Tuesday, August 17, 2010
German Wine Society Tastes Outstanding German Wines at National Press Club in Washington DC
Picture: Wine Tasting of the German Wine Society at the National Press Club in Washington DC
German Wine Society
The German Wine Society is a group of dedicated lovers of German wine with chapters in several US centers, including in Washington DC that meets regularly to taste and enjoy German wine together, but also more generally to promote the understanding, appreciation and knowledge of German wines in the US.
I have been a member of the German Wine Society since the 1980s. Last year, I was elected to the Board of the Washington DC Chapter. If you have any questions concerning the German Wine Society, please drop me an e-mail at email@example.com (in German or English).
I am regularly writing, but not exclusively, about German Wine on my wine blog "Schiller Wine". I am also reposting interesting press articles about German wine on my Facebook Fan Page "Drinking German Wine in America".
Picture: George Marling, Chairman of the Board, German Wine Society
In August, the monthly tasting of the Washington DC Chapter took place at the National Press Club. It was lead by James Kellaris, who, among other things, has been with Rudi Wiest for several years, one of the leading importers of German wine in the US.
Picture: Blair Alan Knapp Jr., Chapter President of the German Wine Society, Capital Chapter
National Press Club Washington DC
The National Press Club, a private club for journalists and communications professionals, has been a Washington institution for more than a century. The Club is known as “The Place Where News Happens." Leaders in government, politics and business speak here at public and private events because the press is here.
The Club has more than 3,500 members, including journalists from every major news organization. Journalists work at the Club every day. Some also have their offices in the Press Building or close by at Treasury, the White House or on the Hill.
The Wines Were Selected and Presented by James Kellaris
This was an outstanding selection and presentation by James. I have seen many presenters, who were well versed with the niche of German wine that is so popular in this country - sweet Kabinett and Spaetlese wines, in particular those from the Mosel - but knew relatively little about the other market segments. James definitely does know what is going on in all segments of fine wine in Germany, as reflected in his wine selection and his presentation.
Picture: James Kellaris
The American market for German wines was initially dominated by cheap and sweet mass wines, like Blue Nun. Then came the boom for low alcohol and sweet Mosel Kabinett and Spaetlese Riesling wines, or more generally, for light, sweet German Rieslings, successfully pushed by importers like Therry Theise. These wines are just a small segment of the German wine production. Yet, they continue to dominate the American market for fine German wines.
Grape Varieties Other Than Riesling
Not all the wines we tasted were Rieslings. Of course, Riesling is the king of German grapes. 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, in particular sweet Riesling. In Germany, wine drinkers also choose other grapes than Riesling, as James pointed out. Therefore he had included in the tasting a delicious Silvaner from the Franken region. Still, the large majority of the wines we tasted were Rieslings.
Picture: Ken Belsley, Chapter Vice-President, German Wine Society, Capital Chapter
Germany’s Red Wine Boom
Rarely do we see red German wine at our tastings, but his time we did. 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.
Picture: At the Tasting, with James Kellaris
Sweet versus Dry Wines
Many in the US equate fine German wines with sweet wines, in particular sweet wines from the Mosel. The 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. Sure, they have their followers in Germany. But when you go, for example, to the Grand Cru Wine Bar in Frankfurt, they have 12 German wines by the glass. None of these wines is sweet or from the Mosel. The typical fine wine drinker in Germany rarely opens a sweet Mosel Riesling, but drinks a dry wine from other wine regions. In the Baden region, for example, which is basically absent from the American market, it is almost impossible to find a sweet wine. Generally, the structure of the portfolio of say MacArthur or any other American retail wine store in the US is very different from the structure of the portfolio of a wine store in Germany. In Germany, dry wines dominate. In the US, it is the opposite - sweet wines dominate.
James successfully aimed at a compromise, with half of the wines being dry and the other half with some remaining sugar.
Picture: Members of the German Wine Society Arriving for the Tasting
In the group he called the reserve category, James presented a Grosses Gewaechs, a bone dry wine at Auslese level (in terms of the sugar content at harvest) and a delicious regular Spaetlese by the Gault and Millau winemaker of the year, Tim Froehlich, which, I assume was made sweet by a combination of stopping the fermentation and adding sterilized juice. Both were outstanding wines.
Grosses and Erstes Gewaechs (Grand Cru) Wines
The German elite winemakers - the VDP winemakers - have introduced the concepts of Grosses Gewaechs. These are at a minimum Spaetlese and mostly Auslese wines, bone dry, expensive, of course, and they do not yet have many followers in the American market. James’ tasting included a Grosses Gewaechs from Weingut Armin Diehl in the Nahe region.
Picture: National Press Club Plate
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 VDP members introduced the concept of 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 launched. A Grosses Gewaechs wine is always fully fermented and dry. And in terms of the sugar content of the grape at harvest, it has to be at the Spaetlese or 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 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. Erstes Gewaechs wines can not only be produced by VDP members, but by all winemakers.
The New VDP Classification System
James explained that the VDP winemakers have introduced a new wine classification system, with different approaches for dry and sweet wines.
Basically, all dry wines are labeled as QbA (Qualitaetswein besonderer Anbaugebiete) wines. The level of quality is then expressed by the terroir principle; the narrower the specification, the higher the quality of the wine is. The ripeness of the grapes at harvest as an indication of quality is on the backburner. The top dry wines are Grosses Gewaechs wines from Erste Lage vineyards.
For sweet wines, the traditional wine classification of Kabinet, Spaetlese and Auslese is followed, and of course, also for the noble-sweet wines. The ripeness of the grapes at harvest is the key quality factor.
Picture: James Kellaris Checking the Wines
This is all new for the American consumers; they need to be educated. American drinkers of fine German wine usually do not touch QbA wines and only go for the Kabinet and upwards quality levels.
Here are the wines we tasted, with James’ food recommendations and the food actually prepared by the National Press Club Chef.
A TRIO OF DRY WINES
Hans Wirsching Silvaner 2007 (Franken) - I would suggest lighter fare here - green vegetables, soft dishes with little natural sweetness (i.e. no fruit or sweet soy glazes) - seafood is fine, but stick with shell fish and/or light flaky whitefishes.
Pfeffingen Dry Riesling 2007 (Pfalz) - This wine is a bit heavier and can handle poultry, earthier flavors of mushrooms and brinier shellfish, such as mussels or oysters.
Becker Pinot Noir 2007 (Pfalz) - Good spot for a protein like duck, veal, or roasted game bird. Mushroom, garlic, root veggies will bring out the fruit tones of this wine. If you're going for an Asian duck preparation, just watch out for the sweeter sauces, as this will overpower the wines. Simple savory flavors are key.
Thai Basil & Lime Marinated Grilled Shrimp
Indonesian Tamarind Duck Breast with Green Chilies
Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Helena Becker, Weingut Becker, in Frankfurt am Main
A TRIO OF KABINETTS
I would like to do all three of these as one course. This will be a great comparison and will also keep the event flowing in terms of timing and duration. Great midway segment.
JJ Pruem Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2007 (Mosel) - This will be the lightest in body of the Kabinetts. I would use light spice. Wasabi is fine, a touch of heat. Stick with scallops or shrimp if you're doing a protein. But stay delicate.
Food: Spicy Szechwan Chicken Skewer with hot mustard
Gunderloch "Jean Baptiste" Riesling Kabinett 2008 (Rheinhessen) - A bit richer. Same level of medium-dry character. I would say we're in chicken territory for the level of protein. This can handle light spice but stay away from red pepper based spice, as it's too heavy.
Food: Vietnamese Braised Scallop with peanut sauce
Von Buhl Armand Riesling Kabinett 2008 (Pfalz) - The richest course; Earthy preparations are best. Mushrooms always work. You can use red pepper here, pork is good for a protein but think "earthy" flavours!
Food: Pork & Shrimp stufffed Mushroom Caps
Schlossgut Diel Dorsheimer Goldloch Riesling Grosses Gewaechs 2006 (Nahe) - Richest and heaviest dry wine. You can even do Vietnamese beef preparations here, provided it is savoury and not spicy. Pork is great, but stick with garlic and noodle/starch preps to cut the acidity, etc.
Food: Japanese Beef Rolls (Negi Maki)
Schaefer Froehlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Spatlese 2008 (Nahe) - fully spicy dishes will work here. However, watch for too much natural sweetness in the food, as the wine will have sweetness in itself. The goal is to match the relative sweetnesses here.
Food: Korean Pork & Pineapple Kebobs
Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller with Tim Froehlich, Weingut Schaefer Froehlich, in Mainz
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The Avantgarde Wine World of Dr. Martin Tesch
Impressions from the Riesling & Co World Tour 2010 in New York
Best of German Dry White Wines and Winemakers - The Falstaff 2010 Ranking
When Americans Drink German Wine - What They Choose
German Wine Basics: Erstes Gewaechs, Grosses Gewaechs, Erste Lage
In the Glass: 2007 Rheinhessen with Oysters at the Ten Bells in the Lower East Side in Manhattan
German Wine Basics: Sugar in the Grape - Alcohol and Sweetness in the Wine
An Unfortunate, uninformed Article in the Decanter about Dry German Riesling
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