Sunday, March 14, 2010

German Wines - The 2009 Vintage: Top Quality and Lower Quantity

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller in front of the Friedrich Schiller Statue in Mainz, Rheinhessen, Germany, in December 2009

The Managing Director of the German Wine Institute in Mainz, Monika Reule, expects exceptionally fruit-driven and full-bodied white wines that are well-balanced and powerful, and deep-colored and velvety red wines in 2009. Ms. Reule is certain that Germany's 2009 vintage will also achieve international acclaim.

Volume is down

In terms of volume, the 2009 harvest was down by 10 to 15 percent compared with 2008 and with the previous five year average. In some regions, such as the Rheingau, Mittelrhein or Nahe, the shortfall is estimated to be more than 20%. The size of the crop in Franken, though, was normal, and in the Pfalz, only relatively smaller than usual. The shortfall is due to uneven blossoming as well as the sunny, but dry, late summer weather. Severe winter frost was an additional factor in the easternmost regions, Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen, where this year's crop was only about half of that of 2008.

Wine Growing Regions

Germany’s winegrowing regions are among the most northerly in the world. That is what makes German wines so distinctive: the grapes enjoy long periods of growth in moderate summer heat, which gives the wines their renowned lightness and fruity aroma. Except for two regions in eastern Germany, all the country’s winegrowing areas are in the south and south-west, where they are subject to the mild Gulf Stream climate from the west and the dry continental climate from the east.

Red Wine Revolution

There is a red wine revolution going on in Germany. The share of red wines in terms of production has increased from 10 percent in the 1980s to about 35 percent now in Germany. Of course, given its location, the German red wines tend to be not like the fruity red wines we know from warmer countries, but lean and more elegant, with a lot of finesse. 30 years ago, in the international scene, people would not talk about German red wine. But this has changed. Germany now produces red wines that can compete with the best of the world. The red wine boom has not yet reached the US and it is very difficult to find these wines in the US.

"In addition to fabulous Rieslings and Pinot Blancs, many wine critics or enthusiasts will be surprised by the extraordinary quality of our red wines. In foreign circles, it is still a relatively well-kept secret that about one third of Germany's vineyard area is planted with red wine varietals and that Germany is the world's third largest producer of Pinot Noir," explained the German Wine Institute's managing director.

Picture: Germany's Wine Regions

Germany's Flagship Wines

The flagships of German wines are of course the noble sweet Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Icewine. There is nothing you can do to prevent these wines from becoming noble-sweet. As a result of the noble rot or the freezing of the grapes, the grapes have such high sugar content at harvest, that it is impossible to make dry wines from them.

These noble-sweet wines are produced either from botrytised grapes or grapes that were harvested during frost, more specifically, first, the fog in the autumn mornings at German river banks produces a fungal infection, botrytis cineria (noble rot), which removes the water in the grapes and adds a unique flavor to the grape; and second, the frost late in the year, which also removes the water in the grapes when the temperatures fall (but does not produce the botrytis taste).

Picture: Dr. Loosen Estate overlooking the Mosel river

In both cases, the sugar content of the grape is exceptionally high at the time of the harvest and mother nature is unable to ferment all the sugar. Thus, natural sugar remains in the wine and makes the wine sweet. These are the famous sweet dessert wines in Germany: Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, Eiswein.

German Wines: Sweet and Dry

With most German wines, however, it is different. Germany being located at the northern border of wine making, the grapes are harvested with sugar content that they can be alternatively fermented in a dry, off-dry or sweet style. It is the winemaker who decides in the cellar if he or she wants to make a dry, off-dry or sweet wine, not mother nature in the vineyard. Thus, all wines ranging from Tafelwein to Auslese can be alternatively fermented as dry, off-dry or sweet wines.

There are principally two ways for making German wine sweet that does not have enough sugar. First, you do not let the fermentation run its course and stop it. As a result, you get delicious sweet and low level alcohol wines. Second, you let the wine fully ferment to a normal alcohol level and then add “Suessreserve” which is sterilized juice to achieve the desired level of sweetness.

The vintage 2009 was crowned with the rarity Eiswein, harvested in the middle of December. See a report here. And many Estates were able to harvest noble-sweet botrytised wines. See a report here.

Detailed Crop Reports by Region

Detailed crop reports for the 13 German wine regions are here.

Schiller Wine - Related Postings

Germany's 15 Top Winemakers - the Feinschmecker 2010 Wine Guide

Franz Kuenstler, founder of the Franz Kuenstler Estate, was awarded the Honorary Lifetime Membership of the Weinfreundeskreis Hochheim

German Wine Basics: Schillerwein - A German Speciality

German Wine Basics: How does a Sweet German Riesling Become Sweet?

Wine Ratings: Riesling Cup 2009 - Germany's Top Dry Rieslings

German Wine Basics: Erstes Gewaechs, Grosses Gewaechs, Erste Lage

Germany's Best Red Wines: The 2009 VINUM AWARDS

Wine Ratings: Top 100 of the Wine Spectator 2009 includes Wittmann and Loosen

Wine Ratings: Gault Millau Germany Wine 2010

Wine Ratings: German Wine Eichelmann 2010

Wine Ratings: The Top 100 Wines in Germany - Weinwirtschaft 2009

100 Years Germany's VDP - The World's Oldest Association of Wine Estates Celebrates a Special Birthday in 2010

In the Glass: 2007 Rheinhessen with Oysters at the Ten Bells in the Lower East Side in Manhattan

In the Glass: 2001 Riesling Gold Quatrat trocken Weingut Sybille Kuntz Mosel

German Wine Basics: Sugar in the Grape - Alcohol and Sweetness in the Wine

German Wine: The Wines of the Gault Millau Wine Guide Shooting Star - the Baron von Gleichenstein

Tasting Notes: German Wines imported into the US by Valckenberg

In the Glass: Pinot Noir from France, Germany and California

1 comment:

  1. Only 5:24 in the morning here in Sweden, it is too early to think about wine. However, reading your post here makes me looking forward to trying many nice Rieslings and Spätburgunders from 2009! Have a good week!