map
Germany’s often exquisite white wines deserve wider recognition and support. Wines are now riper and cleaner and are increasingly marketed in a direct modern way with a growing number of consistently well made dry or off-dry Rieslings. More clarity is still needed in terms of what degree of sweetness to expect but there are ever more outstanding producers. Those with an established reputation have recently been joined by increasing numbers of fine, often small, newer operations. Apart from the sweet wines, which are expensive to produce and made in tiny quantities, many of the wines are very reasonably priced for the quality. There are also excellent examples of Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Silvaner and other white grapes, as well as some wonderful reds from Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).
Wine Region Map
Making sense of German wine styles
There are two basic quality levels, QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) and QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat). Fine quality begins with the latter which includes six Prädikat (or classifications) of ripeness – for each a minimum must weight (sugar level in the grape) must be obtained. Kabinett is the lowest level and should mean a light, dry white but quality is producer dependent. Spätlese (meaning late-harvest) wines are riper – dry examples are labelled Trocken (offdry is Halb-Trocken), otherwise expect some sweetness. Auslese wines are made from riper grapes again (sometimes botrytis affected) and are usually sweeter, but Trocken versions are also made. Still riper and sweeter categories of Beerenauslese and the rare Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) are made only from handpicked, shrivelled grapes, almost invariably enriched by noble rot (botrytis). Eiswein, high in both sugar and acidity, is made from frozen grapes which, when they are crushed, leave the water behind. Critical to quality in all levels is the balance between residual sugar and acidity.
Most Prädikat wines also come from a single site – an Einzellagen name, usually suffixed with a village name (often dropped in the Pfalz). These names are emphasised in bold throughout the German section. Certain sites lend themselves to favour the production of one style but not necessarily another. Within the same Prädikat level (usually Auslese) the best parcels from a single top site (or the resulting cuvées) may be differentiated as Goldkapsel (Gold Capsule) or even Lange Goldkapsel (Long Gold Capsule), usually correlating with a greater degree of botrytis character. Alternatively small stars may appear on the label to distinguish between bottlings of increasing quality ( ‘1 Stern’, ‘2 Sterne’ or ‘3 Sterne’) Only where these are being made on a fairly regular basis have they been included within producer entries.
Many of Germany’s top estates belong to the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikats-und Qualitätsweingüter) consortium (labels bear its emblem of an eagle) and their best and rarest sweet wines are sold at the VDP auction (as Versteigerungswein). Specialist wine merchants may stock such wines following a successful bid. The VDP has also been important in promoting the establishment of a vineyard classification system. Since 1999 an increasing number of producers have labelled some or all of their wines from the best vineyards under the top level of the classification. In 2007 this category was officially declared (if not yet legally recognised) as Erste Lage and needed to be a minimum of Spätlese must weight. Dry wines (Trocken) are known as Grosses Gewächs (already in use in the Pfalz, Franken and other regions and identified as GG on labels), or Erstes Gewächs (in the Rheingau). From the 06 vintage all Erste Lage can be recognised by a special bottle (used by some in Pfalz since 02) with an embossed symbol: a figure ‘1’ next to a bunch of grapes. In 2000, two new categories were introduced for dry wines. Both basic Classic level and premium Selection wines are varietal but the latter also come from a single vineyard.
From the 2012 vintage, however, a new classification system was put in place. The top level remains Erste Lage, with the 1 next to the bunch of grapes: these are wines from the best vineyards in Germany. The vineyards are narrowly demarcated, the grape varieties are designated, the maximum yield is 50 hectalitres per hectar (50hl/ha), there is a minimum must weight (the level of sugar in the grape-juice), and the grape must be selectively harvested by hand. Fruity wines with natural sweetness are denoted by the traditional Prädikats, as set out above, whilst dry wines are labeled Erstes Gewächs, if the wine is from the Rheingau region, or Grosses Gewächs if from the other regions of Germany. The second level of classification is Klassifizierte Lage/Ortswein/Terroirwein, which are wines from classified wines of ‘Superior’ quality, from a small group of traditional vineyards, with a maximum yield of 65hl/ha. The lowest level is Gutswein, with a maximum yield of 75hl/ha.
When looking for good-quality wines from Germany, avoid wines bearing a village name in conjunction with a Grosslage name (looking much like the name of a specific site but actually referring to a broader sweep of inferior vineyards). Piesporter Michelsberg and Niersteiner Gutes Domtal are infamous examples that have been allowed to demean the reputation of a fine village and mislead the consumer.