With Germany going through an exciting wave of change and innovation in winemaking it’s time to have a closer look at the latest trends.
Are you a wine lover? Then you might know a thing or two about German wine. After all, Germany is one of the major wine-producing nations worldwide, with centuries of winemaking experience, and is home to various legendary wines.
But are you on top of the recent exciting changes that’s happening in Germany’s wine production?
Germany is looking at more than 2,000 years of winemaking and the huge importance of winemaking has just recently been acknowledged through the inclusion of Germany’s wine culture to the UNESCO Directory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.
Different to the perhaps better-known UNESCO World Heritage Site directory, the cultural heritage directory honours a range of oral traditions, performing arts, social practices, rituals, festive events, knowledge and practices concerning nature, as well as knowledge and skills to produce traditional crafts.
This recognition definitely calls for a bottle (or more) of excellent German wine to be enjoyed.
However, if you are looking for a nice bottle from Germany these days, you might be surprised about the large choice of excellent wines from across the 13 official winegrowing regions.
If you think you know something about Germany wine, it might be the time to forget what you know and have a look at the latest developments that have changed many of the established conceptions of Germany wine.
Below, I highlight some of the latest exciting trends in German winemaking you should be aware of.
What you should know about German wine
Talking about German wine, the first thing that typically comes to mind is Riesling. And there is a good reason for this. Riesling grapes are grown in Germany for more than 700 years (the first reference to Riesling in Germany is from 1435), remaining the most planted grape variety in the country to this day, and Germany is clearly producing some of the world’s leading Rieslings.
However, the truth is, Germany is one of the most diverse wine regions in the world, and climate change is making it even more diverse.
Nearly 140 grape varieties are grown across the 13 official wine regions. From the major international varieties to a range of autochthone varieties and new crossings, a wide range of different styles found in German wines offers something for everybody.
German winegrowing conditions are changing … and so far it’s for the better
Germany, like any other country in the world is impacted by climate change. And generally, this is no good news.
The severe flooding last summer in the Ahr region, was a dramatic wake-up call that even the more moderate German weather is now prone to more extreme phenomenon with growing risk of heat, draught and heavy rainfall.
That said, so far, the local wine industry has been in general coping well with the changing conditions. You might in fact say, the affects of changing weather have been so far largely positive.
Indeed, both quality and consistency of German wines has been on the rise lately, with several outstanding harvests over the past years now hitting the selves.
The style of German Riesling is changing – and it’s better than ever
Nearly 70% of grapes grown in Germany are white and Riesling remains the most popular. Covering around a quarter of all vineyards, it’s Germany’s leading variety.
And while in the past, German Riesling has typically been a little bit on the sweeter side, it’s no longer a secret that German Rieslings come in a huge variety of styles.
Today, most Riesling are dry. In fact, bone-dry Riesling with an electrifying acidity and a slightly higher alcohol content is the most popular style of the moment.
There are of course still sweeter Riesling – the range goes from Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese. Which describes the point at which grapes are harvested and thus the degree of ripening. The later the harvest, the sweeter the wine. Kabinett is the earliest harvest, Trockenbeerenauslese the latest.
Germany is home to a growing range of excellent red wines
While the majority of wines made in Germany are still white varieties, it is no longer true that quality red wines from Germany are a rarity.
Most wineries are now putting a strong focus on red wine too, with Pinot Noir the leading red grape variety. And the quality of Pinot Noir made in Germany is now rivelling some of the best Pinot Noir in the world.
Part of a growing focus on red wines is driven by climate change. While Germany once was thought to the be northern most location where wine growing was still possible and ripening of grapes might have been a challenge in earlier years, warmer summers and milder winters have already started to see the border of winemaking shift northwards.
Warmer summers and milder winters have led to a significant increase of red wine varieties planted and many excellent rosé and red wines are now made in Germany.
Pinot Noir is now the third most planted grape variety. It’s found across all of Germany’s thirteen winegrowing regions but it’s the Pfalz, Baden and Württemberg currently leading the production of award-winning Pinot Noir.
Other international red grape varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and even Tempranillo are also increasing. And with this growing variety of grapes traditionally found mainly in the more southern European wine regions, German winemakers are also starting to experiment with Cuvée red wines.
So when in the past German red wines were traditionally made 100% from one variety, red blends are now starting to become more common and well worth a try.
Rosé wines are on the rise
Provence, the intrinsic home of rosé wines has seen a growing number of serious contenders over the past few years, from other French regions to Spain, Italy, Portugal as well as California.
Though still low in numbers, Germany too is hot on the heels of the rosé trend, with a growing number of local wineries starting to make excellent rosé wines.
Most German rosé wines are made from Pinot Noir, and rising plantings of the variety definitely supports a greater number of rosés being made over the coming years.
Typically, they will be dry with intense, tangy red fruit flavours and crisp acidity and overall have a light and refreshing character.
German Winzersekt is giving Champagne a run for its money
Sparkling wine in Germany is referred as Sekt. And it is a type of bubbles that has long struggled to get international attention.
German Sekt is typically made according to the tank method, and there are indeed varying levels of quality, with a large number of Sekt still falling into the lower quality range.
While exceptions have long existed (after all, many of the leading historic champagne producers are originally from Germany – such as the likes of Bollinger, Mumm or Taittinger), in the past only few have made sparkling wine according to the traditional method in Germany.
This is now changing fast. Over the past decade, a growing number of innovative winemakers have turned to the sparkling wine compartment, producing sparkling wines according to the traditional method.
Many of these sparkling wines are classified as Winzersekt, indicating the production method (the traditional method also used to make champagne). In addition, Winzersekt must be aged on the lees in the bottle for a minimum of nine months (albeit most will age somewhere between 3-5 years), and grapes must be estate-grown.
The growing range of excellent German traditional method sparkling wines now offers and exciting choice and are a perfect wallet-friendly alternative to champagne.
If you want to know more about German sparkling wines, read my posts Why You Need To Start Drinking German Sparkling Wine and My Top 5 Winerzsekt To Welcome The New Year.
There is an abundance of unique autochthone grape varieties
Across Germany, more than 130 different grape varieties are grown, and many of them are indigenous to the country.
Perhaps still the best known internationally, Müller-Thurgau remains one of the leading varieties. In fact, until the turn of the millennium it used to be the most widely planted grape in Germany.
However, local winemakers remain very fond of a range of the lesser-known autochthone varieties, crafting excellent, high-quality wines from the likes of Zweigelt, Schwarzriesling, Lemberger and Saint Laurant (red varieties) or Silvaner, Gutedel, Elbling and Scheurebe (white).
Typically, those wines are produced in small batches only and you might struggle to find them abroad. However, they are well worth a try when you visit Germany.
Germany is among the leaders of organic winegrowing
Organic winegrowing is on a steep growth path. Over the past 10 years, the vineyard area dedicated to strictly organic winegrowing has more than tripled.
While most of organic winegrowing is concentrated in vineyard and cellar work, the trend is also starting to affect the type of grapes planted. Germany is now among the leading winemaking countries to plant fungus resistant grape varieties (often referred to as PIWI wines). Thus, expect to see now varieties featured on wine labels going forward. Examples include Solaria or Johanniter.
Are you familiar with wines from Germany? What is your favourite?