German Wine Buying Guide

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Bernkastel-Kues, Mosel Valley
Map showing the regions of Germany's wine producers.

German Wine Re-invented

It’s clear from the fruit-laden lemon tree outside Georg Mosbacher’s winery
that Germany’s Pfalz region has a warm continental climate. Likewise, the view from Karl Johner’s vineyard further south in Baden has the Alsace region of France literally in its sights and as a result grows similar grape varieties. Liebfraumilch and Hock, so popular 30 years ago, are a million miles away.

Although sweeter styles of German wine are still very much in existence, they have been joined by dry, fuller-bodied whites and an increasing number of reds, appealing to lovers of both Alsatian and Burgundian styles. German wine has truly re-invented itself!

Reading the Label

The terminology of German wine can seem complex but once understood, it’s quite logical. On the first rungs of the classification ladder are Tafelwein (table wine) and Landwein (similar to the French vin de pays). Next up is QBA, which indicates quality wine from one of Germany’s 13 wine producing regions.

At the top level, the Prädikat wines fall into six designations based on the sugar content of the grapes, which determines alcohol level and sweetness of the wine:

  • Kabinett: better quality wines from the main harvest, typically medium dry or medium sweet. Dry examples are labelled as Kabinett Trocken.
  • Spätlese: translates as ‘late harvest’, where the grapes ripen for longer, often leading to a sweeter, fruitier style, although Spätlese Trocken is a more full bodied dry wine.
  • Auslese: means ‘select harvest’, where only very ripe bunches of grapes are used. These wines are typically sweet or medium sweet but this designation covers the widest range of styles.
  • Beerenauslese: ‘select berry harvest’, where individually selected, overripe grapes (sometimes affected by noble rot) are used to make a dessert wine.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese: sometimes referred to as ‘TBA’, this is only made in favorable harvests from selected shrivelled, overripe grapes (often affected by noble rot) which make extremely rich sweet wines.
  • Eiswein: ice wine is made from overripe grapes left on the vine until as late as January when temperatures are so low that the grapes freeze. The fruit is pressed while frozen and produces a sweet dessert wine.

Choosing the Wine

With such a wealth of styles to sample, the range below gives a mere snapshot of the variety of German wines on offer. As with any wine-producing country, each region adds its own individual character to the wines produced. The Prädikat system adds another unique dimention to the wines of Germany, allowing consumers to choose their wines in a whole new way.


Leitz Rudesheimer Rosengarten Riesling Kabinett 2007 Rheingau

Leitz Rudesheimer Rosengarten Riesling Kabinett 2007 Rheingau

Johannes Leitz is one of Germany’s rising stars and this wine is from the famous Rosengarten vineyard, planted around the church in Rudesheim on the banks of the Rhein. It's a wonderful example of classic Riesling with lovely white peach fruit and bracing acidity.


Georg Mosbacher Deidesheimer Herrgottsacker Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2007 Pfalz

Georg Mosbacher Deidesheimer Herrgottsacker Riesling Spätlese Trocken 2007 Pfalz

With vineyards sheltered by the Haardt mountains, Pfalz Rieslings tend to be the driest German Rieslings and this is no exception. The aromas of lime and peach lead to apricot and tropical fruit flavours on the palate, backed up by a backbone of minerality and a clean finish.


Karl H. Johner, Pinot Gris Spätlese 2006 Baden

Karl H. Johner, Pinot Gris Spätlese 2006 Baden

Situated in the heart of the once volcanic Kaiserstuhl area, Baden offers some of the best Pinot Gris in the world. This fine example has ripe, peachy, pear and nectarine flavour with vanilla notes and a smooth texture. The finish is long and honeyed.


Dr Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese 2006 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

Dr Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese 2006 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

The larger than life character of Erni Loosen is in stark contrast to this tiny quarter bottle of ‘BA’. It’s a lovely, sweet and richly concentrated Riesling, made exclusively from estate-owned vineyards. Perfect with fresh fruit desserts.