One of the most challenging wine producing regions to learn is Germany. German wine laws and labels are some of the most technical and (especially for Americans) the names of the indigenous grapes can seem strange and difficult to pronounce. Have you ever heard of Dunkelfelder, Heroldrebe, Schwarzriesling, Scheurebe, Weißer, Huxelrebe, or Zweigeltrebe wine grapes? Can you even pronounce any of these? Have you ever heard of, and can you pronounce, the Hessische Bergstraße wine region?
Although it only ranks 9th in terms of production, very high quality German wines, especially Riesling, can be some of the most food friendly and affordable. While Riesling can be found in New World Wine regions such as California, Washington and in Australia it is in Germany and Austria that ripeness becomes a key factor of quality as indicated the terms that are unique to their labels.
On Day 6 of the ICC’s Intensive Sommelier Training program we tasted 7 wines; the 4th wine was the 2011 Heinz Eifel Riesling Kabinett from Mosel, Germany.
It is ALL About Ripeness!
In Germany sunshine and heat are at a premium so ripeness of the grapes becomes a key factor for determining the quality and style of the wine. There are 5 styles, or levels, of sweetness:
Süß or Edelsüß (Suss or Edelsüss): Sweet
There are also four general categories for German wine. The lower two are tafelwein (“table wine”) and landwein (“land wine”). The top two categories for quality wine are Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein. “Qualitätswein” is short for Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) which designates “quality wine from a specific region.” “Prädikatswein” is short for Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) which designates “superior quality wine.” Prädikat is then further designated according to a scale of ripeness for German grapes as follows:
Kabinett - Literally “cabinet”, meaning wine of reserve quality which can be either semi-sweet with crisp acidity or dry, if so it will stipulate “trochen” on the label.
Spätlese - Means “late harvest” as the grapes are picked at least 7 days after normal harvest. These wines are usually semi-sweet, and may be sweeter and fruitier than Kabinett and have heavier body but they are bot as sweet as “late harvest” designated wines in the USA.
Auslese – Means “select harvest” and the wines are made from very ripe, hand selected bunches, typically semi-sweet or sweet, sometimes with some noble rot character. Auslese is the Prädikat which covers the widest range of wine styles, and can be a dessert wine. But these may also made into a powerful (higher alcohol) dry wine labeled as Auslese trocken.
Beerenauslese – Means “select berry harvest” and it refers to rich sweet dessert wines from overripe grapes individually selected from bunches and often affected by noble rot.
Trockenbeerenauslese - Means “select dry berry harvest” and the “Trocken” refers not to the style of wine but rather to the status of the grapes which are overripe raisened grapes often affected by noble rot making extremely rich sweet wines.
Eiswein (ice wine) – Refers to Prädikat wines made from naturally frozen grapes, rather than grapes affected by noble rot, that are left on the vine and individually picked. The must is required to reach at least the same level of sugar content as a Beerenauslese.
There are 13 designated wine regions in Germany called Anbaugebiete which may appear on the label. These 13 large appellations are then divided into Bereich, a district, of which there are 39. These Bereiche are then further divided into a Großlage (Grosslage), which is a collective name for a number of single vineyards, and which number about 170. These may then be categorized as special vineyards (of which there are 2,600) referred to as Einzellagen (‘individual sites’). There are seven Deutscher Wein regions: Rhein-Mosel, Bayern, Neckar, Oberrhein, Albrechtsburg, Stargarder Land and Niederlausitz. These are then further divided into 19 landwein regions, which must be either trocken (“dry”) or halbtrocken (“off-dry”) in style.
Keep in mind that the Certified Sommelier must be able to pronounce all these words and have all of this information memorized. Yet, there is still much more that could be said about German wine regions, designations, varieties and winemaking. But I’ll save that for another review!
The Terroir of The Mosel
The Mosel wine region has a northerly continental climate that is marked by cool temperatures. The best producing vineyard sites are located along the Mosel River and its tributary where the heat from the sun can be maximized by reflecting up from the water.
In order to obtain maximum sun exposure, the best sites have south and southwest facing slopes which provide direct exposure to sunlight that for ripening of the grapes.
The Mosel River dominates the geography of the region which is divided into three main sections:
The Upper Mosel is the southernmost section located closest to the river’s origins along the French and Luxembourg border. The region includes the Saar and Ruwer river tributaries and is centered around the city of Trier.
The Middle Mosel or Mittelmosel is the main wine growing region and includes the villages of Bernkastel and Piesport. The Middle Mosel begins at the village of Zell and extends south to just north the village of Schweich. The slate-based soil here is said to have one of the most recognizable terroir with the wines, especially Riesling, displaying slatey mineral notes.
The Lower Mosel includes the region south of the city of Koblenz to the village of Alf near Zell. It is the most northern wine region of the Mosel and includes the area's confluence with the Rhine River.
The soil of the area is dominated by porous slate which has ideal drainage for the regions heavy rainfall and good heat retaining properties. Many of the best vineyards have no topsoil at all, just broken slate. During the summer months the weather is warm but rarely hot with July’s average temperatures around 64 °F (18 °C).
The 2011 Heinz Eifel Riesling Kabinett is 100% Riesling. It is clear star-bright yellow-gold of medium concentration with minor green tinge, no rim variation and medium viscosity. On the nose this wine displays medium intense aromas of bruised apples, canned pears, golden raisins, peaches, apricots, and honey with noticeable signs of botrytis. On the palate it is off-dry, medium bodied with medium+ acidity and a medium length finish with lingering notes of mandarin oranges. I have experienced many Rieslings from California and Washington State and none of them are as complex as this wine. This is a great wine that retails for only $13 - $14.