Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Germany’s Grosses Gewaechs and Erstes Gewaechs Riesling Wines of 2008

Picture: A Vineyard in the Rheingau

Grosses Gewaechs Wines

The concept of Grosses Gewaechs was introduced a few years ago in Germany for outstanding dry wines. It tries to imitate the concept of Grand Cru wines in the Bourgogne, France. In Germany as well as in France, these are full-bodied, bone dry premium wines.

There were 2 objectives behind the innovation: To restore the prestige of Germany’s significant vineyards and to help the consumer in terms of distinguishing dry from sweet wines.

In a first step, the concept of Erste Lage (First Site) was introduced: all vineyards were rated and the best parcels of them were identified as Erste Lage.

Second, the concept of Grosses Gewaechs was introduced. A Grosses Gewaechse wine is always fully fermented, dry and from a Erste Lage vineyard.

To qualify for the Grosses Gewaechs label, a number of criteria need to be respected. (i) The fruit has to come from a Erste Lage vineyard. In the Rheingau, for example, about 1/3 of the vineyards has been classified as Erste Lage. (ii) At harvest, the grapes need to be at least at Spaetlese level in terms of the sugar content. (iii) Only certain – typical - grape varieties are allowed, including Riesling and Spaetburgunder. Riesling is the only varietal allowed for Erste Lage wines in the Mosel, Nahe, and Mittelrhein, but grapes like Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir), Lemberger, Fruehburgunder, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Gewuerztraminer, and Silvaner are included in other regions.(iv) Further restrictions apply: there are yield restrictions; only hand picking of grapes is permitted and harvest must be late in the autumn.

Picture: The 13 German Wine Regions

Third, although the Grosse Gewaechs wines are at least at Spaetlese level, they are not labeled as Spaetlese, but as Qualitaetswein besonderer Anbaugebiete (QbA). About half of the wine produced in Germany is sold at the QbA level and these wines of lower ripeness are allowed to be chaptalized. Thus, the declassification gives the winemaker the possibility to chaptalize their Spaetlese wines in order to increase the alcohol content in the wine, if desirable. This has nothing to do with augmenting the sweetness level in the finished wine, because Grosse Gewaechs wines are always fully fermented and dry.

Fourth, the must needs to be fermented to full dryness. Erste Lage wines made in a sweet style continue to carry the labels Spaetlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller in Mainz, Rheinhessen, in January 2010

Finally, the Grosses Gewaechs concept is a concept introduced by the VDP association, Germany’s elite winemakers. Only VDP winemakers can use this label, others not. The 200 members of VDP own 4,000 hectares of vines, representing 4% of the German vineyard area, but account for only 2% of total production.

Erstes Gewaechs Wines

The Land of Hessen introduced its own classification before the VdP winemakers introduced the Grosse Gewaechs concept. This applies basically to the Rheingau region.

The Erstes Gewaechs concept is the same as the Grosses Gewaechs concept, with one major difference. Any winemaker – not only VDP Estates – can produce an Erstes Gewaechs wine, provided it is from a Erste Lage vineyard, fulfills all the technical criteria, and passes a final tasting test.

Thus in the Rheingau, there are Grand Cru wines from other than VDP Estates, wheras in the other wine areas only VDP Estates have the possibililty to label their wines as a Grand Cru wine.

In the Bourgogne, the terms Grand Cru and Premier Cru are used and imply a ranking. Grand Cru wines are better than Premier Cru wines. In Germany, Erstes and Grosses Gewaechs wines are exactly at the same level in terms of quality.

The Grosse Gewaechs and Erstes Gewaechs Riesling Wines of 2008

In the year 2008 a total of 231 wines were granted the Grosses Gewaechs or Erstes Gewaechs label. Jens Priewe has tried 179 of them and evaluated them. His conclusion: Not all are great, but the best are world class. He has published his findings on his new web site

The price range is from Euro 15 to 70. The Points range is from 83 to 94.

Interestingly, the Mosel region accounts only for a small portion of the Grand Cru wines. This does not come as a surprise as many Mosel winemakers prefer sweeter style wines. Rheinhessen, Rheingau and the Nahe dominate the list. The southern regions are also represented, but Riesling does not play the same role in these areas as it does in the northern regions.

Picture: Erstes Gewaechs Producer Gunter Kuenstler, Hochheim, Rheingau, with Annette and Christian G.E.Schiller

Here is his list of the 179 wine which he evaluated, in German. Please drop me an email at if you have any questions on the list.

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