German White Wines - A Selection
Enlarge image Chardonnay grapes (© Deutsches Weininstitut (DWI)) Chardonnay wines are suitable for all sorts of drinking occasions. Like many other ancient grape varieties, Chardonnay originated in the Middle East. As viticulture spread, the variety found a new home in France, particularly in Burgundy.
This internationally successful variety is gaining ground in Germany, too, where the cultivation of Chardonnay has only been officially permitted since 1991.
Chardonnay is one of the most popular grape varieties in the world. It is to be found in practically all winegrowing countries, its total area of cultivation worldwide being about the same as that of the Riesling grape. In Germany, it yields good and optimal results particularly when cultivated in areas that have traditionally been widely planted with Burgunder grapes (e.g. in Baden’s Kaiserstuhl or along the Palatinate’s Southern Wine Route).
Chardonnay is equally demanding, in terms of site, as a Weissburgunder or even a Riesling. It ripens quite late in autumn, like the Weissburgunder, and can be harvested shortly before the Riesling. Its must weight is similar to that of the Weissburgunder.
The grape is mostly vinified to produce dry wines. Besides being matured in stainless steel tanks, it is very frequently aged in oak barrels, though only high-quality base wines are suitable for this purpose.
Gutedel (the oldest cultivated vine is 5,000 years old)
Enlarge image Harvesting the Gutedel grapes near Halle (© picture-alliance/ dpa ) In 2000, the Markgräflerland in southern Baden celebrated a very special anniversary: the (approximately) 5,000th anniversary of the region’s native Gutedel grape variety. This grape is believed to have originated in Palestine, and that it was cultivated in the Central Nile Valley 5,000 years ago is considered an established fact. It is then thought to have been spread to Romans and Greeks by the seafaring Phoenicians. What we do know is that Gutedel was being planted on German soil in the early seventeenth century. In today’s Markgräflerland, between Freiburg and the Swiss border, more than a third of the winegrowing region’s vineyard area is given over to the world’s oldest cultivated vine. Gutedel vines are content with sites of average quality but require protection from too cold winds.
The wines’ special appeal lies in the Gutedel grape’s rather neutral taste. This means that the vine’s distinct terroir, soil, microclimate and site are unmistakably reflected in each individual wine. There are an increasing number of specialties among the vintage wines – dry wines, some of which attain a particular mildness through the biological degradation of acids. Gutedel wines are classed as wholesome and easily digestible.
They taste best when drunk young; the better sorts are suitable for aging up to a few years but, unlike other grape varieties, their particularly low acidity does not help in the conservation process.
Müller - Thurgau (Rivaner)
Enlarge image Müller-Thurgau wine (center) (© Frank & Frei GbR) This grape variety owes both its existence and its name to Professor Hermann Müller from the Swiss canton of Thurgau. It was created by Müller (1850-1927) at the Research Center Geisenheim in Hesse, the world’s second-oldest research institute for viticulture. The synonym Rivaner is a contraction of the words Riesling and Silvaner. These two varieties were long seen as the parents of the Müller-Thurgau.
In the 1990s, the Müller-Thurgau ceded its leading position among German wines to the Riesling. But the Rivaner continues to occupy a position of outstanding importance in German viticulture, accounting for just under 14 percent of the total vineyard area. That today nearly 14,000 hectares are devoted to the grape’s cultivation is due in part to its great versatility and its accessibility to non-connoisseurs of wine. Besides, the Müller-Thurgau grape is not particularly demanding as regards site and is considered dependable in terms of yield.
Müller-Thurgau is in fact one of the “classic” grape varieties in seven out of thirteen German winegrowing regions. The largest areas of cultivation are in Rhine-Hesse and Baden, in the Palatinate, Franconia and the Moselle. The restrictions on the permissible yield per hectare of vineyard introduced in the 1980s have had a highly positive effect in particular on the Müller-Thurgau, which tends to be a high-yield grape. It ripens early and produces sweetish, sometimes flowery wines with subtle aroma of nutmeg. In terms of acidity, it is on the mild side, though wines of a northerly provenance may be more pronounced.
Enlarge image Harvesting grapes on steep inclines, such as these Riesling grapes alongside the Mosel, takes two to three times as many hours as on the flatlands below. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) The Riesling grape is cultivated in all of Germany’s winegrowing regions, occupying more than 21,000 hectares, or approximately 20 percent of the total area under vine. More than any other variety, it symbolizes German wine culture and tradition.
The winegrowers with the longest Riesling tradition are probably those in the Rheingau, the Moselle and what is now Rhine-Hesse. In the Rheingau, the Riesling grape occupies 2,400 hectares, or nearly 80 percent of the cultivation area available there. The other principal Riesling-producing regions include the Moselle (5,200 hectares), the Palatinate (5,000 hectares), Rhine-Hesse (3,200 hectares), Württemberg (2,100 hectares), Baden (1,200 hectares) and the Nahe (1,000 hectares). The Riesling is among the “classic” grape varieties in eleven out of thirteen German winegrowing regions.
The Riesling is a slow-ripening grape with a highly distinctive, fruity acidity. That is why it is ideally suited to the northerly winegrowing areas, where it can fully ripen in the late autumn sun. It produces wines of varying nuances, depending on site (type of soil and microclimate). Heat-retaining, stony soils on steep slopes along river valleys provide optimal conditions.
Young, light Riesling wines – ranging in style from dry to somewhat sweet, with a natural ripe fruitiness – are ideal summer wines. Mature Rieslings and Riesling late vintages are often better partners with meals. Dry to off-dry Rieslings are especially well-suited to light dishes, steamed salt- and freshwater fish, cooked meat with light sauces, and small poultry. Off-dry Rieslings and sweet late vintages are preferred in the Baltic region.
Over the past decades, this white grape variety has embarked on its triumphant march around the globe and is now cultivated on some 330 hectares in Germany, mainly in the Palatinate, Rhine-Hesse and Baden. It is chiefly concentrated in the southwest of France, where it was first mentioned in official documents in 1710.
In recent years, German Sauvignon Blanc wines have received surprisingly good ratings at international wine-tasting events. Sauvignon Blanc’s distinctive feature is its strong aroma reminiscent of grass, herbs, gooseberries and green fruits. It is a perfect accompaniment to fish and seafood or to pasta dishes with cream sauces.
Enlarge image Silvaner wine (© Frank & Frei GbR) Silvaner grapes make rather neutral wines with a mild acidity, full-bodied wines that go well with hearty regional dishes and fine menu wines. The grape was brought to Germany in 1665 by an abbot from Bavaria’s Steigerwald region. It spread from Franconia to other winegrowing areas like today’s Rhine-Hesse, the Palatinate and the Nahe.
The Silvaner (Green Silvaner) is a traditional variety that is currently cultivated on 5,300 hectares, or five percent of Germany’s total vineyard area, and it appears to be steady at this level. It is enjoying a renaissance, especially in Rhine-Hesse. The“Rhine-Hesse Silvaner” is grown on nearly 2,500 hectares, with 1,250 hectares in Franconia. It is also cultivated in the Nahe and in Baden’s winegrowing community Ihringen.
The Silvaner grape makes greater demands on soil than the Riesling. It is not content with dry or stony soils and is susceptible to winter frost. It can provide high yields to make uncomplicated everyday wines but, with a lower yield, also produces superior and top-quality vintage wines. Wines made from specially selected grapes or from choice grapes left on the vine to dry out at the end of the season fetch high prices.
The Silvaner produces rather neutral wines with a milder acidity than, say, the Riesling. Silvaner wines are mostly quite light in color, have a subtle, sometimes earthy bouquet and a medium body. Sophisticated Silvaners from Franconia are the perfect accompaniment to fish, while those from Rhine-Hesse and the Palatinate go particularly well with asparagus.
Weißer Burgunder / Pinot Blanc
Enlarge image The cellarmaster will evaluate the quality of this Weißburgunder wine every 10 to 14 days during its aging period. (© picture-alliance / ZB - Fotoreport ) The Blauer Burgunder (Pinot Noir) is considered to be the prototype of the Pinot family, the Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) is a white mutation of the Spätburgunder, and the Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), a mutation of the Grauburgunder. The existence of the Pinot Blanc is documented since the fourteenth century.
German winegrowers are increasingly discovering the qualities of this elegant grape variety. Some 3,500 hectares, or over three percent of Germany’s total vineyard area, are currently planted with this variety, which thrives at sites that are too hot for the Riesling. The total area planted has doubled over the past decade. With more than 1,100 hectares, Baden is considered a stronghold of the Pinot Blanc.
The Pinot Blanc’s demands on soil and climate also indicate that it is related to the Pinot Noir. It is very demanding, preferring warm and – if possible – deep and rich soils and exposed, warm and dry sites. The grape is unproblematic in terms of cultivation and can reach high must weights as a result of long ripening.
The Pinot Blanc is pale to light yellow in the glass, with a delicate and restrained bouquet. It typically has a slightly nutty aroma. The wines range from medium-bodied to powerful and have a fine, racy acidity. Drier styles go well with many types of food. Spät and Auslese wines are also aged in oak barrels.
Elegant Pinot Blanc wines, in the dry style with a fresh acidity and fine fruitiness, are ideal menu wines. Besides light summer wines, they range from strong-character to dry Auslese wines. Not overly alcoholic, the Pinot Blanc possesses a subtle aroma frequently reminiscent of green nuts, apples, pears, quinces, apricots, citrus fruits or fresh pineapples. Its moderate body and pleasantly refreshing acidity make it a highly versatile menu wine. It is thus a good accompaniment to seafood, fish, veal, pork and poultry, or it can simply be drunk as a well-cooled patio wine.
Extract-rich sorts and barrel-aged wines are also good partners for lamb or delicate dishes of young game.
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