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Liana has moved on to other projects. The BAR has been discontinued.
The Beverage Alcohol Report
Vol 2.9 – September 2005, Liana Bennett
Rethinking and Drinking German Wines
Many of us stopped drinking German wines before our cell phones could fit on our belts. If this is you, it is definitely time you stopped by the German section of the wine aisle and picked up a bottle. Skip over the Piesporter and Liebraumilch and head for the more recent labels. At one time, these sweet, cheap wines dominated the market and satisfied our wine drinking needs. Our palettes have evolved and as a whole, we are drinking more off-dry and dry wines. As such, Germany has moved with this trend and are producing complimentary wines.
Germany’s Wine Country
Germany is one of the most northerly wine producing countries with cool climate conditions. Its 13 wine growing regions sit in the southwestern portion close to the border of France and the Alsace region. There is much similarity between Germany and Alsace wine as the two have crossed influenced each other over the years. The two regions share similar climate, grape varieties and even the distinct tall, thin bottles. The vineyards in Germany lie in proximity to the rivers of Ahr, Mosel, Nahe and Rhein. The water has the effect of moderating the temperatures for better growing conditions.
Due to the cool climate conditions of the country, the German wine grape production runs about 90% white. Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Kerner, Scheurebe, Muller-Thurgau, and Ruländer/Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) are the most widely planted varieties. The whites range from light, fresh and fruity, to fragrant, elegant, sweet and rich. The sweetest of the wines have proven to age well over time. The newer styles of white are similar to the Alsace style of dry and fuller in body. These are the wines worthy of trying. Almost all of the reds stay in the area but every now and then you will find one on the shelf. The main grapes are Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Portugieser and Trollinger. The reds are light with more fruit bouquets than tannin.
On the Label
German wine labels have the usual information such as vintage, region, grape variety and producer. You will also find an AP or Amtliche Prüfnummer number. This number is a unique code given to each wine produced by every winemaker. The sequence of numbers can help to identify region, village, estate, a bottle number and year of tasting. This wine tracking system helps the producers more so than having any real advantage to the consumer. Some of the more traditional producers continue with the color-coding of bottle; green bottles are used for Mosel wines, brown for Rhein and blue for Nahe. This dates back to preliterate times when a buyer could pick out a bottle and know its style, flavor, etc. without having to read the label.
The label will also state the classification of the wine under Germany’s version of the AOC or DOC. The Prädikat system denotes sweetness levels of the wine rather than actual quality of the product. However, as the sweetness levels rise, so does the intensity of the winemaking process. The sweeter wines require more hands-on work and attention and subsequently would denote better quality.
Qualitatswein (QBA) - Quality wine; most German wine; fresh, low alcohol, easy drinking
Qualitatswein Mit Pradikat (QMP) - Quality wine with special attributes or distinctions, usually ripeness levels
Kabinett - Fine wine; lightest and driest of the QMP line
Spatlese - Late harvest
Auslese - Only fully ripe bunches of grapes are picked; intense bouquet and Sweet
Beerenauslese - Individual overripe berries are selected to make rich, dessert wines; SWEET
Trockenbeeranauslese - Selection of overripe, dried single grapes to make a very rich wine; SWEET
Eiswein - Wine made from berries frozen on the vine; sugars and acids are concentrated; wine is honeyed and SWEET
What is Piesporter?
Piesporter is a wine growing area within the Mosel region. The wines produced in this region are light and delicate, sweet almost to honeyed. Think every wine menu before 1995!
German Wine Terms
Anbaugebeit - Region
Bereich - Sub region
Grosslage - Group of vineyards
Einzellage - Single vineyard
Sekt - Sparkling wine; made using the charmat method
What Makes the Grape
The grape is, obviously, the most important part of the wine. Without it, there would be no wine (let’s not discuss dandelion, cherry or like). Grapes are made up of 90% water, but, it is the other 10% that makes the wine worthy. Grapes come in clusters of about 80 to 150 berries. The ideal wine grape is small with a moderate amount of must but good concentrated flavors. Those looking to make bulk wines grow varieties that will yield fatter berries that produce more must when pressed; quantity over quality. Phenols include tannins, sugar and pigments. They are found mostly in the seeds and skin but those in the seeds are pretty undesirable. Some winemakers will crush and ferment the grapes with the seeds to gain everything they can out of the grape. Red varieties produce more phenols than whites. Phenols also contain those substances that have proven health benefits. The pulp or the flesh is the bulk of the wine and is the richest in juice. The juice is clear in both white and red skinned varieties. It is the color in the skin that dyes the juice during fermentation. The longer the skins are “mixed” with the juice, the deeper the red the wine will be. The White Zinfandels and Merlots, and all roses are red wines that have only had minimally exposure to their red skins.
Words to Know
Fining - Before wine is bottled, the liquid is clouded with dust, stem, leaf, seed and grape particles. One way of clearing out these unwanted, minute pieces is to add a clay substance such as bentonite or an organic product like isinglass or egg white. These substances act like magnets drawing the particles out of the wine and dragging them to the bottom. Left for a couple of days to settle, the wine is then racked into a clean container leaving the sediment on the bottom. This method in considered less disrupted to the wine than filtering although many winemakers will do both.
Racking is essentially large scale decanting. The wine is siphoned out of one container or barrel into the a new container, leaving the sediment in the first. To get a clear product, fining and racking will have to take place several times.
Lees refers to the sediment left on the bottom. Some labels have “aged on the lees or sur lie”. This means that the wine was not racked and that the flavor (and tannin) in the stems, skins and such was imparted onto the wine. The wine is then more tasty and full than if it was racked.
Harvest Time Terminology
Brix is the measurement of sugar contained in the grapes. This measurement helps to determine ripeness of the grape for harvest. Most grapes are harvested at 20 - 25 Brix. Brix is also used after the wine is made to determine residual sugar.
What Liana Has Been Drinking
Barefoot Chardonnay - This California wine is an ideal wine to drink through the week and great value for the price of $7. The label says it is “wonderful” and I agree. This is a great example of a pure Chard; vanilla, green apples, light oak. This wine could be served with just about any weekday meal.
Hahn Estate Cabernet Franc $14 - Another California picking but this time, not such a great choice. I was really excited to see a Cab Franc varietal but the wine had lost its luster. Being a bold red, I figured it would have held since 1998 but was rusted in color and light on flavor and body. Hahn Estate also makes a varietal Cab Sauv and Meritage blend. I will go back and try these depending on the dates and if I find a Cab Franc that is a 2000 or sooner, I would try this again.
Lindeman’s Riesling Another bad choice was this Riesling from South Eastern Australia. Although it was a 2004 and only $7, it was really so sweet it was almost tart. It even had a bit of effervescence indicating it was still fermenting in the bottle. Maybe that’s what happens with a screwcap.; $7
J& P Perez Amontadillo Sherry - I am on a little sherry kick again and nothing is more classic than this Jezer, Spain treat. Golden in color with sweet nutty taste. Yummy on the rocks!
Reymonde Syrah - This 2003 French Vins de Pays D’Oc; 2003 also disappointed me. Little to no flavor with a flat color.
Black Swan Chardonnay and Semillion 2004 - Great white from Australia. Balanced blend of the two varieties with apples, oak and vanilla. $9.50
Bolla Pinot Grigio - Thank goodness for the good ole standby Pinot Grigio. This 2003 from Delle Venezie is a perfect choice to pull out when casually entertaining after work or before going out.
The Beverage Alcohol Report (The BAR) is published on a monthly basis compliments of Liana Bennett. It main purpose is to further the knowledge, appreciation and general enjoyment of all alcoholic beverages. Your comments, questions and tasting stories can be sent to [email protected] . Please feel free to share this e-newsletter with your friends or forward their email address to Liana to be added to the list. Thank you and of course, I hope you have enjoyed The BAR and have learned something new!
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