The old and the new Germany

In the 1970s my parents were in the habit of eating out on a Sunday evening on a regular basis. I guess it was a sort of brief respite in the lives of two busy doctors. They were not great wine drinkers but like many of their generation they would routinely drink a bottle of Liebfraumilch with their meal – a wine which was bland, moderately sweet and completely inoffensive, made mainly from over-cropped Müller-Thurgau.  Unfortunately for great German growers that reputation has been difficult to shed and German’s wines have been stuck in the slow lane in international terms ever since.  This bland ‘Granny wine’ (with apologies to new and old Grannies everywhere with adventurous drinking habits!) does absolutely no justice either to the sublime heights of traditional high quality German wines or to the exciting new wines now emerging from that country.  Both styles were represented in Andover Wine Friends’ October ‘German revival’ tasting. 

Silvaner/Rieslingthree Rieslings

Traditional Germany

The old Germany was strongly represented by the classic white wines of the Mosel  river.  While there is equally great Riesling from the Rheingau, the Mosel produces a style which simply is unique – wines of purity, lightness, intense flavours, low alcohol and great ageing potential.  Their thrilling acidity should be perfectly balanced by vibrant green apple to peach fruit. 

Before climbing the scales of the great wines we started the evening with a splendid appetizer from the warmer, more southerly Pfalz.  Our tasting group were impressed with The Society’s Ruppertberg’s fresh green apple and mango notes with a herbal touch; they were amazed at its quality for just £6.50, sourced from the evidently outstanding cooperative, the Rupertsberger Winzerverein, 2012 vintage.

But the stars of the evening were our old friends from the Mosel, though one of the modern German wines came close.  While we admired the modern style dry Riesling (Wiltinger Riesling Trocken, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, 2012) we loved their off-dry traditional relatives – from the same winery, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Kabinett 2009 and the slightly weightier Erdener Treppchen Spätlese, C. H. Berres, 2001.  That touch of sweetness, offset by rapier like acidity in the Kabinett level and by richer fruit in the Spätlese, raises these traditional wines to a higher level and gives them their unique place in the world of wine.  They are also set apart by low alcohol levels (the Kabinett is just 8.5%, while the dry modern wine is 12%), the ability to age (the 2001 was clearly developing but had many years to go) and great value – the 2001 Spätlese had been bought recently for £10.  Finally these wines can be enjoyed at almost any point in their development. The 2012s were drinking perfectly now, as was the rare treat of the evening, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Auslese, Deinhard 1983. The cork was impressively capped with mould, the level in the bottle had dropped a bit, the cork fell into the bottle with only modest provocation but the wine was in perfect condition – a fabulous mid gold in colour, profound marmalade and barley notes, with the raised sweetness binding all together.

 Riesling on fireSonnenuhrlow neck1983

German innovation

We have already touched on some modern German wines in the two above labelled ‘Trocken’, dry.  This has been the market trend in Germany – understandably its most important market – for three decades.  This chimes in with the first rule of selling quality wine worldwide – it must be dry – but it is difficult to understand given the outstanding interest of off-dry and sweet Riesling.  But nowadays there is much greater diversity in the varieties being grown. Mercifully Müller-Thurgau is in decline but Germans are having a go at Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, just like any other wine growing nation. Perhaps of more interest are the common grapes of northern Europe, Silvaner and the Pinots. 

The wines of the Thörle winery have made quite an impact at our local wine merchant ThoerleCaviste.  The most surprising one is the ‘Riesling that doesn’t taste of Riesling’  but on this occasion we tasted two other whites.  Fully dry, Silvaner Trocken, Rheinhessen 2012 is unusual.  If Chardonnay typically has more on the palate than on the nose, this is Chardonnay in reverse:  very attractive baked apple, sherbet and just a hint of struck match on the nose followed by a medium plus rather neutral palate with those mineral notes again.  Much more conventional is their version of Pinot Blanc:  Weissburgunder Trocken Rheinhessen 2012 is neutral but classy with a really rich mouth feel.   The fruit is so ripe that with just 2g/l residual sugar it still has a touch of sweetness. 

SpaetburgunderHowever, the real excitement in the contemporary German scene is the red wine and especially Pinot Noir, called Blau-burgunder in the home market.  Our two examples came from warmer, southern, Baden and the microclimatic wonder which is the Ahr Valley, pretty much Germany’s most northern wine region. Kaiserstuhl Pinot Noir, Karl H. Johner 2010 is a creditable effort from a very difficult year which included enough rain to erode the vineyards and flood the cellar. The key was detailed selection as the fruit did not ripen evenly.  But this wine manages fragrant, fresh red-berried fruit, a tiny touch of greenness and makes for a quite simple but delicious glass of wine.  By contrast, Rechner Herrenberg Pinot Noir, Jean Stodden 2007 comes from a top vineyard site with tiny yields (25 hl/ha) with vines up to 80 years old.  The red berry fruit is melded with the oak with fine liquorish and smoke hints. Complex, savoury, top class. 

The old or the new Germany? the choice is yours. 

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