I Love German Wine and Food – Launching a Series
By Levi Reiss
This article will launch our new series, I Love German Wine and Food. You may be aware that we have written more than two dozen articles in our first series, I Love Italian Wine and Food. This series will continue this labor of love, but for German wine and food.
Let’s start with a few statistics about German wine. In spite of the fact that Germany has a small wine acreage, only half that of the Bordeaux region of France, Germany is the world’s seventh largest wine exporter. Germans drink about five times as much beer as wine, and perhaps surprisingly drink more red wine than white wine. Germany produces about two thirds of the world’s Riesling wine, including much of the finest.
We are going to look at thirteen wine German regions,in alphabetical order they are: Ahr, Baden, Franken, Hessische Bergstrasse, Mittelrhein, Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen, and Württemberg. Most articles will discuss a given region and its distinctiveness. We’ll talk about the wines and the foods that characterize the region. We will try to write at least one article per region, but we know that several regions produce very little wine, and export even less to North America. We are keeping our eyes open for wines from all regions of Germany. In general, the articles in this series (except for the present one) will include our unbiased tasting report on a wine. We will taste the wine with food, including several main courses and at least one imported cheese, German if possible. In our Italian series the wines that we tasted varied in cost from $6 to $38, but were mostly in the range of $10 to $20. We intend to apply approximately the same price range for the German wines, but don’t be surprised if the price range drifts somewhat upwards.
Our wine tasting will be flexible with respect to regions, prices, and wine styles. But there are two rules that we follow. First rule, all wines that we taste and review have been purchased at the full retail price. Second rule, if we are unhappy with a wine, we will let you know. If you followed our previous series, you know that we weren’t always happy with the Italian wines that we tasted and I’ve got the funny feeling that the same thing will happen with some German wines.
Now back to the subject of German wines.
German wine classifications are complicated. To a large extent they are based on the wine’s sugar content. We’ll start from the lowest level.
Wein simply means wine, a wine made from a blend of grapes grown outside the European Union. We won’t be mentioning this bottom of the line classification again.
Tafelwein means table wine; it may be blended from grapes grown in different European Union countries or a wine made in one EU country from grapes harvested in another EU country. We won’t be mentioning this very low classification again.
Deutscher Tafelwein means German table wine. This category and the following one, Landwein, now represent less than 2% of the total German wine production. We did not originally intend to review a Deutscher Tafelwein, but we saw such a bottle at a wine store and thought that we should give it a chance.
Landwein is a Deutscher Tafelwein from a specific area. This is not a transitional category, in other words, Landweins are not wines that hope to work their way up to the next category. Since we are tasting a Deutscher Tafelwein, we probably won’t bother to taste a Landwein unless the Deutscher Tafelwein pleasantly surprises us. That’s one of the things we love about tasting wine, while we do have preconceived notions, we can’t be sure until we actually try the wine. And now for the higher level classifications.
Qualitätswein Bestimmter Anbaugebiet (QBA) means a quality wine from one of the thirteen specified wine regions. About one third of German wine is QBA wine, a percentage that is rapidly declining. Its grapes usually have not fully ripened and so these wines allow the addition of sugar during fermentation, a process known as chaptalization. Chaptalization is outlawed in many countries. By law, QBA wines have a minimum alcohol content of 5.9%, less than half the alcohol in most of the Italian wines we reviewed. Such a low alcohol content leads to poor shelf life.
Qualitätswein Garantierten Ursprungs (QGU) means a QBA wine with a well-defined taste. These wines come from a specified area that may be as small as a vineyard. It is harder to obtain the QGU designation than the QBA designation. At present, the QGU designation is not widely used and we probably will not refer to it again.
Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QMP) means assured quality wine. About two thirds of German wine is QMP wine, a percentage that is rapidly increasing. This important classification is subdivided into six classifications described below. Unlike QBA wines, the presumably higher quality QMP wines may not be chaptalized. Their grapes must come from a well defined area. In order to understand the following classifications within the umbrella QMP classification, we have to discuss the Oechsle scale. The Oechsle value effectively measures a wine’s sugar content which depends on its specific gravity (weight relative to pure water). Pure water is given the value 1000. A fermenting grape mixture, also known as must which weighs 7% more than pure water is given the value 70°. Such a value indicates a Kabinett wine, described next.
Kabinett QMP wines were first defined in the early 1700s. Their minimum Oechsle value varies from 67° to 85° depending on the grape variety and where the grapes were grown. Kabinett wines are made from grapes that haven’t fully ripened. They have a potential alcohol content between 8.6% and 11.4%. Kabinett wines are usually not very sweet.
Spätlese QMP literally means a wine made from late-harvested grapes. In real terms Spätlese wines are made from ripe grapes. Their minimum Oechsle value varies from 76° to 95° with a potential alcohol content of 10% to 13%. While 10% alcohol is a low value compared to most non-German wines, 13% alcohol is a common value. Spätlese wines tend to be sweet with harmonious acidity.
Auslese QMP wine is truly a late harvest wine. It is made from grape bunches left on the vine after the Spätlese wine grapes have been harvested. Auslese grapes must be free of damage and disease, and yet the wine laws permit machine harvesting. Their minimum Oechsle value varies from 83° to 105°, giving them a potential alcohol content of 11.1% to 14.5%. Many producers make Auslese wines only in special vintages. These wines tend to be complex. They are usually but not always sweet. They may be affected by botryris, noble rot, the parasite responsible for some of the world’s top sweet wines including French Sauterne and Hungarian Tokaji.
Beerenauslese QMP is a sweet, botryised wine made from shriveled, individually selected grapes. Their minimum Oechsle value varies from 110° to 128°, giving them a potential alcohol content of 15.3% to 18.1%. The minimum required alcohol content is 5.5%. The lower the alcohol level, the higher the sugar level. These wines are very sweet and quite complex.
Eiswein QMP happens when a botryised grapes that freeze on the vine usually in December or January. The frozen grapes must be pressed before they defrost. If everything goes right the final product is spectacular, among Germany’s finest sweet wines. Their minimum Oechsle value varies from 110° to 128°, giving them a potential alcohol content of 15.3% to 18.1%. In fact many Eisweins are similar in Oechsle value to Trockenbeerenauslese wines described next, but have a very different flavor profile.
Trockenbeerenauslese QMP, abbreviated as TBA, wines are produced from botrysized, shriveled grapes, individually picked from the vine. Their minimum Oechsle value varies from 150° to 154°, giving them a potential alcohol content of 21.5% to 22.1%. The minimum required alcohol content is 5.5%. These wines are very dark and so thick and syrupy that they must be sipped.
We will try to taste at least one wine from as many of the thirteen wine regions as possible. We will also taste at least one wine from as many of the ten classifications as possible, starting with Deutscher Tafelwein and going up to Trockenbeerenauslese QMP.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine German or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Presently his wine websites are http://www.theworldwidewine.com and http://www.theitalianwineconnection.com.