A prior thread mentioned Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), which was well timed for me as I was having a conversation with a new friend of mine about German wines. She's first generation (of German and Austrian heritage), has been to Germany a number of times, and is familiar with many of the wine producing regions of Germany, even if not overly familiar with the wines themselves.Anyway, as the topic is fresh in my mind and because we were chatting a little about it here, I thought I'd write some things about German wines.BackgroundAlthough Germany is most associated with beer, the production of wine is also a significant industry. As of 2000, Germany was ranked 10th in total grape production, representing about 2.5% of the world's total production, 6th in total wine production, (3.6%), and 4th in total wine consumption (8.9%).Although Germany does produce both red and white wines, it is primarily the white varieties that are most well known around the world. This should come as no surprise, as the general climate of Germany's principal wine regions, mostly clustered in the southwest corner of the nation at about 50° latitude, is more suited for white wine grapes than red wine grapes. This is further evidenced by the statistics that of Germany's approximate 100,000 hectares (240,000 acres) of vineyards, 87% of the acreage is planted with white grape varieties. By contrast, the worldwide ratio of white to red wine cultivation is almost exactly the opposite.Perhaps it is no wonder then that Germany has long been the king of white wine and that many of the world's best known whites are of German heritage.Principal VarietalsMüller-Thurgau(MEW-lehr Toor-gow)A hybrid thought to be developed by crossing the Riesling and Silvaner grapes, Müller-Thurgau was "invented" in Germany in 1882 by Professor H. Müller of Thurgau, Switzerland. Lighter and sweeter than the more well known and respected Riesling.Riesling(REESE-ling)The single most significant varietal produced in Germany is Riesling, and Riesling grapes account for nearly 21% of Germany's total wine production, second only to Müller-Thurgau. Riesling, affectionately known in wine circles as the premier wine grape, is a true German grape, first planted in the 15th century in the Rheingau region of the nation. Riesling is a versatile wine, and ranges from dry to overly sweet. It is harvested late in the season in Germany, usually in October and November. We've discussed Riesling a fair amount on this board. Some of my prior thoughts and discussions regarding this noble grape can be found at http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=16795736.Gewürztraminer(Geh-VERTZ-trah-mee-nur)Best known in the Alsace area of Germany, Gewürztraminer is the second most popular German wine exported to the U.S. Sweet, with a slightly spicy taste ("Gewürz" is the German word for spice), Gewürztraminer is an all-or-nothing type of wine -- either you love it or you hate it. As with Riesling, I've written about Gewürztraminer before. See http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=16796026.OthersIn addition to the three grapes discussed above, Silvaner, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir are also common grapes grown in Germany.Wine RegionsThere are 13 wine regions in Germany, 11 of which are clustered together in the southwest corner of the nation. Most vineyards within these 11 regions are found on south-facing slopes and near rivers, such as the Rhine and Mosel Rivers, which help to keep the climate temperate. Relative to the three principal varieties mentioned above, the principal wine regions are:Mosel-Saar-Ruwer - 32,000 acres(Mo-ZELL SAAR ROO-Ver)Germany's greatest Rieslings hail from the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, the fourth largest wine region in Germany. Wines from this region are fragrant, piquant, and delicate.Rheingau - 7,700 acres(RINE-gow)The original home of Riesling, the Rhiengau's strip of south-facing slopes are considered by some to be the best grape growing areas in the nation. Aside from the cultivation of the first Riesling grapes, Rhiengau also boasts the discovery of the effect of botrytis (noble rot) on grapes, as well as the development of the Spätlese style of wine.Rheinhessen - 65,000 acres(Rine-HESS'n)The largest German wine region, Rheinhessen is a diverse region which allows for the planting of a number of grape varieties, the most popular of which, not surprisingly, are Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Silvaner (significant acreage is also dedicated to Gewürztraminer). Pinot Noir is also gaining popularity -- and acreage -- in the Rheinheessen.Pfalz - 59,000 acres(Fals)Officially known as Rhienpfalz, the Pfalz region is second only to the Rheinhessen in total acreage, and is the largest production region in Germany. Perhaps the most significant region with warmer climates, the Pfalz actually borders France. Riesling vines are popular here, as more Riesling grapes grow in the Pfalz than anywhere else in Germany except the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.German Quality Standards -- the Ripeness of German WineAs with other European wine producing nations, quality standards are regulated in Germany. The common German practice of selective harvesting determines a wine's quality and is indicated on the wine's label based on the following standards:Tafelwein(TAH-fel-vine)Literally "table wine", Tafelwein is produced from grapes that are naturally ripe. Tafelwein is mostly consumed within Germany and is not significantly exported, especially to the U.S.Qualitätswein(Kval-ee-TEHTS-vine)Literally "quality wine", Qualitätswein is produced from very ripe or overripe grapes. This broad category is broken into two sub-categories:Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA)(phonetic n/a)The largest group of German wines fall into the QbA category. Wines must come from one of 13 approved subregions and be made from approved grape varieties. QbA wines may be chaptalized (the adding of sugar to the juice before fermentation to increase the alcohol level after fermentation). Although QbA wines are readily available in the U.S., they tend to take a back seat to the more common and higher quality Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) wines.Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP)(Kval-ee-TEHTS-vine mit PREH-dee-kaht)Literally "quality wine with attributes", QmP wines are the finest of all German wines. They are naturally produced (no chaptalization). There are six attributes associated with QmP wines which represent graduating ripeness levels. More information is presented in the next section.The Attributes of QmP WinesIn ascending order of ripeness.Kabinett(Kah-bee-NET)The lightest, lowest in alcohol content, and least sweet of QmP wines, Kabinett wines are well paired with simple foods. Kabinett wines historically were ones meant for cellaring, however, today they should be drank young, although certain Kabinett wines may still age well. Kabinett wines are usually a good introduction to German wines as they also tend to be rather economical.Spätlese(SHPAYT-lay-zuh)Literally "late harvest", Spätlese wines are made from ripened grapes picked after the normal harvest. As with late harvest wines produced in the United States, the extra time on the vine allows for fuller and richer flavors which are easily recognizable in Spätlese wines, especially when compared to QbA or Kabinett wines. As such, Spätlese wines are well paired with richer foods and are also an economical choice when looking for German wines. Spätlese wines can be drank young or cellared for up to 10 - 15 years.Auslese(OWS-lay-zeh)Literally "select harvest", Auslese wines are named based on the historical tradition of selectively picking grapes from late harvest vintages, and thus are, in some ways, very similar to Spätlese wines. One might even consider Auslese the "cream of the Spätlese crop". Auslese wines are not made every year, but rather only when the vintages can support them. As such, Auslese wines are often more expensive than their Spätlese counterparts. Auslese wines are usually sweet, and thus commonly used as dessert wines, but the drier Auslese wines will pair well with the richest of foods. Although some may drink Auslese wines young, they are most often cellared for 10 - 20 years before consumption.Beerenauslese(BARE-ehn-OWS-lay-zeh)Literally "berry select harvest", Beerenauslese wines are harvested from individually picked, overripe grapes. Effected by botrytis ("noble rot"), Beerenauslese wines are sweet and designed as an accompaniment to or by themselves as dessert. As with Auslese wines, Beerenauslese wines may not be made in all years, and given the low yield and labor-intensive process, are usually expensive. Beerenauslese wines are most commonly sold as half-bottles.Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA)(TROCK-en-BEHR-en-OWS-lay-zeh)Literally "dried berry select harvest", TBA wines are an extreme version of Beerenauslese wines -- extremely sweet, flavorful, and with an almost syrupy texture. The grapes used to make this intense wine are picked so late after the harvest that they have almost dried into raisins. TBA wines (sold in half-bottles) are some of the most expensive in the world. TBA wines demand cellaring and consumption only on the most special of occasions.Eiswein(ICE-wine)As the phonetic pronunciation indicates, Eiswein literally means "ice wine", named because the grapes are both harvested and pressed while frozen. Eisweins are usually at least of Beerenauslese quality and are quite unique. Despite the extremely late harvest of the grapes, they are not usually affected with botrytis, and thus retain the character of the vineyard. For more on U.S. ice wines, see my prior post at http://boards.fool.com/Message.asp?mid=16808027.For More InformationMuch of the above information was gathered from a variety of internet sources, most of which contain significantly more information that what I've disseminated here. If you are interested in learning more about German wines, here are a few websites to get you started:GermanWine.de(http://www.germanwine.de/english/)An almost official looking source of information about the German wine industry, with information about climate, varieties, regions, the quality system, matching of German wines with food, and much more.VinoNet(http://www.vinonet.com/links.htm)A German-hosted site loaded with technical information about German wines, including detailed descriptions of the quality standards, wine regions, and vintages. Also provides links to many of the top web sites about German wines.The German Wine Page(http://www.winepage.de/)Authored by Peter Ruhrberg, this site provides a great overview of German wines, including regions, labels, varieties, and vintages.German Wine Information Bureau(http://www.germanwineusa.org/)The home page of this U.S.-based organization, this site allows interested Americans to find, sample, and enjoy German wines. In addition to providing information about German wines similar to the other sites mentioned, the group also organizes German wine events both in the U.S. and Germany.The Riesling Report(http://www.rieslingreport.com/)Although not technically a site about German wines, The Riesling Report is the premier source of information about the king of white wines. In addition to information provided on the site, The Riesling Report is also published as a magazine, published bi-monthly.So, there you have it. A little introduction to the world of German wines. Hope you've enjoyed it, or at least found it interesting enough to try some of the world renown wines from this northern European country.Of course, being such a Finger Lakes supporter, I could not close a discussion about German wines without a mention that many of the finest German-originated wines, such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer are produced right here in our own country -- and specifically in the Finger Lakes region of New York State. The reason for this is that the climate of the Finger Lakes closely resembles that of the southwest corner of Germany which, as you now know, is the epicenter of the German wine industry. Certainly try the German originals, but don't forget about the other alternatives!In vito veritas,CPAScott
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