All about German Wines - A guide to the unfathomable
How to Navigate German Wines
German wines appear to be a victim of their own regulatory restraints, which present some significant marketing hurdles to clearly communicate with consumers. Between German wine label protocol to unfamiliar German wine terms like Trocken (“dry”) or feinherb (“medium dry”), German wines have their work cut out for them in an international export market, demanding that consumers become savvy with respect to labels, terminology, producers and regions, but with a promise of rich rewarding Riesling for those willing to go the distance.
Thankfully, the International Riesling Foundation has designed a Riesling label “short-cut,” an ingenious communication tool to help consumers determine what to expect from a bottle of Riesling (a graph that ranges from bone dry to sweet) before purchasing. Though not all Riesling producers are taking advantage of the free label addition, over 2 million bottles will wear the label for their Riesling fans this year.
German Wine Terms – What You Need to Know Consumers and connoisseurs alike need to be armed with a few key pieces of information when it comes to interpreting German wines. Grape varieties, ripeness levels, style (dry/sweet) and quality levels are all worth considering when buying German wine.
1. Grape Varieties: While Riesling has dibs on being the most widely grown grape in Germany, it shares the spotlight with several other white wine varietals, namely Muller-Thurgau, Silvaner, followed up by Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Kerner. Red wine grapes grown, though not nearly to the extent of whites include Pinot Noir, Dornfelder, Trollinger and Lemberger. If a bottle says “Riesling” on the label, you can bet that it maintains at least 85% Riesling within.
2. Riesling Ripeness Levels: How ripe the grapes are at harvest will determine several other aspects of the Riesling's fate – mainly the wine’s level of quality and thereby the price as well as an early indicator of style in some instances. The six categories (Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein) of Riesling ripeness levels are listed in order from least ripe to most ripe:
Kabinett – These are typically lighter-bodied, medium-dry wines, made from a grape that has been harvested at the peak of the season. Fritz Haag, Selbach-Oster and Heymann-Lowenstein
Spatlese – Literally meaning “late picked” or “late harvest,” the extra time in the sun allows the Spatlese ripeness level to bring in a wine that is typically fuller in body than the Kabinett and increases the intensity of both the aromas and the flavours.
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