Tomorrow we have our weekly wine tasting and this week we will be tasting 5 different German wines! Therefore, I thought it was only appropriate to tell you a little about Germany: the wines they have to offer, and yes, there’s more than just Riesling and also a little about their extremely long history of wine making. At one time, Germany and France were the TOP producers of wine in the world. They were so popular that when Queen Victoria visited in 1845 and fell in love with the Riesling from the Rheingau, she coined the term “Hock” (short for Hocheim, a sub-region of Rheingau); a term that is still used to this day in England to refer to German riesling.
Presently, Germany is the third largest producer of Pinot Noir, even though no one really knows about it. They are actually considered a premier region for Pinot Noir and rival to Burgundy in quality. Some are even calling it the “new frontier” of high-quality Pinot Noir. This might be amusing to German winemakers since they have a history of making wine that dates back as far as 100 B.C. when the Romans conquered what is now Germany and planted all throughout the area. In fact, the largest Roman wine press ever found north of the Alps was uncovered just below Piesport and dates back to 400 A.D. After the Romans, and just like in France, the monks tended and cultivated the vineyards, many of which are still in operation today.
Unfortunately, and not due to anything that they themselves actually did, Germany lost their reputation for making fine wines in the 1960’s and 70’s. While Germans continued to make their fine, high-quality wines, large quantities of sweet wines were sent around the globe, with names like “Blue Nun” and “Liebfraumilch”. These wines destroyed the sweet wine market and became synonymous with any sweet wines, specifically German Riesling. They have continued to make wine and have slowly recaptured their reputation, but it is still not what it used to be.
Today, they continue to make wines with a focus on drier styles (Trocken). Around 70% of their current production is based on dry wines. They also absolutely love the Pinot varietals: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc. As mentioned before, they are currently the 3rd largest producer of Pinot Noir and have, over the last 40 years or so, stepped up their game, so to speak. They now utilize the same methods used in Burgundy for Pinot Noir cultivation, harvest and production. They are also HUGE fans of sparkling wine, called Sekt, making it in the traditional method used in Champagne, France. They are actually the largest consumers of sparkling wine per capita. They don’t just drink sparkling on special occasions or for celebratory reasons; Sekt is an everyday beverage, often used as an aperitif. In fact, I asked one of my managers, who is German, if this was the case when she was growing up in Germany. She said that she had never thought about it really, but yes, her mom always kept Sekt in the ‘fridge and it was something common. Not just for celebration. Pretty cool if you ask me.
Germany’s climate and terroir could be the most interesting thing about their winemaking. They are about as far north as you can go for grape-growing, residing around 49-51 latitude. Because of the temperature, they have one of the longest ripening seasons in the world, which helps the grapes retain a perfect sugar to acid ratio. This in turn creates incredibly well-balanced wines. The Germans follow sustainable farming practices, harvesting by hand. The vineyards themselves are fascinating; due to the temperatures, the vineyards must be along the incredibly steep river banks where the sunlight can reflect off the water and onto the vines, keeping them warm. They are mostly found on slopes facing south where they can receive the longest possible exposure to sunlight. Some are found in river valleys where the water helps to regulate the temperature like it does on the river banks.
Come join us tomorrow and learn more about why Germany is not just about Riesling, and how not all Riesling has to be sweet!