While Germany has been producing wine since Roman times, the German wine industry has been on something of a roller coaster ride since 1970. At that time, a complex series of laws were passed that weakened Germany’s international wine reputation and led to consumer confusion regarding quality standards.
It was also the time when Germany began exporting inexpensive, semi-sweet white wines (mostly to the United States and Great Britain) called Liebfraumilch that became immensely popular and generally defined German wines to much of the world. Additionally, German red wines dropped in popularity until only a small percentage of red grape vines remained in production.
Many of these problems have been settled in the interim and labeling laws have been modified to assist consumers in identifying grape varietals and levels of sweetness associated with the wines. Happily, the German wine industry has bounced back in grand fashion and is currently the world’s 8th leading producer of wine. This is great news for the country that is one of the most northerly situated growing regions in the world (around the 50th Degree latitude) and is therefore subjected to the recurrent qualms of nature that affect their latitudinal location within the country.
As in ancient times, the country’s white wines vastly outnumber reds (64% to 36%) and are composed of mainly Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, and there are more than 100 different varietals under vine throughout Germany’s thirteen wine-growing regions. Vines are situated in the western part of Germany, along the steep banks of its two great rivers, the Rhine and the Mosel. The largest of these regions is the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, the location of six of the thirteen defined regions.
Fueled by demand from within the country itself, German red wine production has blossomed into an international success and has resulted in massive plantings of red varietals led by the classic Spätburgunder, the German counterpart of Burgundy’s elegant Pinot Noir grape. The steep slopes also limit production of the 252 thousand acres under vine (about one-tenth the vineyard size of France, Spain and Italy), and the resultant production is somewhere around one million cases per annum.
While German wines are quite varied, assorted factors influence their quality. The aforementioned cold climate is the biggest problem and the effect it has on grape ripening. Additionally, a variety of differing soil conditions and the fact that most vineyards are inaccessible to machinery make German winemaking a true work of art.
The best way to approach German wines is simply to try as many as possible and do some homework before starting. While German whites are known for their fruitiness and softness, there are also excellent examples of dry, crisp wines to be had. The reds tend to be mostly on the dry side and represent excellent price/value ratios when compared to their other European counterparts. The recent success that many top German wines have enjoyed in wine competitions along with impressive high scores from wine industry periodicals have made German wines a must for anyone truly interested in wines.
It is a delight to offer our International Wine Club members the wines of Weingärtner Stromberg-Zabergäu, one of Württemberg's premier growers and vintners.
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