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 cgeschiller@gmail.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.

The Tasting

Here are the wines we tasted, with James’ food recommendations and the food actually prepared by the National Press Club Chef.


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


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


Schiller Wine - Related Postings

A Wine Feast in the Rheingau, Germany: The 2010 Grand Wine Convention

A Combination of Extraordinary Wine and Art: Peter Winter's Georg Mueller Stiftung in the Rheingau

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

German Wine Basics: Sugar in the Grape - Alcohol and Sweetness in the Wine

Tasting Notes: German Wines imported into the US by Valckenberg

Wine Caravan from Germany Visiting the East Coast, US: Dr. Fischer, Fitz Ritter, Bolling-Lehnert, Schneider, Dr. Thanisch


  1. Sorry you guys....QbA - stands for Qualitäts- wein "bestimmter" Anbaugebiete... "Bestimmter" - as in "defined". "Besonderer" - would imply "special" - which they are not. Hate to correct you, but this an obvious "Lost in Translation" .... especially if it is deliberate.... Cheers

  2. Anonymous, I have to disagree with you. This is not an issue of "deliberately lost in translation." It is an issue of legal versus colloquial language. The top categories of German wine according to the 1971 law are "Qualitaetswein besonderer Anbaugebiete (QbA)" and "Qualitaetswein mit Praedikat (QmP)", in 2007 renamed "Praedikatswein". People in the wine industry typically say just "Qualitaetswein", when referring to the former;"QbA" wine and "Qualitaetswein" have the same meaning. Most importantly, the requirements in terms of ripeness of the grapes are lower for "Qualitaetswein" than for "QmP" wine and "QbA" wine can be chaptalized, while "Praedikatswein" can not.

  3. Lieber Herr Dr. Schiller,

    vielen Dank für die Berichterstattung. Ich würde mich freuen, Sie in Berlin zu treffen.

    Bis dahin
    Jan Eymael

  4. Hi Christian, really fascinating article. I just hosted a German wine tasting at the wine shop I'm currently working in (located in Providence, RI) and did my best to serve "atypical German wines".

    Unfortunately, it is next to impossible to get them since very little German wine period is distributed in RI today. However, I did manage to find an off-dry Riesling (Two Princes), LEITZ Dragonstone (somewhat sweet Riesling) and then Messmer Pinot Noir from the Pfalz.

    People's reactions were very interesting. They either loved the Pinot Noir, or didn't (one person described it as being watered down---I'd assume he was more accustomed to the fruitier Pinots!). However, there were those who loved its smokey nose and earthy flavor.

    As for the two Rieslings, I'd say more favored the 2 Princes over the LEITZ Dragonstone because it was not as sweet. Many wrote off the LEITZ wine completely because it was perceived as sweet (even though the LEITZ in my opinion is a much better made wine).

    This leads me to believe that people are ready to accept dry German Rieslings as long as they aren't too acidic. It would be nice to have a few that sell for under $15 so they can compete with dry Rieslings from Australia, Finger Lakes, Cali, etc.). Unfortunately, I think these other regions are already dominating the "Dry Riesling market" in the U.S.(then again, it's a very small market today---perhaps there's room to grow!).

  5. Lindsay, thanks for your interesting comments. I am looking forward to meeting you at the Schneider Estate. When will you be there?



  6. Hi Christian,

    I'll be arriving Sept. 15th and stay through mid-November.

    Looking forward to meeting you then!


  7. Lindsay,

    I will be traveling to Madagascar and South Africa from mid-September to end-October. So, we will come over and visit you in early November.



  8. Early Nov. should work great. Thanks in advance for making the trip to Nierstein.