Germany is perhaps one of the most viticulturally misunderstood countries out there. Although best known for its top-notch white wine production, particularly Rieslings, the country’s winemaking scene goes so much deeper than that. Here at Verve Wine, we’re all about shedding light on the underrated and undiscovered, so I figured diving into Germany’s sparkling and red wines seemed like a perfect fit (don’t worry, there’s a Riesling thrown in for good measure, too).
First, a bit of context. Most of Germany’s wine production takes place in the western part of the country bordering the Rhine River. The country’s 100,000-plus hectares of vines are broken down into 13 designated regions called Anbaugebiete. Of Germany’s total wine production, nearly of it is white, though its reds should not be so quickly dismissed. In terms of grape varieties, the country’s got quite a few. Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), and Silvaner are the most cultivated white grapes, while Spätburgunder (AKA Pinot Noir), St. Laurent, and Lemberger (Blaufränkisch) are a few of the more popular red varieties.
Germany’s vineyards are some of the most northerly in the world. Because temperatures are generally low year-round, fruit maintains a high level of natural acidity, which is essential for creating crisp whites, crunchy reds, and well-balanced dessert wines. The Rhine River and its many tributaries help moderate the overall temperature, yet simultaneously create a slew of different microclimates ideal for cultivating high-acid fruit.
In conjunction with its cool climate, Germany is also known for its steep terraced vineyards and blue slate soils. As we’ve talked about before, growing grapes at high elevations is beneficial because optimal sun exposure helps clusters ripen during the day, while cooler evening temperatures help to preserve acidity. However, in an already cooler climate area, excessively chilly temperatures could be detrimental. In comes the benefits of slate soils! Slate is one of the best soil types for trapping and retaining heat, which is then radiated back to the vines when temperatures get too cold. Pretty fascinating, huh?
Forget the stereotypes you’ve heard. Not all Riesling or German wine is sweet! In fact, there’s actually a system to help you navigate that beast of a topic. If you see the word ‘Trocken’ on the bottle, that means the wine is dry. From there, ‘Halbtrocken’ designates off-dry, ‘Feinherb’ designates a bit sweeter than Halbtrocken, and ‘Lieblich’ means sweet. However, the more popular classification system in German wine production is the Prädikat system, which classifies wine based on fruit ripeness.
The categories are Kabinett, Spätlese (‘late harvest’), Auslese (‘select harvest’), Beerenauslese (‘berry selection’), Trockenbeerenauslese (‘dry berry selection’), and Eiswein (‘ice wine.’) Other than Kabinett, most of these wines will have some form of residual sugar, especially the last three, which are full-blown dessert wines. Dry wine lovers, fear not! There are plenty of Kabinett/Trocken bottles out there for you. The cream of the crop designation for these bottlings is ‘Grosses Gewachs,’ which is essentially Germany’s version of ‘Grand Cru.’ Complicated? For sure. Worth it? Absolutely.
With this month’s edition of The Grand Tour, I truly hope that we help break the many stereotypes that exist around German wine. From bubbles to chuggable reds to delicious high-acid whites, there’s really nothing that Germany can’t do. These four bottles are some of my personal go-to favorites and happen to come from some of the country’s most down-to-earth and top-quality winemakers. Shoutout to Vom Boden, the small yet fierce importer behind all of these wines! Vom Boden exclusively works with family growers across Europe (with a strong emphasis on Germany) and focuses on producers who farm their vineyards with the utmost respect for the environment and use a ‘less is more’ mentality in the cellar. Pop a bottle, pour a glass, and let us know what you think!
Dustin Wilson, Master Sommelier
Hild Elbling Brut Sekt NV
Although Elbling has long lived in the shadows of the more popular Riesling variety, its tooth- chattering acidity and all-around refreshing nature make it a favorite amongst the locals. This spunky sparkler is produced by Matthias Hild, an honest and down-to-earth winemaker located in the Upper Mosel. Here, soils are mainly comprised of limestone and chalk, unlike the rest of the Mosel, which is characterized by slate. Matthias has been working across the region to save terraced parcels of old vines of Elbling, despite its lower yields and minimal profit margins. These delicious bubbles are produced in the traditional method and is aged on its lees for nine months. The resulting wine oozes with flavors of juicy tropical fruit, white flowers, and chalk, marked by a lingering finish.
PAIRING IDEAS: This ripe, refreshing, and easy-drinking bottle of bubbles pairs perfectly with weekend brunch fare, fresh seafood, and fried happy hour hors d’oeuvres.
Weingut Brand ‘Red’ 2018
Weingut Brand is headed by fifth-generation winemakers Daniel and Jonas Brand. The brothers took over their family estate just five years ago and expanded it from 12 to 18 hectares, all of which are farmed organically. Weingut Brand is located in Bockenheim, which is one of the more cooler-climate growing regions within the Pfalz. Their 2018 ‘Red’ cuvée is made from semi-carbonically macerated Portugieser (85%) and Cabernet Franc (15%), bottled ‘Nouveau style,’ and is aged six months in bottle prior to release. At just 10% alcohol, this zippy and easy-drinking red is the epitome of a #PorchPounder.
PAIRING IDEAS: To stick with the German theme here, we recommend throwing some sausages on the grill and creating your own Oktoberfest at home. Don’t forget the soft pretzels!
Seehof “Elektrisch” Riesling Kabinett 2018
Seehof’s vineyards are located in Germany’s Rheinhessen region and are dominated by limestone-rich soils that provide optimal growing conditions for earth-driven fruit. Although many of the country’s young winemakers look to emulate the concentrated style of Klaus Peter Keller, at Seehof, Florian Fauth does just the opposite. Here, clarity and freshness reign king. However, the Keller influence isn’t totally lost on Seehof wines, as Klaus Peter is Florian’s brother-in-law! ‘Elektrisch’ is an insanely thirst-quenching bottle of Kabinett Riesling that shows flavors of tart citrus and wet stones, marked by ‘electrifying’ acidity.
PAIRING IDEAS: The high-acid nature of this delicious bottle of wine makes it extremely versatile on the table. We particularly love it with light poultry dishes, scallops, or a variety of Asian cuisines.
Enderle & Moll ‘Basis’ Pinot Noir 2017
It’s been said that Sven Enderle and Florian Moll are the greatest producers of Pinot Noir in all of Germany. Upon tasting their wines, you’ll immediately see why. The duo works with some of the oldest vines in all of Baden, all of which they farm organically and biodynamically. All vineyard and cellar work is done by hand, and the barrels come directly from the renowned Dujac estate in Burgundy. Fruit for ‘Basis’ comes from 30-year-old vines, and is whole=cluster (90-100%) fermented with native yeasts. Earthy and bright, this muscular-yet-restrained wine shows flavors of wild berries, wet earth, and cooking spices.
PAIRING IDEAS: Whether herb-roasted pork, baked salmon, or savory mushroom risotto is on the menu, this top-notch Pinot Noir is sure to pair well. When we say versatile, we mean it.