The German monthly magazine Capital published in its July issue – for the 16th time - its prestigious list of the best German white wines – of the last vintage.
24 Different Categories – Dry, Noble Sweet and Fruity Sweet Rieslings and Other Wines
There are 24 different categories, with the grape variety (Riesling, Silvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc), style (dry, noble sweet and fruity sweet) and ripeness of grapes at harvest (QbA, Kabinett, Spaetlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese or Eiswein) the determining factors. The judges – mainly sommeliers from top restaurants - awarded 3 prizes (First, Second, Third Place) in each of the 24 categories. Thus, the list includes 75 wines (in 3 categories 4 prizes were awarded).
17 of the categories are dry wines, 3 are noble sweet wines and 4 are fruity sweet Kabinett, Spaetlese and Auslese wines.
The list reflects very well the state of German white wine production. On the one hand, there are the famous sugar sweet Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein wines, made from botrytized or frozen grapes. The grapes that go into these wines have at the time of harvest such a high sugar content that there is nothing you can do to make dry wines out of these grapes. They inevitably produce lusciously sweet wines. But apart from these exceptions, grapes harvested in Germany, a country at the northern frontier of winemaking, have normal sugar content at the time of harvest and tend to produce dry wines, when fully fermented. 17 of the 24 categories are thus dry wines.
However, modern cellar methods allow winemakers to produce wines with a bit of residual sugar with these grapes. 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. These fruity sweet wines have lost popularity in Germany, although there appears to be a comeback, but in any case remain very popular outside of Germany, for example in the US. 4 of the categories are these fruity sweet Kabinett, Spaetlese and Auslese wines.
11 of the 24 categories are Rieslings. Of course, Riesling is the king of German wine. But there are other grapes, which are popular in Germany. These other white grape varieties are largely absent from the export markets.
Red Wine Boom
This is a contest confined to Germany’s white wines. But 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.
Grosses Gewaechs Wines
A few years ago, the VDP, Germany’s elite winemakers, introduced the concept of Grosses Gewaechs wines. Grosses Gewaechs refers to a top dry wine from a top vineyard. Grosses Gewaechs wines is the best Germany has to offer in terms of dry wines. The Grosse Gewaechs label is thought to resemble the Grand/Premier Cru designation in neighboring France. Here and there, these wines are dry. As a rule, Grosses Gewaechs Wines are bottled as QbA wines, although they have to be at a minimum Spaetlese wines and are mostly Auslese wines. This gives the winemaker the possibility to chaptalize in order to increase the alcohol content in the wine, if desirable. Finally, the Rheingau does not use this concept, but the concept of Erstes Gewaechs, which basically means the same.
These Grand Cru Wines are a bit difficult to find on the list, but they are there. The Rieslings Grosses Gewaechs wines can be found under Riesling QbA Premium, the second category. That they are the best Riesling dry wines on the list becomes clear, when you look at their prices – it is the highest on the list, except for the noble-sweet wines.
Sauvignon Blanc Winners
For the first time, Sauvignon Blanc was included in the tasting. The three best Sauvignon Blanc wines were the wines of Wöhrwag (Württemberg), Hensel (Pfalz) and Hofmann (Rheinhessen).
Sauvignon Blanc produced in Germany was a few years ago completely unheard of. If we would drink a Sauvignon Blanc in Germany, we would turn to the Bordeaux or Loire wines. Today, Sauvignon Blanc is becoming a well established grape variety in Germany, although it is still a niche wine. Its stronghold are the Rheinhessen, Baden, Wuerttemberg and Pfalz regions.
Sauvignon Blanc originates from the Bordeaux and Loire regions in France. It is now planted in many of the world's wine regions. Around 80,000 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc are estimated to be planted worldwide, with the largest concentrations in France and New Zealand. Sauvignon Blanc is well established now in Germany after its introduction 10 years ago, but still only a niche wine. Germany's total vineyard area is about 100.000 hectares, of which some 600 hectares are planted with Sauvignon Blanc. Some 500 producers in all German wine regions, with the exception of Sachsen, Mittelrhein and Ahr, produce Sauvigon Blanc wines. The largest areas are in the Pfalz (224 hectares), Rheinhessen (130 hectares), Baden (82 hectares) and Württemberg (27 hectares).
The Most Successful Winemakers
The most successful winemakers were Weingut Robert Weil (Rheingau) with six wines on the list, Weingut Korrell (Nahe ) with 5 wines, Weingut Graf von Schönborn with 4 wines , Weingut Karl Pfaffmann (Pfalz) and Weingut Josef Rosch (Mosel) with 3 wines each and Weingut Matthias Müller (Middle Rhine), Weingut Spiess (Rheinhessen), Weingut J. Geil Erben (Rheinhessen), Weingut Am Stein, Weingut M. Fröhlich (both Franken) and Weingut Manz (Rheinhessen) with 2 each wines.
In terms of regional distribution, Franken, with 15 wines, was the most successful region, followed by the Pfalz with 13 wines, the Mosel with 11 wines and the Nahe with 10 wines. 7 of the top wines of the tasting were from Rheinhessen, 6 from Baden, 2 from the Mittelrhein and and 1 from Württemberg.
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