One of the best aspects of my job is tasting wine, but it’s not about getting tipsy in the middle of the day. I usually spit it out in an effort to keep my wits about me. It’s not just about tasting the wine. One of the best things that can happen is to be transported to the place where it comes from; The history of the winery, the wine maker, and the terroir. So, I was recently invited to taste some wines from S. A. Prum winery in Mosel, Germany, and one of the first things that struck me was not only the quality of the wines but the history behind them. S. A. Prum has been making wine since 1156. Until the twentieth century there were only two great wine producing countries: France and Germany. Germany still produces some of the world’s most outstanding wines. What is most remarkable about Germany is that any wine can be made there due to the country’s northern location. There are a wide range of qualities and styles available from Germany, unfortunately most Americans are only familiar with the cheap, sweet and unremarkable varieties.
Vineyards in Germany have to be precisely sited on south- facing slopes to catch all the warmth and sunlight they can. Most are in the river valleys of the Rhine and Mosel or their tributaries. The soil plays its part too. All the good vineyards are sited in places with heat-retaining soil and rocks. Even with all this, it is difficult to achieve full ripeness of the grapes. However acidity is usually present in abundance. Less sugar means lower alcohol, and most German wines have only form 7 to 11 percent. These wines have a quality known as transparency, rarely found elsewhere. It comes across as a clarity of flavor. When possible, German wine makers will use ambient yeasts, and allow the fermentation process to be done without altering acidity or aging in new oak.
Germany is primarily a producer of white wine. Red wines and roses only account for about 18% of production. Of the nearly sixty grapes grown, Riesling is the most prestigious. Virtually all the best wines are made from it, and it is never blended with another grape. Muller Thurgau is the most widely produced wine. It is thought to be a cross between Riesling and Silvaner. The most popular German reds are: Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir), Blauer Portugieser, and Trollinger.
Reading a German wine label can be challenging for most Americans. Ripeness at the time of harvest determines the quality of the wine. However the finished wines sugar content will be determined during the wine making process. There are two major categories: table wine and “quality”. Table wine includes tafelwein and landwein. Quality wine is divided into two types, QbA (Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) and QmP (Qualitatswein mit Pradikat). The degress of ripeness are: Kabinett- generally better than a simple QbA, Spaltese- late harvest, fully ripe, Auslese- selected late harvest, Beernauslese- usually affected with Botrytis, Trockenbeernauslese- dry berrys, the richest, sweetest, rarest, Eiswein- frozen grapes, high in both sugar and acid.
There are levels of sweetness, ranging from bone dry to very sweet. The driest is Trocken, dry but containing up to 1.8% sugar is Halbtrocken, anything else is sweet, ranging from a little sweet to very sweet.
“Give me books, French wine, fruit, fine weather and a little music played out of doors by somebody I do not know.”
― John Keats
I hope I have in some small way demystified choosing a German wine. As my taste has developed, my appreciation of these wines has increased dramatically. Even the ones that have some residual sugar are usually balanced by a bracing acidity. Please give them a try!
This months’ White wine of the month is the 2013, Portuga White, a light crisp blend from Lisboa, Portugal, with tropical and citrus fruit, nice acidity.
Our Red Wine of the Month is the 2008, Rioja Bordon, a smooth Tempranillo, with a balance of fruit and spice, elegant tannins.
Wine club members come in early to pick up your bottles, before they’re gone.
Sommelier, Maynards Market and Kitchen