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Germany; the home of white wine

28/07/2020 Production area

If German viticulture is known for one thing, it is for making white wines. German white wine is generally elegant, easy to drink and enjoyed by everyone. These are unique wines which, following a small crisis in the early 20th century due to the mass production of excessively sweet wines, a new generation of winegrowers has managed to recover a higher quality. Fresh, intense and perfumed wines that stand out for their good bottle aging potential, staying in their best condition for many years. 

german white wines

“The Miracle of German Wine”

After moving past a desire for mass-produced wine and improving production, “the miracle of German wine” was born. German producers who wanted to produce quality wines worked extremely hard and managed to create refreshing wines with a spicy elegance that are impossible to imitate. This resulted in Germans themselves doubling the amount of their own wines that they drank in a short time, as well as these wines enjoying increased popularity abroad. The secret lies in the perfect combination of two vital ingredients: sugar and acidity. The sugar softens the wine and the acidity gives it vitality and an incredible long life. In vintages where the two elements are perfectly balanced, the essence of the grape and the soil are beautifully clear. This is something of a miracle that has gained international recognition. 

According to German wine legislation VDP, which classifies the vineyards, there are thirteen regions where Qualitätswein (quality wine) is produced. This wine accounts for 90% of all German production and is made mainly in the southern two thirds of the country. Specifically in the following places:  Ahr, Baden, Franken, Hessische Bergstraße, Mittelrhein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen and Württemberg. These are wine-growing areas where the vineyards are usually facing the sun to make the most of daylight hours and are mostly found on the slopes around the Rhine, Moselle and Nahe rivers. These vineyards are planted with up to 140 varieties of classified grapes, 100 of which are used to produce white wines. However, of all of these varieties, there is one that is particularly responsible for the “miracle of German wine”, and that is, without doubt, the Riesling variety. 

Riesling, the star variety    

In Germany, 20% of all vine cultivation is dedicated to the Riesling variety. The vast majority of great wines made in this country are made with it and come from the best locations around the Rhine, Moselle and Nahe rivers. Thanks to the weather and terrain on these slopes, the grapes grow with exquisite qualities. These are grapes with marked acidity, floral aromas and citrus and apple notes. This variety is also one of the ones that best expresses the terroir it grows in. 

The long growing season and the low sun exposure that the grape enjoys during cultivation are partly responsible for the Riesling boom. All of these factors result in fresh, delicate wines with a moderate alcohol content. These characteristics are already popular among today’s consumers and now enjoy great success abroad.

Sweet wines, the jewel in the crown

Before the amazing potential of Riesling was discovered, Germany’s wine production was famous around the world for its sweet wines. These wines are undoubtedly the classic jewels in the German crown, made through delicate vinifications where alcoholic fermentation stops at just 8% alcohol. The best German sweet wines are Prädikatswein, which are quality wines with distinction. During the production of these wines, there must be no chaptalisation, which means no added sugars. Within Prädikatswein, there are six subdivisions according to age as well as whether they are influenced by Botrytis Cinerea, a fungus that attacks grapes but is known as noble rot in certain conditions and allows the production of extraordinary sweet white grape wines:

– Kabonett: This wine is the category with the lowest amount of sugar (67º-85º). These are light and refreshing wines that are usually vinified in a traditional way, leaving some residual sugar.

-Spätlese: the name that means “late harvest” and the grapes are not yet affected by botrytis. The degree of sugar ranges between 76º and 95º and these wines can vary from dry and full to sweet and light. They age well in the bottle for ten years or more.

-Auslese: or “selected vintage” are wines made from more mature grapes that are sometimes affected by botrytis. The degree of sugar is remarkable (83º – 105º) and the sweetness is always balanced with a brilliant acidity.

-Beerenauslese (BA): translates as “selected berries” and involves a delicate and manual selection of the botrytis-affected grapes in the vineyard. These are wonderfully sweet wines with a sugar grade ranging from 110º to 128º and where aging is essential. 

– Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA): these are made with “selected raisined grapes” with a sugar level over 150º. These wines are made from grapes that have been left to dry on the vine through botrytis and then carefully hand-picked. They are the sweetest, most expensive wines that are magnificent for bottle aging. 

– Eiswein or “ice wine” is made using another sugar concentration technique of freezing the berry. These grapes are rich in sugar and acidity and must be harvested between -7ºC and -12ºC, before the grapes have thawed.

In principle, these wines are much better enjoyed on their own than with meals. This is why German producers have begun to create new semi-dry (halbtrocken) or fully dry (trocken) wines. This trend began in the early 80s and they were used as table wines. Since then it has evolved into making elegant and delicious dry wines of the highest quality. 

Now that you know a little more about these wines, the only thing left to do is try them. So why not take a look through our selection of German white wines. German jewels to enjoy in your own home. 

Image by Karsten Würth @karsten_wuerth

Original source Unsplash.com

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