Long regarded as a producer of sweet table wine, Germany in fact has a long and distinguished history of quality winemaking dating back to Roman times. Today it is the eighth largest wine producing country in the world, making a range of styles from bone dry to lusciously sweet and everything in between.
At first glance the average German wine label might seem hard to understand, but it’s a country that is well worth investigating if you enjoy discovering great wines. Germany produces a range of grapes, both red and white and covering a diverse array of styles.
Germany is best known for its white wine varieties, with Riesling accounting for almost a quarter of all plantings. Although traditionally associated with sweeter styles, it’s actually capable of producing a range of wines, including sparkling. Riesling is a slow ripening aromatic grape, with an intense fruity and floral character. In the cool climate of Germany, it produces wines with high acidity and amazing ageing potential.
Some of the best regions for premium Riesling production include Mosel, Rheingau and Pfalz. Riesling has the ability to reflect the nuances of individual vineyard sites, so you will often find the vineyard named on the label. Due to it’s versatility, Riesling is a great match for many dishes, especially those with an aromatic quality, like Asian cuisines. It also pairs well with pork, seafood and some cheeses.
Muller-Thurgau, a crossing between Riesling and Madeleine Royale, is now the second most planted white variety in Germany, and is popular due to its shorter ripening time and higher yields.
Once the king of white grapes in Germany, its reputation took a bit of a bashing due to being the main ingredient in the now horribly unfashionable Liebfraulmich, and plantings have been declining since the 1990s. It is capable of producing fresh, fruity wines with a fuller body than Riesling and an easy to appreciate aromatic quality. Handled well it can produce good quality wines, however they may be a little harder to find and are often labelled as Rivaner.
Pinot Gris is one of the best known aromatic white grapes, and Germany produces some fine examples, particularly in the Baden and Rheinhessen regions. Producing wines with a rich floral flavour and often a hint of spice on the palate, Pinot Gris can vary enormously in style.
Germany tends to produce fuller bodied wines with a slight sweetness that is offset by crisp acidity. Pinot Gris makes a great match for spicy food-just remember that the spicier the food, the more sweetness it can take in the wine.
Like Muller-Thurgau, Silvaner is another fairly neutral, but old grape variety that was once popular but has since declined and been usurped by the mighty, all conquering Riesling. It has however remained popular in Franconia and Rheinhessen, where it produces powerful dry wines with a slightly earthy and rustic but also food-friendly character.
With its freshness and delicate flavour, Silvaner is a particularly good match for salads, tapas and shellfish. It is also renowned as an excellent match for asparagus.
Although white grapes may be the dominant style of German wine, red plantings are rising and surprisingly, Germany is now the third biggest producer of Pinot Noir-or Spatburgunder as it’s known locally (literally late Burgundian). Spatburgunder produces elegant wines, packed with red fruit flavours and fresh acidity.
Styles range from the fresh and fruity end of the spectrum, to earthy, more concentrated wines that benefit from oak ageing. The best reds come from the relatively warmer climes of the Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Baden. The lighter styles are a great match for charcuterie and cold meats, while the more complex examples are great with game and mushroom dishes.
Dornfelder is a relative newcomer on the German wine scene, being developed in the 50s as a blending grape to jazz up the pale reds of the time and give them some colour and oomph. Nowadays it can be found as a stand alone variety, producing richer, fruitier wines with more body and tannins than traditional German reds.
Youthful Dornfelders are full of black fruit flavour, while it is also capable of oak ageing, which adds extra complexity and a pleasing spicy note. It’s a versatile food match, depending on the style, partnering everything from pizza and pasta to barbecues and game.
If this has whet your appetite and you’d like to discover some interesting German wines for yourself, head over and browse our German range.