German Jaunts: A Short Trip into German Wine

This week, we focus our sights on one of Germany's largest growing wine regions, and two of their white wines, one infamous, and one growing in prominence and renown. Consider this a jump off point into the excellent wines that Germany has to offer. These wines will be 10% off for the week of 6/4/18- end of day 6/10/18.

An Overview of German Wine Regions

An Overview of German Wine Regions

If you're anything like me, when you traveled to Germany's three largest cities, Berlin, Hamburg, and Munich, you would hardly know that Germany had a wine culture, outside from the inhibitive Weinkarte that list numerous Spätburgunders or Rieslings, not to mention the even more daunting Trollinger, Blauer Lemberger, or Weißburgunder.

So it happens we're more comfortable seeing wine varietals in French, or Italian, or English despite the proximity of the English language to German.  Spätburgunder is simply Pinot Noir, and Germany happens to be the third largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world. Weißburgunder is known as Pinot Blanc in neighboring France, and Riesling, of course, is our once and future favorite grape (excluding Chenin Blanc, of course). 

Germany is world renowned for its beer. What about its wine?

It was those pesky Romans that gave Germany its first taste of viticulture, and Charlemagne  of the Holy Roman Empire enforced viticultural rules and regulations in the 8th century..  We find the earliest mentions of Pinot Noir in 1318 under the name Klebroth and Riesling as far back as 1435. Vineyards reached their peak in Germany around 1500, with more than four times the amount of land under vine today before the rise of beer as an everyday beverage, and the devastation of the Thirty Years War, and also the dissolution of monasteries, largely responsible for most of Europe's wine-making knowledge, during the Protestant Reformation.

There's also a troubling image with German wine, most assume that it is sweet.  This isn't entirely the truth, but that has obscured German wine from becoming more well known among the ever growing knowledgeable wine consumer.  "We have these Rieslings," I'll find myself saying, only to be asked rhetorically "Riesling, but isn't that sweet?" It's a trick question, because some want the wine to be that sweet, and others refuse to believe that the wine may indeed be dry.  This lack of trust on German wines is pervasive, why should they trust Pinot Noir? Especially if it's labeled Spätburgunder?

The greater irony is that Germany is well known for its fastidiousness, this despite being a divided nation for most of the 20th century.  It comes as no surprise that this quality reaches into their winemaking as well. The German Wine Law of 1971 put a strong emphasis on standardization and factual completeness.  It's a highly detailed list that will tell you everything you want to know about the wine - how dry it is, where it's from down to the specific  Einzellagen (specific vineyard site). The writ of German Wine Law comes down to evaluating the wine by the weight of the wine must. Must is a sign of grape ripeness, but paradoxically, that doesn't mean the wine will be sweet.

A classic German Riesling label

A classic German Riesling label


In a more basic perspective, we can separate wines by the ripeness level, in Germany the most basic classifications are Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, and the more rare Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and Eiswein in a matter of least ripe to most. But this tradition was marred, ironically, by the lack of clear communication to the export market.  With a marked increase in dry Riesling, more and more German producers have tried to simplify their labels to make it easier for a consumer in the United States. Gone is the gothic type and wordy content. Now, you're more likely to find the varietal, overall region, and perhaps most important, the word trocken. For consumers fearful of imbibing a "dreaded sweet Riesling", trocken (dry) is the word to look for on a label.  Forgoing that, ABV is a good indicator as well - most sweet Rieslings fall under 10%.  

There are 13 defined Anbaugebiete (wine regions) in Germany, Mosel being the most famous.  We could explore them all, but this is a jaunt, not a marathon. For this week, we're focusing on Pfalz (also referred to occasionally as the Palatine), the second largest wine region in Germany, trailing only its northern neighboring region, the Rheinhessen. Germany is often viewed as a distinct wine region in Europe because of the relatively northern location of its vineyards, compared to that of its neighboring countries.  But Pfalz is one of its most southern wine making regions, bordering France to its south and west.  Here, like the majority of Germany, the majority of the vineyards here are for white wines (69% white, 31% red). 

Overview of the Pfalz Wine Region.

Overview of the Pfalz Wine Region.

The Pfalz extends over a distance of 70 kilometres along the slopes that lie between the Palatinate Forest and the Rhine River plain, from Monsheim in the north to the French border in the south.The Pfalz is made up of a large variety of different soil formations, ranging from new red sandstone through loam,  marl, keuper, shell limestone, porphyry and granite to slate.

We have two wines from the Pfalz region for our Featured Sale this week, both from Weingut Brand, led by two brothers, Daniel and Jonas Brand.  They have 18 hectares of vineyards in Pfalz, and make only 50,000 bottles of wine a year.  

Weingut Brand is located in Bockenheim, one of the more northern wine regions in the Pfalz, where the grapes ripen slower due to the cooler climate, no doubt assisted by the Donnersberg Mountain that is nearby. Most of their vineyards (about 12 hectares) fall on the Bockenheim Sonnenberg hills, where the altitude ranges from 150 to 350 meters. Since it's the summertime, we're offering up two of their more accessible wines, their Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2016 and their Pfalz Weißburgunder Trocken 2016. 

Vineyards in Pfalz.

Vineyards in Pfalz.

Weißburgunder or Weissburgunder is, as we mentioned before, Pinot Blanc. It's undergown a renaissance in Germany in the last 40+ years, going from 0.9% of all vineyard plantings in Germany to 5% today. Perhaps even more so than Riesling, Weissburgunder is lauded for its ability to pair harmoniously with everything food wise. It offers softer acidity than its Riesling brethren and more stone-fruit flavor.  Weissburgunder does particularly well in Pfalz, due to the relatively warmer climate than the rest of Germany's vineyard regions, it traditionally prefers sunnier climates.

The Pfalz region accounts for 15% of all Riesling grown in the world, and is typically richer than its Mosel and Rheingau counterparts in mouth-feel, but still boasts the racing acidity for which Riesling is known.  When made correctly, this frost-resistant varietal is capable of producing elegant and inimitable wines, with an aroma of fresh summer peaches. Riesling craves the sun, which is why Pfalz makes a great region for its growth, seeing the second largest amount of sunlight in all of the wine regions in Germany.  The Pfalz Brand Riesling Trocken 2016 is certainly troken, with 12% ABV.

The Fine Print:

Weingut Brand Pfalz Weißburgunder Trocken 2016 -  ̶$̶1̶9̶.̶9̶9̶ $17.99

Weingut Brand Pfalz Riesling Trocken 2016 -  ̶$̶1̶9̶.̶9̶9̶ $17.99

Further Reading:

To no surprise, the Deutsches Weininstitut GmbH has a great breakdown of Germany's wine and wine regions

Jancis Robinson has a lovely feature on Riesling

Even The Kitchn has a lovely feature on German Wines