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.
The Hans Wirsching family winery dates back to 1630 and is one of the most, if not the most, respected Silvaner producer in Germany. Their Estate Silvaner is produced from their younger vines and vinified at a lower temperature to retain freshness and aromatics. This is the perfect summer sipper; crisp, light and refreshing with just the right amount of fruit. Great with salads, fish and chicken!
$13.99 per bottle
This is Wirsching’s single vineyard Silvaner produced from old vines in the grand cru Kalb vineyard. The subtle fruitiness on the nose of this wine misleads you into expecting a light, fruity wine. That is not the case here. This Silvaner is medium bodied and elegant with steely minerality and weighty texture. This wine shows the serious side of Silvaner and why Franken Silvaner is unlike no other.
$21.99 per bottle
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.
The new Schnaitmann Pinot Noir is one of the few that performs like a classic. It's not a big wine, but a very pleasant, admirable Pinot Noir with vibrant red fruits and firm acidity in the finish. Perhaps most impressive is the terrific, lovely aroma.
$19.99 per bottle
Werner Näkel is credited as a visionary that revolutionized Pinot Noir production the Ahr region and has received top accolades for his wines. His latest Pinot Noir is one of the most crowd-pleasing German Pinot Noirs I’ve ever tasted. It is medium bodied and bright with red cherry fruit and forest berries, but deep in flavor and silky and smooth.
$33.99 per bottle
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.
We've been impressed by the Rudolf Fürst estate's version for as long as our store has been in business, and the limestone rich soils of Franken take Müller-Thurgau to a new level. This is a lovely dry white wine with floral aromas and pleasant fruit flavors followed by a steely vein of minerality. Try this wine with salads, seafood or white meats.
$25.99 per bottle
This lightly sparkling dry white wine was our Wine of the Month in June 2017 and offers the same pleasure that good Prosecco does. It provides easygoing refreshment with some nice fruit in the glass with an equally easy effervescence providing a sense of casual celebration. It’s drier than Prosecco though, with citrus aromas and hints of grapefruit.
$14.99 per bottle
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.
Carolin Willems-Hofmann grew up in the vineyards at their family estate and she took over winemaking in 2001 with the goal of making high-quality dry wines. We fell in love with her lively, medium bodied Pinot Blanc. This is a well balanced wine with freshness, fruit and a satisfying richness that lingers on the palate. A great buy at this price.
$14.99 per bottle
Join us Saturday August 25th for a great opportunity to taste many of these surprising German wines and more with special guest Allie Springer, Importer Rep from Rudi Wiest Selections. 1pm-4pm. $25/person. No reservations necessary, just drop by.