The 102,000 hectares of German vineyards produce some of the world’s greatest white wines from the Riesling grape. With a run of excellent vintages, top estate wines are at long last fashionable, with Riesling finally getting the acknowledgment it deserves. Its touch of sweetness is underpinned by a racy acidity and a fresh purity from the fruit.
Germany is the tenth largest wine-producer in the world. Its vineyards are centred around the major rivers – ie the Rhine and the Mosel – as well as their tributaries. The continental climate with its hot summers, cold winters and long, warm autumns is perfect for late-harvest wines. The finest examples are produced on steep, often terraced, south-facing vineyards close to the rivers. The maintenance and the harvesting of the vines are often done by hand.
White grapes make up 64 percent of plantings, with the proportion of red grapes increasing. Riesling has a knack of maintaining its varietal character while reflecting the terroir of its site, so while all German Rieslings have that balance of nerve-tingling pure fruit and refreshing acidity, there are definite regional differences.
The steep, slaty slopes of the Mosel Valley produce the lightest, most mineral Rieslings, with firm, steely examples coming from its tributaries, the Saar and Ruwer. The south-facing slopes of the Rheingau are drier and sunnier, so the wines there are fuller. The underrated Nahe lies in between the Mosel and Rheingau both stylistically and geographically, while the large Rheinhessen region can produce firm, full and racy Rieslings. The Pfalz further south is warmer, hence its wines are richer.
Traditional wines have a degree of sweetness but there has been a move towards dry and medium-dry styles (ie trocken and halbtrocken), which made up just over 65 percent of production in 2012.
In an effort to help consumers distinguish dry wines from sweet, the Association of German Prädikat Estates or Verband der Prädikatsweingüter (VDP in German), an organization of almost 200 wineries, decided to introduce a classification system. The objective was to restore the prestige of significant vineyards across Germany: Erste Lage (First Site) and Grosse Lage (Grand/Great Site) refer to the best of the best German wines, made with terroir, regionality and traditional taste criteria in mind. Wines at this level must adhere to a number of regulations, ensuring the quality of bottles bearing the name of an Erste or Grosse Lage.
If the Lage is made in a dry style, it will be classed as either Erstes Gewächs (Premier Growth) or Grosses Gewächs (Grand/Great Growth). Erstes and Grosses Gewächs are premium and super-premium dry wines produced according to strict high standards, handcrafted by Germany’s finest wine-growers. The term promises us fully-fermented, dry wines from the top vineyard sites across Germany. The wines of this exclusive category are from the finest parcels sites and are subject to even stricter production criteria. Grosses Gewächs are some of the greatest dry white wines in the world; powerful, concentrated and saturated with mineral complexity.