Grapes and Styles: Germany has had the unfortunate reputation for producing cheap, sweet white wines that were once popular in the 70's. Today they produce an array of styles, both red and white, but the principle ones are...
Aromatic dry / off-dry whites: Dominated by Riesling which, contrary to belief is mostly made dry (trocken), usually with flavours of green apple, limes, and flinty minerality. Other grapes to look out for are Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and international varieties Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.
Sweet wines: Some of the greatest sweet wines in the world, mainly from Riesling. On a tiered system, sweetness level rise from Kabinett (usually off-dry), Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenausle and Eiswein.
Red Wines: Some quality red wines are made from Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), the cool climates are ideal this fickle grape and some can rival the best of Burgundy.
Sparkling: Known as Sekt, sparkling wine here is mostly made from imported wines from other European countries which are usually made for the export market. 100 % German Sekt made in the traditional method from Riesling, Weissburgunder, and Spätburgunder can be of exceptional quality.
Food: The aromatic white wines are great wines to match with Indian curries, which are often hard to pair with wine but a crisp dry Riesling from the Mosel cuts through the spice and freshens the palate. The same applies for the highly fragrant and flavoursome oriental dishes.
History: Once regarded as the finest wines world with prices far exceeding the top Chateaux of Bordeaux, all that changed in the 1960s when producers turned from quality to quantity, a decision that ruined its wine reputation. Low quality wines flooded the markets of Europe and. Although much has changed, the public still think of cheap Hock and Liebfraumilch when it come to German wine. Today some of the best wines in the world are made in Germany.
Rules and Regions: The basic wines, Tafelwein and Landwein are not worth bothering about, but those classed as Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) and Prädikatswein are. QBA wines are always dry, made from a single variety where the fruit must solely come from one of the 13 designated regions.Prädikatswein is split into a further 6 categories, each demanding higher sugar levels. Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenausle and Eiswein.
This system is a bit flawed as ripeness of grapes is not the only thing that ascertains quality. For this reason a separate system in which 200 of the country's top estates are members. The Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter(VDP) guarantees wines of the highest quality by classifying wines by vineyard site and wine quality, more akin to the French AOC system. In order of quality the vineyards are classified as VDP Gutswein (Estate entry level), VDP Ortswein (Village Level), VDP Erste Lage (Premier Cru), VDP Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) and more recently the category Erste Lage and Grosses Gewä chs were added for top dry wines that fulfill certain requirements. You can identify a VDP wine by the emblem of an eagle clutching a bunch of grapes.
The top four regions to consider are:
Mosel: Riesling is king here. The steep south facing slopes produce wines that are richly fragrant, high in acid but brilliantly balanced, whether dry, sweet or lusciously sweet.
Rheingau: Superb Rieslings with a bit more weight than Mosel which are long lived and again, perfectly balanced.
Nahe: A mixed bag of fine, mineral laden Riesling and dull Müller-Thurgau.
Pfalz: A warmer climate than most, Pfalz produces many of the mass produced wines of inferior quality, as well as being an area that does well with reds made from Pinot Noir. Some great sweet Präidikatweins are made here.