Tuesday, March 16, 2010
When Americans Drink German Wine - What they Choose
Pictures: Piesporter Goldtroepfchen, Mosel and White House, Washington DC.
Drinking German Wine in America – The American Preferences
Phil Bernstein from Addy Bassin's MacArthur Beverages, one the great Wine Stores in Washington DC, presented his new portfolio to the Capital Chapter of the German Wine Society of America. So, you had a combination of two, American consumers who are really into German Wine and one of the best retailers in the American market.
What did we taste? The following review sheds some light on the American Taste for German wine.
Well Established Winemakers
All wines were from very well established winemakers, from the cream of the crop. All the winemakers have at least 3 Grapes Gault Millau, many had 4 and some 5 Grapes. There are about 60.000 winemakers with more than 0.5 hectares and 6.000 winemakers with more than 5 hectares of land, of which about 250 have 3 or more Grapes Gault Millau. So, we were in the 0.5% top echelon.
No Red Wines
There were no red wines on the list, although there is a red wine boom 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.
I tasted the other day with one of my fellow Board members Washington State wines which reminded me of the lean, elegant German red wines. He prefers, he says, the lush juice red wines from warmer regions. So I would dare to say that American lovers of white German wine will not be fans of German red wine.
Almost all Wines Were Sweet
Almost all wines were sweet wines. The structure of the portfolio of MacArthur or any other American retail wine store is very different of the structure of the portfolio of wine store in Germany. In Germany, dry wines dominate. In the US, sweet wines dominate.
No Noble-Sweet Wines
There were no noble sweet wines. What you can find a lot in the US are the German flagship wines, the noble sweet Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein, made from botrytized or frozen grapes. 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. They are very popular in the US and American demand is high. They account for a large share of award winning wines in the US, but do not at all play that prominent role in Germany. They are well known and appreciated, but they are not the wines, people are talking about. Of course, they are expensive and this explains why they were not included in the tasting, although they would have been much appreciated.
Kabinett and Spaetlese
All the sweet wines were at the Kabinett and Spaetlese level. At the Kabinett and Spaetlese level (as well as at the Auslese level), the sugar content of the grapes at harvest are such that if left to mother nature only, these wines would be bone dry. To produce sweet wines at these levels of sugar at the point of harvest requires an additional effort by the winemaker. There are principally two ways for making wine sweet that do 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.
Grosses Gewaechs Wines
There were no Grosse Gewaechs Wines. These are at a minimum Spaetlese and mostly Auslese wines, bone dry, expensive, of course, and they don’t have many followers among the German Wine Society membership.
Driven by the objective to restore the prestige of Germany’s significant vineyards and to help the consumer in terms of distinguishing dry from sweet wines, the wineries that are members of the Verband der Praedikatsweingueter (VDP) introduced the concepts of Erste Lage and Grosses Gewaechs a few years ago. In a first step, all vineyards were rated and the best parcels of them were identified as Erste Lage (First Site). Second, the Grosse Gewaechs concept was introduced. A Grossese Gewaechse wine is always fully fermented and dry. Andin terms of the sugar content of the grape at harvest, it has to be at the Auslese level, although the label always just indicates QbA. This gives the winemaker the possibility to chaptalize in order to increase the alcohol content in the wine, if desirable. The Grosse Gewaechs label is thought to resemble the Grand/Premier Cru designation in neighboring France. Here and there, these wines are dry. Grosses Gewaechs refers to a top dry wine from a top vineyard. Finally, the Rheingau does not use this concept, but the concept of Erstes Gewaechs, which basically means the same.
All the wine were Rieslings. Of course, Riesling is the king of German wine. But there are other grapes, which are popular in Germany, like Silvaner or Grauburgunder. These other white grape varieties are largely absent from the American market. American lovers of German wine go mainly for Riesling, sweet Riesling.
The large majority of wine was from the Mosel. Mosel is well known for producing light and sweet Kabinett and Spaetlese wines that are made sweet and low in alcohol by stopping the fermentation. They are very special and very popular in the American market. They have their followers in the German market.
The Wines Tasted
This event provided an opportunity to taste the new German vintage, 2008. In the words of Terry Theise, "What's often most impressive in 2008 is the eerie perfection shown by several of the lightest wines. It's as if they're saying: We may not have gotten a lot of sugar but we got a ton of everything else." Here are the wines.
AJ Adam Riesling Kabinett, Mosel 2008 3 Grapes Gault Millau
Christmann Riesling Gimmeldingen Pfalz 2008 3 Grapes Gault Millau
Fritz Haag Braunenberger Juffer Sonnenur Mosel Spatlese 2008 5 Grapes Gault Millau
Helmut Hexamer Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Riesling Nahe Quartzit 2008 3 Grapes GM
Helmut Hexamer Meddersheimer Rheingrafenberg Nahe Spatlese 2008 3 Grapes Gault Millau
J Leitz Rudesheimer Klosterlay Rheingau Kabinett 2008 4 Grapes Gault Millau
JJ Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Mosel Kabinett 2008 5 Grapes Gault Millau
Willi Schaefer Graacher Domprobst Mosel Kabinett #2 2008 4 Grapes Gault Millau
Schafer Frohlich Bockenauer Felseneck Nahe Spatlese 2008 4 Grapes Gault Millau
Selbach Oster Zeltinger Schlossberg Spatlese Mosel "Schmitt" 2008 4 Grapes Gault Millau
If you are interested in the German Wine Society, please drop me a line at: email@example.com
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