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.
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