WINE LOVERS LOVE IT. IT PRODUCES SOME OF THE WORLD'S BEST WINES. BUT WHAT ABOUT ALL THOSE NAMES ON THE LABELS?!
Those who have been taught German as an additional language are privileged in what will follow. But if you belong to the rest, take a deep breath and always remember the golden rule that German teachers always say: read the letters exactly as they appear and if you hear something like XSV, TSV, and NGST, you're fine, keep going.
A SHORT HISTORICAL REVIEW
The ancient German tribe of the Teutons, of course, did not have wine, but it seems that they were completely familiar with alcoholic fermentation, since they drank hydromel. An alcoholic drink of very low alcohol content, made by fermenting honey with water and adding fruits, spices, and grains.
A few years later, it was the Romans again, who introduced viticulture to Germany, after they had first learned everything from the Greeks and Etruscans! But the best ambassador of the art of wine was Charlemagne, who, due to his great relationship with the monasteries (which moved the threads of German viticulture), opened the way to wine through trade. The 19th century was a blast for German wine, with kings drinking very specific wines from the Rhine and throwing their praises to god. Today, new winemakers, with innovative techniques, produce very elegant and aromatic pure whites, which stand out and are considered among the best in the world.
GRAPE VARIETIES OF GERMANY
The largest percentage of Germany's vineyards belongs to the white varieties, which cover a total of 66.9%, with Riesling being the most important, while among the reds, Pinot Noir has the lead with a percentage of 12%. In total, however, around 135 are cultivated, with the following being the most important:
- Riesling 25%
- Müller-Thurgau (can also be seen as Rivaner) 11%
- Silvaner 5%
- Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder) 5%
- Kerner 7%
- Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) 12%
- Pinot Grigio (Grauburgunder), Chardonnay, Bacchus, Scheurebe, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, Gutedel, Elbling and all others 35%
The very cold climate of Germany, with its intense humidity, is the biggest challenge in the cultivation of the above. But in the best parts of the vineyards, which are always on slopes, the intense sunshine and humidity change the equation with Riesling - which is the dominant variety - and it withstands the difficulty but is also affected by noble rot, to produce among the best whites of the world in all styles, with intense fruity aromas, sharp acidity, and long aging.
THE MOST WONDERFUL REGIONS OF GERMANY
The most important wine-producing areas are located in the southwest and not by chance, since these are also the sunniest, while the conditions there favor cultivation. There are 13 in total and they are called Anbaugebiete (an-bau-ge-bite), with the following being the most important:
- Mosel: It is formed by 3 tributaries of the Rhine and is the region with the coldest climate and the most rainfall. The vineyards have shale soil and very steep slopes so they get more exposure to the sun. Very elegant Rieslings are produced, with aromas of flowers, apple, pear, and petrol.
- Rheinhessen: Several red varieties are grown here, but Müller-Thurgau and Riesling are mostly found. It produces the largest percentage of the country's grapes and while until some years ago it was of dubious quality, today it has made leaps in cultivation and winemaking and produces wines of very high quality. The Rieslings here are fuller-bodied, and some of the best Pinot Noirs are also produced.
- Nahe: The best parts of the vineyard are located on the banks of the river of the same name, from which great Rieslings with sharp acidity emerge. The climate here becomes sweeter and the temperatures rise with its aromas more reminiscent of ripe peaches and limes. Other varieties you will find are Sylvaner and Müller-Thurgau.
- Rheingau: It is the smallest part cultivated but with inversely proportional prices for its wines. The best vineyards belonged to the church and then passed into the hands of wealthy owners. Some of the best Spätburgunder is produced here, while Riesling has more floral aromas, with a strong mineral and smoky element, and is among the best (and, of course, the most expensive) in the world. They age for several decades.
- Pfalz: It is the second most planted area in Germany and has almost the same varieties as Alsace since it is like its natural extension due to its proximity. It has the warmest climate compared to the rest of the region and produces some of Germany's best dry-style Rieslings, while 40% red varieties are also grown. Excellent Müller-Thurgau, Weissburgunder, and Spätburgunder are also produced.
- Franken: The big surprise here is that Riesling comes second! First in the category is the dry and extra-concentrated Sylvaner, with a slightly earthy character. But some of the country's best Spätburgunder are also produced. Weissburgunder is also planted.
- Baden: It is the third largest wine-growing region in Germany, with the best vineyards located on the slopes of the inactive Kaiserstuhl volcano! It is known for its full-bodied and high-alcohol Spätburgunder, which is also the most widely planted variety. Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Weissburgunder, and Grauburgunder are also produced.
WHAT’S ON THE LABEL
The climate of Germany as we said is a killer but determines the ripening of the grapes. Many grapes never ripen, but those on sunny slopes are differentiated by how much sugar they have, and that's what creates their grading system!
- Deutscher Wein or Tafelwein: are the lower quality wines popularly known as "table wines"
- Landwein: are the corresponding PGI and are produced dry or semi-dry
- Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein: they come from the best vineyards, only from the 13 wine regions, and produce very high-quality wines of all styles. It is the corresponding PDO. Prädikatswein is the category with the strictest specifications, and the most quality and famous wines!
- Kabinett: dry to moderately sweet, have low alcohol, from a normal harvest
- Spätlese: slightly sweeter, from a ripe harvest
- Auslese: even sweeter with honey aromas, from an overripe harvest
- Beerenauslese (BA): only sweets with grapes that have undergone noble rot. These are produced in very small quantities and only in the best vintages.
- Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA): very sweet, with the grapes left on the vine until they become raisins! If you try one like this, you know it's from a great year!
- Eiswein: Comes from grapes that have been frozen on the vine and then pressed. They are very sweet and very rare!
WHAT ELSE IS ON THE LABEL
- Trocken: the wine is always dry
- Halbtrocken: the wine is semi-dry with few residual sugars
- Feinherb: is exactly the same as above but not legalized!
Finally, raising the bar of difficulty and complexity, also in Germany, there is a high class of vineyards, which follow very strict winemaking rules and produce only dry wines of excellent quality. They have the VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) badge while the VDP Erste Lage or VDP Grosse Lage refer to the best locations of this vineyard! If you got lost somewhere with the names, the last ones also have an eagle symbol!