German Riesling Adventure: Introduction

Posted by | Posted in Grape Adventures | Posted on 11-05-2012

This really was the “Summer of Riesling” for David started exploring the grape, sampling some excellent examples. Salil enjoyed some brilliant older vintages, and reported on the Theise/Skurnik 2011s from the Nahe, Rheingau and Mosel. Me? I decided to go straight to the source for my education: my wife and I set out for Germany in late August.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be reporting on my trip, the wines we tasted, the producers we visited, and the vineyards upon which we gazed. But first, a few themes emerged during the trip and upon further reflection at home.

Germany's Mosel Valley

German Winemakers are True Terroirists. Other than perhaps Burgundy, Germany might be the epicenter of “terroirism.” Jancis Robinson thinks Riesling is “the greatest white wine grape in the world,” in part because it is so good at expressing terroir.  In my opinion, no other wine is able to showcase a truer sense of place than German Riesling. Visit after visit, the winemakers were proud to show off the different soil types from which they farmed their grapes – trays filled with gray, red and blue slate are almost as ubiquitous in German tasting rooms as Schnitzel is on the village menus. But handling a piece of slate at a table is nothing like standing in a vineyard and seeing for yourself just how rocky the terrain really is. In the Mosel Valley in particular, there are vineyards planted on hillsides where giant slate rock formations interrupt the perfectly parallel rows of vines – and others where winemakers actually had to blast through rock with dynamite to make use of their land. In Germany, minerality is reality – not just a marketing slogan.

The German Wine Industry is in Good Hands. At a great majority of the wine estates we visited, the next generation has taken over from their parents, and the future is bright. Young winemakers across the country are banding together to make quality wines, modernize winemaking techniques and raise the profile of the German wine industry. Many of them attended school together at Geisenheim – the premier oenology program in Germany. In addition to sharing tips and tricks, this group travels together, parties together, and shares a camaraderie and passion for wine that is refreshing. Some, like Stefan Steinmetz, were thrust into huge responsibility through tragedy. Others, like Florian Lauer and Christoph Schaefer, work side by side with their fathers, learning to preserve tradition while still pursuing innovation to improve the product.

The Dryness Craze is For Real. Many articles have been written recently about the trend toward dry Riesling in Germany, primarily for their domestic market, but also creeping into their exports. This is readily apparent when visiting winemakers. Almost every tasting included a pronounced emphasis on the trocken end of the range, especially if the vintner has holdings that include an Erste Lage or Grosse Lage (top sites from which Grosses Gewächs wines are made) or vineyards of similar quality for those wineries who aren’t in the VDP. (Joh. Jos. Prüm was a notable exception – it continues to make beloved off-dry Rieslings, trends be damned, and its wine remains some of the best in the world.) So, get ready to see more and more dry wine in your local shops. Unfortunately, not everyone who is making wines on the drier side should actually be doing so, because not everyone has the terroir to do it successfully. Thankfully, most of the estates we visited, and that you’ll be hearing about in the coming weeks, are not in that category. We drank very well in Germany, and I look forward to sharing our experience with all of you.

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