Host to some of the northernmost vineyards in the world, Germany is a region known for its cool, continental climate. Vineyards are found throughout the country, with the primary winemaking regions centered around the Rhine River and its tributaries running along the southwestern edge of the country. The extreme northern latitude of these vineyards brings the climate conversation to the forefront in this part of the world. Several factors, including vineyard slope and aspect, soil heat retention, and proximity to the river allow for grapes to even have a chance at ripening. Many famous vineyard sites sit on such steep slopes overlooking the rivers, that they must be farmed by hand. Slopes can be so extreme that often times heat retaining slate is manually moved back up the vineyards when it erodes over time.
Riesling reigns in Germany, comprising nearly one quarter of all plantings, and overall, white grapes make up approximately 60% of the vineyards. Simply stated, Riesling is tenacious, flourishes in the long, cool growing season, and has the ability to produce some of the most captivating wines in the world. In the modern wine era, sommeliers and wine professionals have been trying to convince the general population that Riesling is not just a simple sweet wine. While it's true that there are sweet examples, many are bone-dry, and the dry style wines have been trending amongst producers for some time now. Furthermore, Riesling naturally has high acidity which allows for even the off-dry or sweeter styles to finish incredibly clean on the palate.
German wine labels can be confusing even for the seasoned wine drinker. How do you know what style of Riesling you are buying? Well, its starts with learning a bit of terminology. There are 13 official regions within Germany and wines from these approved areas are classified as "Qualitätswein" or "Prädikatswein". Qualitätswein are quality wines from a specific region, but Prädikatswein takes classification one step further based on levels of ripeness (or sugar content) at harvest. Classifications start with "Kabinett" at the lowest sugar content (at harvest) and progress upward to "Spätlese", "Auslese", "Beerenauslese" (BA), "Eiswein", and finally "Trockenbeerenauslese" (TBA).
Confused yet? Here are a couple key points. While, the above classifications are labeled on the bottle and indicate sugar levels at harvest, the winemaker decides how much of that sugar is actually fermented into alcohol. If you see wines with 8-10% alcohol, you can assume that wine may be a bit on the sweeter side. Another tip is to look for the word "Trocken" on the label if looking for a dry style. You can also look for "GG" on the label which stands for "Grosses Gewächs ". This classification is regulated by a producers’ collective called the V.D.P. and typically indicates high quality, vineyard specific wines made in a dry style.
Yes, Riesling gets the most attention when discussing German wines, but other notable white grape varietals include Müller Thurgau and Sylvaner. A bit surprising to some, Germany produces large amounts of Pinot Noir. Known as Spätburgunder, these can be remarkable values for any Pinot Noir lover as the wines often show vibrant fruit, distinctive fragrance, and lively acidity and freshness.
The German flight this month kicks your palate off with a wonderfully fresh Sekt (sparkling) from Fitz-Ritter. You will then move into a dry single-vineyard Riesling from Tesch that holds wonderful depth and complexity while maintaining edgy acidity. The third wine shows off the Pinot Noir from from the well known region of Baden in the southwest corner of Germany. This is mouthwatering, fresh Pinot Noir with a strong mineral backbone. We finish with a Spätlese from the iconic Ürziger Würzgarten site in the Mittel Mosel; a wine you do not want to miss!
The Tasting Room Flight
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