In Germany they do things differently and, in some ways, it’s a lot more straightforward. For starters, they grow fewer grapes, with three varieties in particular – Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) – dominating plantings. Furthermore, the Germans tend to include the name of the grape on wine bottles, alongside other information. This makes it easier to know what you’re buying (unlike in France where you first need a degree in French geography).
However, despite the fewer grapes and helpful labelling, German wines present us with other challenges. One is the elaborate system for marking the style and quality of wines – see the Making section of the Drake Vine for an explanation which hopefully makes sense of this. German wines also present us with tricky words such as Prädikatswein, Trockenbeerenauslese and Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete. If we’re not careful, mispronuncing some of these could see us being escorted out of a bar, store or restaurant.
Germany is the home of the (in)famous Blue Nun, a light-bodied semi-sweet white wine which was first launched in the 1920s and which, by the mid-1980s, had become one of the most widely-sold wines internationally. Traditionally made predominately from Müller-Thurgau grapes, Blue Nun has, since the late 1980s, fallen well out of favour and is now a popular target of so much TV comedy.
Semi-sweet wines like Blue Nun have been widely accused of tarnishing the image of German wines internationally. That may have once been true. However, more recently German wines have become associated increasingly with Riesling. Riesling has been dubbed the “Metrosexual” grape because of the easy and self-assured way it carries off so many different styles (see the Making and Drinking sections of this website for more info). Riesling’s ability to look good in a range of outfits extends to the company it keeps: it is sometimes described as the food and wine pairer’s “best mate” because it works so well with a wide range of foods (see the Pairing section of this website).
The impact of Riesling on the potential of German wine shouldn’t be underestimated. Indeed, it’s interesting that many of the German Rieslings currently available in the shops come from the 2011 vintage – said to be one of Germany’s best since the 1970s.
I hope you enjoy this week’s brief Drake Vine stopover in Germany. Next week we’re off to Sunny Spain.