German Wines Beyond Riesling
When I first started working at The Wine Country and somebody mentioned German wines, I automatically thought of Riesling. I think almost everybody automatically thinks the same way and understandably so. Riesling put German wines on the map and is one of the world’s great and most historic wines.
Now, after working two years at our great store, I’ve come to appreciate that German wines are much more than Riesling and that the German wine section can also be a great source of approachable and food-friendly wines for any meal and not just for the rare German fare or with Chinese food.
Germany, like all old world wine countries, has a long history of winemaking and has cultivated a wide range of wines in many styles including an impressive range of dry wines. If fact, almost half of Germany’s total wine production now is of dry or “trocken” wines. Did you know that Germany is the world’s 3rd largest producer of Pinot Noir and the world’s leading producer of Pinot Blanc?
Ever heard of Silvaner and Müller Thurgau wines? Both were at one time the most popular dry white wines in Germany and Müller Thurgau is still its 2nd most planted grape.
Of course Riesling is still their king of wines and nobody produces better Riesling than the Germans, but I thought it would be fun to talk about some of my favorite Germany wines that you may not have heard of and that I highly recommend you give a try.
I first became familiar with and fell in love with Silvaner from wines produced from this ancient grape in the Südtirol-Alto Adige region of northern Italy. Silvaner migrated from the Austrian empire to Germany and Alsace, France and is one of Europe’s oldest cultivated grapes. Silvaner was once the2nd most planted grape in all of Germany. The best Silvaner is produced in the Franken wine region of Bavaria where the average age of Silvaner is 50-60 years old and the soils are rich in limestone and clay. Silvaner is dry white wine known for its mild acidity, subtle fruit flavors and intense minerality. Think the opposite of Riesling. Silvaner pairs great with a wide variety of foods including challenging vegetables like asparagus and artichokes.
Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)
Spätburgunder, pronounced shpayt-bur-guhn-der, means “late burgundian” in German and is their name for Pinot Noir. Spätburgunder is now the 3rd most planted grape in Germany and becoming more popular each year. Spätburgunder is typically lighter, more savory and smokier than California Pinot Noir but contemporary winemakers with a little help from climate change are now producing juicier wines with bolder fruit and ripe tannins making them easy drinking and great for weeknight dinners. German Spätburgunder is great for paring with a wide variety of foods. Its vibrancy and savory notes make it an ideal accompaniment to roast chicken or pork, soups and stews.
Müller-Thurgau is Germany’s 2nd most popular wine and the 2nd most planted grape. It’s a so called “new breed’ grape that was created in the 1882 by Dr. Hermann Müller as a hybrid cross between Riesling and a now-extinct table grape called Madeleine Royale. Müller-Thurgau was bred to retain the complex aromas and bold fruit of Riesling but ripen more consistently and earlier in the cooler German climate. Well the doctor didn’t quite achieve this but he did make a grape that produces a light, easy drinking, dry white wine with the added benefit of being able to grow well in many different soils and climates. Those attributes led to Müller-Thurgau becoming Germany’s popular “every day” wine.
Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)
Weissburgunder translates to “white burgundy” and is the German name for Pinot Blanc. As the name implies, Pinot Blanc is believed to be native to Burgundy France and is a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape. German Pinot Blanc comes in both dry and sweet styles but I tend to like the dry, zippy styles. Typical Pinot Blanc wines are medium bodied with floral aromas, white fruits and notes of almonds. Germany is the world’s largest producer of Pinot Blanc wines but great Pinot Blanc wines can also be found in Alsace France and Südtirol-Alto Adige Italy where they then to be fuller and rounder than the German counterpart.