Wednesday, December 21, 2022

Nicolas Quillé (MW): Overview of German Wine - Regions, Grape Varieties and New Labeling Rules

Picture: Christian Schiller and Nicolas Quillé in 2011. See: Pacific Rim Riesling #1 of Wine Enthusiast Top 100 Best Buy List 2011 - Meeting Founder Randall Grahm and Winemakers Nicolas Quille and Steven Sealock

"What started more than 65 years ago as an exam for the UK wine trade is now a globally recognised title collectively held by a worldwide family of 450 Masters of Wine in 30 countries." One of them is Nicolas Quillé, Chief Winemaking and Operations Officer at Crimson Wine Group. He also is the Co-author of Understanding Wine Technology (4th edition) and he was named as one of the 2022 wine industry leaders by Wine Business Monthly. 

Nicolas regularly shares his thoughts on his linkedin account. Recently, he provided in a most interesting 3-part series a concise overview of German wine, including a review of German labeling regulations.  

I am re-releasing Nicolas Quillé's "German Wine" linkedin posts below as published on his linkedin account. Comments are welcome, in particular with regard to the section on the German labeling regulations, which were modified substantially recently. Please use the Institute of Masters of Wine page of Nicolas Quillé for your comments.

I met Nicolas in 2011 at a wine conference in Oregon (Oregon Pinot Gris Symposium at Oak Knoll Winery in Hillsboro), when he was running the Pacific Rim Estate, founded by icon Randall Grahm, and since then we have stayed in touch. 

Overview of German Wines: Part 1

#Germany represents 3% of the world's #wine production fermenting 9 million hectoliters (Hl) yearly. It is a serious wine consumer (20 million Hl) thus making it the largest net wine importer in volume. The German wine landscape is fast evolving, and it is finishing its pivot from an entry level sweetish wine producer to a terroir and variety-based business. The two contributors to this evolution have been the success of mid-sized, quality-oriented producers and the commercial momentum of Riesling wines. Today, Germany is well positioned to sell wines that have vibrant aromatics, a sense of purity and a cool climate mouthfeel supported by the high natural acidities from its northerly latitude.

The vast majority of German's vineyard land is sheltered in the continental southwest, away from the cold and wet North and Baltic seas and along the Rhine River or one of its tributaries. The northern latitude is often mitigated by planting on steep south and southeast facing slopes in an attempt to capture every possible ray of sunshine.

German vineyards are planted with 2/3 white grapes and 1/3 reds grapes but be aware that there is a strong movement towards more red grapes, and especially Pinot Noir. Germany is the home of the Riesling grape (35% of global production) and it accounts for 24% of all German plantings. The other varieties that Germany can claim global leadership include Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder), Muller Thurgau, and Silvaner. Other quintessential northern European varieties planted in Germany includes Pinot Gris (Grauerburgunder), Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder), Trollinger (aka Schiava Grossa) & Lemberger. Germany has an historical interest in grape hybridization (many developed domestically) and among the most popular are red grapes that were planted because of their high yields during cooler times such as Dornfelder (complex cross of Pinot Noir, Trollinger, Blaufrankish: dark and floral), as well as productive white crosses such as Muller Thurgau (Riesling x Madeleine Royale), Bacchus (Silvaner, Riesling, Muller) and Scheurebe. Finally, a few French international varieties are starting also to be planted such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.

Of all German wines, it is Riesling that captures the attention. Its great versatility allows for the making of different wine styles, from dry to sweet, from still to sparkling. Riesling’s intense aromatic (citrus, jasmine) and polarizing balance of high acid and residual sugars create some of the most exquisite wines in the world: There cannot be a serious German wine tasting without a Riesling! Sparkling wines (Sekt) are also a very important category; Germans are the number one consumers of sparkling wines in the world and the third largest producer. Sekt styles range from entry level tank fermented wines to glorious Methode Traditionelle. As mentioned, red wines are on the rise and there are serious Pinot Noir to be found. 

 Overview of German Wines: Part 2

The German grape growing core area is made of the five regions: Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Mosel, Baden and Wurttemberg - together they represent 85% of all German wines:

-         Rheinhessen (26% of vineyards): A warm and dry region that is the workhorse of Germany. The area along the Rhine between Oppenheim and Nackenheim or near Worms produce the top wines of the region
-         Pfalz (23%): The northern continuation of Alsace. It is the driest region of Germany. Expect full body wines with ripe aromatics and the highest ABV of Germany.
-         Baden (15%): A spread out region that is split in several areas. The main region is on the right bank of the Rhine opposite Alsace. The star variety of the region is Spatburgunder (half of all German Spats are planted in Baden) – some of the Spats may have shown lots of new oak in the past, but this is fortunately disappearing.
-         Wurttemberg (12%): Most of the wines from this region are sold and drunk domestically. They are many light reds made in the region from Trollinger, Lemberger (some styles may be bold and oaky), and Schwarzriesling.
-         Mosel (9%): This is white wine heaven in Germany. 60% of the region is planted with Riesling that are highly sought after. The Rieslings from this regions are light in body, high in acid and often have residual sugars - delightful!

The rest of Germany:

-         Franken (6%): Along the river Main, this area is driven by its continental climate. The most distinctive wines of the area are made from the Silvaner grape. The region has its own bottle shape: the “bocksbeutel”.
-         Nahe (4%): A white wine region with wines that are less vibrant than the Mosel but with higher acidities than the warmer Rheinhessen.
-         Rheingau (3%): A small but renowned region with extremely high quality and mostly Trocken wines. The vineyards are on a beautiful south facing slope above the Rhine river which is especially wide in that area. 86% of the area is planted with Riesling. There are excellent Spatburgunder vineyards planted on the western side of the area.
-         Other regions include the eastern vineyards of Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen, the Ahr Valley which produce highly priced Spatburgunders plus Mittelrhein and Hessiche Bergstrasse.

Overview of German Wine: Part 3

German wine labeling rules take into account a mix of ripeness levels (based on sugar concentration at harvest), grape origin and vineyard yields (and a few other technical parameters). Based on yields and specific growing areas there are four basic levels at the federal level:

- Deutscher Wein (4% of production)
- Landwein (almost never found but there are 26 of them if you must know)
- Qualitätswein (64%)
- Pradikätswein (32%).

For European law initiates, Landwein is a PGI and the latter two are PDO. Pradikätswein can be further divided into different ripeness levels (from least to most): Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese. The ripeness level is estimated with the help of a must density measurement at harvest delivered in Oechsle units. Sugar being heavier than water, the must density goes up as sugar concentration increases. For example, a juice with a density of 1.090 (9% heavier than pure water at 20C) will clock 90-degree Oechsle in Germany (different juice sweetness units are used elsewhere, based on my previous example you may find: 1,090 density in France, 12% potential alcohol (or Baumé), and 21.6 Brix in Anglo-Saxon countries). Another well-defined area is residual sugar at bottling, and it is appropriate to use these terms when describing the style and sweetness of German wines:

-         Trocken < 4g/L (or up to <9g/L if the TA is no more than 2g/L apart)
-         Halbtrocken between 4 and 12 g/L (or up to 18 g/L is RS is no more than 10 g/L away)
-         Lieblich between 12 and 45 g/L
-         Suss above 45 g/L.

As far as geographies, the Federal labelling was redefined in 2021, with significant changes for Qualitätswein and Pradikätswein quality levels. It follows a familiar russian doll model going from the large region (using the European PDO format - matching the previous "Bereich") to the Village (Ortswein), to the individual vineyard (Einzellage). Individual vineyards are further differentiated between "normal", premier sites (Erstes Gewachs), and grand sites (Grosses Gewachs), Grosses Gewachs must also be “trocken”. The vineyard site must appear alongside the village name (conjunctive labelling of sort).

The VDP (3% of total German production, 5% of vineyards planted) have created a private and more stringent set of rules for its members. The Federal government has somewhat aligned its revised 2021 rules to the VDP - to the great pleasure of frustrated German wine consumers like myself! All VDP wines must qualify as Pradikätswein  and then the designation of origin follows a Burgundian model of regional wines (Gutswein), village (Ortswein), Premier Cru (Erste Lage) and Grand Cru (Grosse Lagen). Dry VDP Erste Lagen wines can be labelled Erstes Gewachs (1G for short) while dry VDP Grosse Lagen wines can be labelled Grosses Gewachs (GG for short).

schiller-wine: Related Postings 

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The End of the "Grosslage" in Germany - Seminar about the new German Wine Law of 2022 at the 2022 American Wine Society National Conference in Bellevue/ Seattle, Washington State, led by Annette Schiller

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