Working in the wine business we are often asked “what country makes the best wine in the world”? Well of course that is a very difficult question to answer, like trying to pick your favourite album or child. There are hot contenders but with so many variables like colour, style, sweetness etc, it is impossible to pick just one country or even region. But, what this Drinkmonger-er can say is that Germany is up there with the very best.
Germany’s wine reputation has had a chequered past; in the late 19th century their wines were fetching higher prices than First Growth Bordeaux, with Queen Victoria being a big fan. However, the 20th Century saw a turn of fortunes for the German wine industry. Vine disease, two world wars and economic upheaval did not help matters. The 1970s saw a change in wine laws which, rather than increase the quality of wines, allowed for the production of quantity over quality and led to much consumer confusion. As a result even today, there is a misconception about German wine; it is cheap, sweet and low quality… nothing could be further from the truth!
Today about 70% of white wine produced is either dry or off-dry and that number is increasing year on year. However, we must remember that Germany’s sweeter wines are still some of the best in the world.
So what makes Germany’s wine so great? Well it has long been known that the best wines come from vines that struggle to survive. As Germany is one of the most northerly regions where grapes can be cultivated, her vines have to struggle more than most. Germany also has one of the longest ripening seasons, meaning that flavours have time to develop resulting in complex wine with perfect acid to sugar ratio, stabilising the wines so they can continue to develop once bottled. Once the grapes are harvested German winemakers are meticulous in their craft, using centuries old methods alongside modern techniques which bring out the best in the grapes they have harvested.
The result of all this are wines that offer beautiful complex fruitiness and crisp refreshing structure with the opportunity to develop for years to come in bottle. Germany’s shining light has to be Riesling which accounts for about 23% of all wine made. Riesling’s naturally high acidity balanced with fruity flavours, beautiful aromas and ability to age, makes it one of the most loved grapes in the wine world and the Germans are masters of it, from bone dry styles to lusciously sweet.
Remember that it’s not just white wines from Riesling that Germany thrive at but they are gaining reputation for their reds too, most made from Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). Again, the cool climate, long growing season and a new understanding of the grape means Germany is gaining reputation as a world class leader in Pinot Noir, rivalling the mighty wines of Burgundy.
If you still don’t believe that Germany makes some of the greatest wines in the world, here are some of our favourites to try and hopefully change your mind.
The wines of Max Ferd. Richter are some of the best in the Mosel. This wine sums up everything we love about German wine; beautiful aromas of green apples, fresh lemons with a slight flinty character. On the pallet Riesling’s characteristic piercing acidity is noticeable but perfectly balanced with a touch of sweetness and the fruity flavours continue. It’s quite low in alcohol (9.5%) so is refreshing and easy drinking.
This is a great example of modern German wine with centuries old experience. Fresh lime, peach and apples jump out of the glass and up your nose inviting you in. On the pallet it is dry, crisp, and very clean with a long, satisfying finish.
This wine comes from one of the most famous vineyards in the whole of Germany, Berncasteler Doctor. Its name traces back to a legend of the 14th century when the archbishop Boemund II recovered from a severe illness by drinking a wine from this vineyard, then stating, “This wine is the true Doctor”. This wine is fairly rich in style but with added finesse from its acidity. Ripe red apples and some toast and honey flavours linger in the background which will become more evident with bottle age.
German Pinot Noir is proving to champion some of the very best in the world and this is no exception. Jancis Robinson once called winemaker, Jochen Dreissigacker, “a near genius” and you will understand why when you taste this. The nose is really inviting with aromas of red fruits and spice. In the mouth is smooth and fruity with some well integrated tannins.