Flatiron's Guide to German Wine, Part 1: Introduction to the Wines of Germany
Germany is one of the very greatest wine countries in the world. And yet, German wine can be oddly underappreciated by many people in the U.S.
Not that there aren’t plenty of fans here, of course. Downright rabid fans band together, obsessing over every bottle, village, vineyard, producer, and vintage they’ve ever tasted. No wine makes the geekiest wine lovers geek out more than German Riesling.
There are also fans among the less geeky. Casual, everyday wine drinkers who know that they can get a straight up delicious wine at an absolutely unbeatable price if they walk over to the German shelf. You don’t have to study deeply to love and appreciate German Riesling.
What seems to be missing in the U.S. is the group of wine lovers between the casual drinker and the terroir fanatic. Folks interested in Beaujolais or Chablis, Piedmont or Tuscany who don’t gravitate to German wine. Hundreds of dollars spent trying to grasp the nuances between Vosne-Romanée and Volnay is nothing to them, but they never make the small investment required to discover the nuances between the Mosel and the Nahe.
Bargain hunters can’t get enough of the Languedoc’s exceptionally well-priced and honest wines, but wouldn’t drop $20 on a gorgeous bottle of Riesling, one which 100 years ago would have been more expensive than a splurge night Burgundy.
There are a lot of possible reasons: it can be hard for newbies to tell if a wine is sweet or dry; the labels can be difficult to read with gothic typeface and funny-looking umlauts; German grape names are unfamiliar, as are the thousands of different vineyards. German culture is clear and precise, but this degree of precision on a label risks becoming unintelligible to all but the most obsessed.
But have no fear! It’s actually much simpler than it may look at first blush. German wines are actually very easy to understand, once you learn just a few basics about how they work. More importantly, we are firmly of the view that German wines are so great and offer so much reward, that it would be worth even an enormous effort to get to know them.
We set out to write the Flatiron Guide to German Wines to explain not just why the wine geeks go so nutty for all things Deutsch, and not just why German wines are among the best wines for the super-casual wine drinker. And not even why we are so deeply in love with them ourselves.
No, we set out to explain why a German wine is the bottle you should take home tonight.
You. Yes, you.
Why We Love German Wines
Great value. German wine spent years out of fashion. As demand fell, so did prices. Low prices alone don't equal value, but great wines at reasonable prices do.
Great wines. Germany has made great wines for two millenia. In fact, German wines have historically been among the most expensive in the world. Until relatively recently, the best Rhine and Mosel wines were at least as valuable as the top Bordeaux and Burgundies; there are lots of old wine lists with Rieslings priced above DRC and the First Growths.
Great terroir. The Romans planted many of Germany’s best vineyards on steep, rocky hills. Growers matched grapes (principally, but not exclusively, Riesling) to site over the centuries.
Germany’s cool climate allows for markedly high acidity, meaning mouthwatering wines that have great aging potential.
From the Mosel to the Pfalz, Germany’s great regions offer fascinating and distinct expressions—varying from vineyard to vineyard—that are expressed clearly and consistently across vintages. All of this makes for an intellectually fascinating tasting.
As accessible as they are profound.
One thing that sets German wine apart from so many of the world’s other great wine regions is how straight-up delicious it is. Bordeaux, Burgundy, Barolo—these are wines that take some time to develop and are not necessarily easy for non-wine drinkers to “get” on their first taste.
German wines, most famously Rieslings, are the opposite. For all their depth and complexity, they also taste great in a way that’s immediately obvious. It’s amazing but true: the same bottle that will captivate your foodie friends will also make your mother-in-law very happy.
Incredible with food.
Not only are German wines delicious on their own, they are downright miraculous with so many foods. Germany is, as we’ll discuss later in our series, a very northerly wine region. The cool weather tends to keep the wines fresh and light—making them unlikely to overpower food. The complex terroirs make for complex wines, which can bring out subtleties in even the most refined cuisines.
The real magic of German wine pairings is how good they are even with the most challenging foods. A very dry German Riesling is one of the few great pairings with notoriously difficult vegetables, like artichokes. And if you’re looking for something that will stand up with Szechuan or Thai cooking, you can’t do any better than an off-dry German Riesling. It will refresh and cool, while offering flavor complements and contrasts that bring out all of the meal’s hidden depths.
Straight-up deliciousness. German wines elevate as they enrapture.
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