Wine Stories: Germany 101
We’ve had a lot of fun this Wine School semester sipping German Wines and we want to make sure that all of our pupils have taken in all of the German Wine 101 knowledge. So read below for some more knowledge.
German Wines is a world of discovery! From the many different grape varieties, to how hard it is to read German wine labels we want to break it down for you! The wide range of grape varieties cultivated in Germany is impressive, from “A,” as in Albalonga, to “Z,” as in Zweigeltrebe. (Read more on German grape varieties here)
History of Wine in Germany
On the steep slate and shale banks along the Mosel, the pristine, castle-crowned vineyards of the Rheingau or the rolling hills of Rheinhessen, Germany produces some of the world’s best, yet underrated wines.
Germany has a history of winemaking that dates back to 100 B.C. when ancient Romans, who conquered the region, began producing wines on local soil. It was the Romans, who already recognized the potential of sites like the Piesporter Goldtröpfchen (little droplets of gold) and who cultivated grapes there. Researchers found a wine press at the base of Piesport that dates back to 400 A.D., which is the largest Roman wine press ever found north of the Alps (via: truly fine wine)
Terroir and Wine Production in Germany
hile many great wines are found around the globe, it is the unique terroir (microclimate, geography and geology of a small area) and traditional ecological production methods, which allows Germany to produce exceptional quality wines that are still some of the finest and affordable in the world.
Residing about as far north as grapes can be cultivated (49-51˚ N), Germany provides the ideal landscape for producing finicky but prized noble grape varietals, such as Riesling and Pinot Noir. There is no other country in the world where you can spend $20-30 on a bottle that can easily be aged for 20+ years.
Germany has one of the longest ripening windows for grapes in the world, which allows nature to impart a perfect sugar and acid ratio, providing for optimum balance and harmony, along with age-worthiness. German Riesling grapes contain especially high levels of natural acidity and sugar, which act as a natural preservative and allow the wines to age gracefully, rewarding those who are patient to wait.
A remarkable characteristic of German viticulture is the care and attention to detail that goes into the production of its wines. German vintners are extremely adept at blending centuries-old experience with the latest in modern viticulture and are exacting in their methods: They harvest the grapes for their best wines by hand, use “green” or sustainable production techniques, age their whites in stainless steel tanks and the reds in traditional aged oak barrels or small French barriques.
What is even more outstanding is the fact that wine of such quality is produced in one of the coldest and northernmost growing regions in the world. Because of the harsher climate, Germany’s vineyards are usually found on slopes facing southward to assure the longest exposure to the sun. They are also often found in river valleys, such as the Rhine and Mosel, because of the water’s ability to moderate night temperatures and reflect the warmth of the sun.
The naturally high acidity, outstanding fruit and transparent quality of German wines are its trademark around the world. Its long finish, complex flavors and crisp zest are the benchmarks that make German wines so unique and ideal for pairing with food. (via: truly fine wine)
Riesling the Empress of Grapes
Of all the grapes of Germany, the most noble is the Riesling — a variety that can do well even in stony soil and can subsist on a minimum of moisture. It is also frost-resistant and a very dependable bearer of high-quality grapes which have an acidity level that gives the wine a racy freshness and contributes to its long life.
To reach its full potential, Riesling needs extra days of sun; ripening is very late, usually not until the latter half of October. Riesling produces elegant wines of rich character with an incomparable fragrance and taste, often reminiscent of peaches, or when young, apples. In 1996, the vineyard area planted with Riesling exceeded that of Müller-Thurgau, thus making it Germany’s premier grape variety in terms of area (ca. one fifth of all plantings). It is grown throughout German wine country (via: German Wine Canada)
Pyramid of Ripeness Categories
These ripeness categories are determined by the sugar content in the grapes, which is measured in degree Oechsle. The Oechsle requirements for the respective categories vary by growing region.
Riper grapes have more sugar but more importantly more extract and flavor in the grape, hence a more expressive wine. The higher the ripeness of the grapes used for the wine, the higher up in the pyramid the wine will be categorized.
The categories DO NOT reflect sweetness levels in the finished wine.
In fact, they are independent of residual sugar (sweetness) in the wine, which is determined by the winemaker guiding the fermentation, which is the process of transforming the natural sugar of the grapes into alcohol in the wine and carbon dioxide.
Hence the dryness of a wine is independent of the ripeness level of the grapes upon harvest. If the fermentation is interrupted before all sugar is transformed, it will result in a sweeter style wine. If the fermentation continues until little or no sugar is left, it results in a dry wine. Grapes for dessert wines have so much natural sugar that they will not ferment completely and residual sugar (sweetness) will remain. Grapes classified as Qualitätswein up to Auslese, can become a dry (trocken), dry to medium dry (halbtrocken) or fruity wine.
In contrast to the common belief that German wines are sweet, close to 2/3 of the entire production in Germany is dry. Dry is the preferred vinification style consumed by the German wine drinker.
(For more information on German wines, please visit German Wines Canada)