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Ep 26: TNWG Wine Times: Germany and Alsace


This week takes us to predominantly Germany. Germany = Riesling for many people and indeed it does cover around 1/4 of all the country's total vineyard area BUT there is so much more to the region! 


Unsurprisingly then, Germany is the largest producer of Riesling in the world at nearly 40% of the world vineyard area BUT did you know it is also the 3rd largest producer of Pinot Noir ! 🤯🤯


You also can't shy away from the fact that many, when they think of Germany, think of Black Tower and Blue Nun - styles which are medium sweet, high yielding and known as 'Liebfraumilch' (not my cup of tea but clearly they were for many especially in the 1980s).


Germany pre this time, was very much an up and down cyclical affair with wine, sometimes being ripped up and replaced by grain for bread and beer, other times suffering phylloxera and facing World Wars too, in fact the area under vine halved in the 50 years to 1945. It wasn't really until 1971 when a fifth German wine law was passed to lay a foundation for modern production and establishing protected geographical areas and classifications that it really began to show promise.


The climate is not balmy either! It is a cool, continental climate and so site selection is EVERYTHING, most based alongside the Rhine. Winters are cold enough to produce EISWEIN (ice wine). Rainfall is between 500-800mm but autumns are typically long and dry, aiding further development and long ripening which will also help Pradikatswein quality wine and noble rot development for sweet wines. The mountain ranges of Taunus and Haardt also aiding wine development with shelter. Baden is the exception to the rule, being further south and close to the Swiss border.


Soils are diverse in Germany when wine is concerned with Mosel and Ahr seeing dark coloured slate retaining heat during the day and radiating it out again at night. Calcareous soils in Baden, Pfalz and Rheinhessen where you see plantations of Spatburgunder ( P Noir), Weissburgunder (P Blanc) and Chardonnay , in Franken - the region for the best Silvaner. Where as Grauburgunder (P Gris) prefers clay soils. 


In 2018, Germany had the 7th largest area under vine in Europe at around 100,000ha. Avg annual production was 8.7 million hectolitres between 2017-2021. Max yields are high with Deutscher Wein and Landwein quality at 150hl/ha where as Qualitatswein is still around 105 hl/ha. 


How have Germany at some of the most northern latitudes, managed to create volume and wine production?


Classic example of innovation in a country. 

1) Fruit ripeness has improved with better clonal selection, summer pruning, green harvesting and selective hand harvesting.

2) Good canopy management - maximising sun exposure and improved air circulation.

3) Pendelbogen - replacement-cane pruning with canes arched in the trellis, thought to improve sap flow in the vine and increase the number of viable buds. 

4) Flurbereinigung - vineyard restructuring program, consolidating lots of small vineyards and improving efficiency and increased mechanisation.




Alsace and German Wine Week



Grape Varietals

In 1980, 90% of grapes planted were white. However, since then red wine has signinficantly increased and in 2021, 32% of plantings were black, especially led by clones of Spatburgunder and Dornfelder. Since 1990, there has also been a rise in Grau- and Weissburgunder alongside Chardonnay. 


🍇 RIESLINGlate budding with thick wood and frost resistant. It is late ripening so needs dry autumns. High quality wines from dry to sweet. Depending on ripeness, flavours from green fruit to tropical, as well as showing some floral aromas like white flowers or honeysuckle and wine age, toast, honey and petrol like thematics. 


🍇 MULLER-THURGAU (Rivaner) - one of the earliest German crosses. Earlier ripening than Riesling, it can produce high yields. Most planted grape varietal back in the 70s and 80s, with much lower acidity than Riesling and gives wine less structure and character - ultimately a little more floral and simplistic. 


🍇 SPATBURGUNDER - most planted German black varietal (11.5% of total plantings) and enjoyed a rapid rise in popularity. 


🍇 DORNFELDER - the most significant German black grape cross, which has grown from nothing to be Germany's second most planted black varietal in the past 30 years. Wines are deep in colour, high in acidity with fruity and floral notes. Two styles are made from it - either fruity, easy drinking which can occasionally have some residual sugar, with aromas of sour cherry and blackberry or a complex style with potential for ageing in oak. 


🍇 SILVANER - also nearly halved since 1980. Lower in acidity and less aromatic than Riesling. Large amounts of simple, inexpensive wines with subtle fruit aromas from green fruit to tropical. In Franken it produces high quality, dry medium- body wines with medium to medium (+) acidity and earthy characteristics. 


🍇That being said, Silvaner has actually been over taken in production terms by Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder which have upticked since the 1990s. Sizeable plantings in Rheinhessen, Pfalz and particularly in Baden. Grauburgunder can produce medium acidic wines with aromas of stone fruit and tropical fruit with honey. Styles ranging from dry and medium bodied to fuller bodied and sweeter wines. Weissburgunder produces well balanced wines with medium+ acidity and delicate citrus and stone fruit aromas. 


🍇Chardonnay has actually only been allowed in Germany since 1990, there are also varietals such as Portugieser, Schwartzriesling (P Meunier), Trollinger and Lemberger which all make simple fruity young wines.



Winemaking in Germany

Most of Germany's wine regions fall within EU Zone A = upto 3% ABV enrichment allowed. Baden is Zone B = max 2% ABV enrichment. Deacidification and acidification are allowed but only in the hottest years. In terms of vessels for maturing and fermenting, the 1,000l Fuder of Mosel, the oval shaped 1,200l Stuck used along the Rhine are all used, as is German oak from Pfalz for large vessels, Central European oak sourced and barriques from French oak too. 


In the 60s and 70s all sweet producing wines were sweetened with Sussreserve (unfermented grape must) after fermenting wines to dry. Sweetening by RCGM can only be used for the Deutscher Wein level these days. 


There are 4 levels of quality of wines in Germany and can be outlined by increasing order of must weight - Deutscher Wein, Landwein, Qualitatswein and Pradikatswein. 


Deutscher Wein

Previously known as Tafelwein, wine without a geographical indication made from grapes grown in Germany. Alcohol levels between 8.5% ABV and 15% ABV. Tiny percentage of total wine produced.


Landwein

Introduced in 1982, the equivalent of German PGI wine. At least 85% of grapes originate in the Landwein region. Alcohol levels must be between 8.5% ABV and 15% ABV, mostly only produced in Trocken or Halbtrocken styles. 


Qualitatswein

A PDO category with less stringent regs than that of Pradikatswein. The grapes must come from 1 of 13 designated quality wine regions (Anbaugebiete). Min alcohol levels are 7% ABV with no maximum. Enrichment is permitted. Majority of everyday drinking wines come under this section. They must undergo lab analysis and a blind tasting prior to release. Passing gives them an 'AP' (Amtilche Prufunsnummer) number which needs to appear on the bottle. This 10 to 12 digit number outlines where the wine was tested, location of the vineyard and bottler's specifics. 


Pradikatswein

Pradikatswein is a PDO category level with more stringent regulations. Grapes must come from a Bereich (one of 40 recognised districts, smaller than Anbaugebiete). Usually associated with Riesling, in general this sector is usually half as much as the Qualitatswein in terms of production. 


6 levels of Pradikats defined by min must weight:

🍷🍇KABINETT - lowest must weight. Lightest body and highest in acidity. Dry to medium-sweet, aromas of green and citrus fruit.

🍷🍇SPATLESE - 'late picked', fully ripened grapes, usually picked 2 weeks later than Kabinett. Greater concentration of flavours, slightly higher alcohol levels and fuller body. Dry to medium-sweet with min alcohol 7% ABV.

🍷🍇AUSLESE - 'selected harvest' - specially selected grapes. Bunches carefully selected, hand harvested. Riper concentrated flavours, honey characteristics with some affected by botrytis . Last category where it can still be dry.

🍷🍇BEERENAUSLESE - 'selected berries' - individually selected berries, harvested by hand. Always sweet, min alcohol for all sweet wine levels is 5.5% ABV. With Riesling typically very ripe and dried stone fruits. Only produced in years where there is suitable conditions for noble rot to form. 

🍷🍇EISWEIN - must be picked when they are frozen at temps below -7 degrees. Harvest can take place anytime from December to February. Grapes must be pressed whilst still frozen. The grapes must be healthy. High acidity and concentrated, pure peach and grapefruit flavours.

🍷🍇 TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE - 'selected dried berries' , extremely high must weights where grapes have been affected by botrytis. Highly concentrated and extremely sweet. High acidity, yields very low with tiny volumes. 


In 1971, Germany produced wine laws outlining precise boundaries of vineyards. A number of BEREICHE (wine producing districts), individual vineyard sites called EINZELLAGEN and collective vineyard sites, GROSSLAGEN, were established. 


You will find the Einzellagen and Grosslagen names used only on the Qualitatswein and Pradikatswein labels and usually preceded by name of village. 


It can get complicated with labelling and one other legally defined term of note is LIEBFRAUMLICH - a medium dry white wine of Qualitatswein level with at least 18g/l residual sugar, containing at least 70% Riesling, Silvaner, Muller-Thurgau and Kerner.

Rheingau Charta was introduced in 1984 to promote dry wines from the best vineyards in Rheingau. The term ERSTES GEWACHS was used for best sites, using exclusively only Riesling or Spatburgunder, hand harvested grapes. In 1999 the Charta joined the VDP and so now the Erstes Gewachs can now be labelled as GG' Grosses Gewachs. 


Following us still?


To make it even more confusing, in Jan 2021 German wine law changed, AGAIN!!


The overall categories remain the same, Deutscher Wein (no geographical designation), Landwein (PGI, one of Germany's 26 landwein areas), Qualitatswein (PDO, defined origin and min must weight between 50-72 Oechsle), Pradikatswein (higher must 75-154 Oechsle). 



German Winemaking Regions


RHEINHESSEN - home to 1/4 of the total vines. Largest in terms of production. A warm, dry region, sheltered by the Hunsruck and Taunus mountains. Majority planted on valley floors - creating Liebfraumilch in high volumes. 73% white wine. Riesling the largest planted with Muller-Thurgau. East facing aspect vineyards so morning sun, with close proximity to the Rhine river.


PFALZ - a narrow strip of vineyards between the Haardt Mountains to the west and Rhine plain to the east. The region is north from Alsace - the Haardt are a continuation of the Vosges and give a rain shadow effect. The area under vine is only slightly smaller than Rheinhessen, with good potential in Dornfelder and Spatburgunder but still 67% Riesling planted. South and east facing steep sloped vineyards create fuller bodied Rieslings. 


BADEN - is split into lots of different districts. The main area is north of Heidelberg to the Swiss border in the south. It's mostly situated on the eastern side of the Rhine opposite Alsace and benefits from the Vosges rain shadow. Best known for its red wines = Spatburgunder. South facing near an extinct volcano (Kaiserstuhl) they create fullest bodied, high alcohol and complex reds with smoky ripe fruit flavours. Despite this, 61% is white production in Baden, Muller-Thurgau the most planted of white grapes.


WURTTEMBERG - located around Stuttgart to the east of Baden and south of Franken. Mainly light, fruity red wine production. 66% of plantations are black grapes with warmer summer temps. Most important of which to date are Trollinger, Lemberger and Schwartzriesling. 


MOSEL - One of the best known regions. Famous for its world class Rieslings. Whites making up 91% of production. Site selection essential. Dark coloured slate soils also help radiate heat. 3 regions: Upper Mosel, Middle Mosel (biggest) and Lower Mosel. Mosel Rieslings are paler in colour, lighter bodied, lower alcohol and higher acidity, with pronounced floral and green fruit aromas. Winters are cold enough to produce Eiswein. 


FRANKEN - The vineyards create a W-shape along the south facing slopes of the river Main and its tributaries. Franken has the most continental climate. White grapes account for 82%, principally Muller-Thurgau. Silvaner though is known here, early budding and early ripening, planted on chalky soils giving full bodied wines with floral and wet stone aromas. 


NAHE - Between Mosel and Rheinhessen. Predominantly a white region (77%), with 29% Riesling - slightly riper fruit and more body. Soils are mix of slate and sandstone, best vineyards are in the east, with south facing banks benefiting from influences of Rhine and Nahe rivers.


RHEINGAU - Small but highly prestigious region. Stretches from the Rhine at Wiesbaden to Lorchhausen, across the river from Rheinhessen. Protected by Taunus mountains. Also Rhine is 1km across here so slightly better frost protection. Primary focus is quality - yields are lower as a result. Best vineyards on steep slopes around Rudesheim, Geisenheim, Johannisberg, Hattenheim and Erbach. Whites dominate (86%) mostly made in dry styles. 


AHR - One of the smallest wine producing regions, with only 560ha. Also one of the most northerly, with black grapes dominating though (81%) mainly due to the river Ahr and dark slate and dark sandstone soils. Spatburgunder is known here.


Since 2010 the number of German wine businesses has fallen by 20%. Germany was one of the first countries to establish co-ops and whilst they are slightly reducing, it is still a major player. Despite the beer regime in Germany, it is the 4th largest consumer of wine in the world (20m hl in 2018). Exports though have diminished to 1ml hl per year by 2010 (halved from 2000s), major markets are still USA, Netherlands, UK and Scandinavia. 



ALSACE


Not in Germany and whilst it has changed hands over history with France and Germany, firmly resides as a French wine region today (from 1945). Mainly white wine producing region (90%), but with an unusually warm climate thanks to the protection from the Vosges mountains. 


Northerly latitude gives long growing seasons and with a continental climate with cold winters and warm, sunny summers works perfectly with Riesling. With only 600mm of rainfall a year! Another drying influence is the FOHN wind!

Best vineyards are 200-250m upto 450m in altitude.



GRAPE VARIETALS OF ALSACE


🍇 RIESLING - typically dry, medium to full body, medium alcohol, high acidity, with citrus (lemon, grapefruit) and stone fruit (peach) and pronounced stony/steely character.

🍇 GEWURTZTRAMINER - early budding and ripening varietal. Rapidly accumulates sugars, picked late to achieve ripe skins. Vigorous variety, does suffer coulure, as well as chlorosis, powdery mildew, grape vine moth and grey rot. Medium lemon colour, pronounced aromas of lychee, peach/apricot, rose and spice, medium to high alcohol, medium to full body and low to medium acidity. 

🍇PINOT BLANC and AUXERROIS - low intensity aromas of apple, peach, medium acidity and alcohol. 

🍇 PINOT GRIS - early budding and ripening, producing moderate yields, can suffer from botrytis bunch rot and downy mildew. Medium intensity aromas of peach and apple, full bodied and medium acidity. Rich oily texture with ageing brings honey and smoky notes. 

🍇 PINOT NOIR - Only black varietal allowed in AOC wines. 

🍇SYLVANER - in decline in Alsace. Wines typically come from old vines (40yrs or more).

🍇MUSCAT - small amounts.


One interesting difference in Alsace is typically the vines are trellised (single and double Guyot) but slightly higher off the ground to limit risk of frost with canopies also higher and wider spacing. Main pests and diseases are powdery mildew, downy mildew, grape vine moth and Esca. Nearly 35% of vineyards are organic. 


Maximum yields are 80hl/ha for Pinot Gris and Gewurtztraminer, 90hl/ha for Riesling and 100hl/ha for Pinot Blanc. Max yield for Pinot Noir is 60hl/ha.


Over 40% of Alsace wine is sold to co-ops, 71% of the wine is sold domestically. Biggest export markets are Belgium, USA and Germany. 



💡 TNWG Tips for German and Alsace Wines

1) Consumers can often be confused by labelling on German wines especially when looking at the different levels of sweetness in a wine. So EU labelling comes in handy:

Trocken = dry. No more than 4g/l residual sugar.

Halbtrocken = off dry. Wines between 4g/l and 12g/l residual sugar.

Lieblich = medium/medium sweet. Wines between 12g/l and 45g/l.

Suss = sweet. Wines with more than 45g/l.


2) Verband Deutscher Pradikatsweinguter (VDP) 

Founded in 1910, the VDP was originally a group of producers from Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Mosel - at the time called Naturweine. Today, the VDP has around 200 members with higher standards to uphold. Look out for the eagle bearing a bunch of grapes as a VDP logo on the wine capsule to see this elevated levels of wine. Over 1/5th are also certified organic.


There are also 4 categories of VDP: VDP Gutswein (regional wines, max yield 75hl/ha; VDP Ortswein (village wines, max yield 75hl/ha); VDP Erste Lage (first class vineyards, max yield 60hl/ha); VDP Grosse Lage (Grand cru, max yield 50hl/ha).


3) If you are eating a curry (Thai or Indian or versions on those) and you want to pair it with wine, you should look no further than Rieslings - always a great balance for me.



🗞️ LATEST DRINKS INDUSTRY ARTICLES 🗞️


TOP ARTICLE OF THE WEEK:

As a huge fan of Restaurant Story (quite simply one of the very best), I was keen to see this article in time for the new literal storey of the building in London. It didn't surprise me that added detail had gone into the wine list as well, given it probably has THE BEST music playlists of any similar establishments that I've ever found. The attention to detail is impressive and fully worth a read and then get booking a visit!


OTHER ARTICLES THAT CAUGHT MY EYE THIS WEEK:



📈 MARKETS IN BRIEF 📉


On the week (as at 31st May 12:45 LDN) changes:

EQUITIES: ⬇️ FTSE 100 down 0.5%; ⬇️ DAX down 0.7%; ⬇️ S&P 500 down 1%; ⬇️ Nikkei 225 down 1.6%; ⬇️ Dow Jones down 2.5%;

COMMODITIES: ⬆️ Brent Oil up 0.9% ; ⬆️ Crude Oil up 0.7% ; ⬆️ Gold up 1%; ⬆️ Silver up 2.6%; ⬇️ Copper down 3.2%

BONDS (in yield terms): ⬇️ UK 2yrs lower 0.007%; ⬆️ UK 10yrs higher 0.1245%; ⬆️ German 10yrs higher 0.1105%, ⬆️ US 2yrs higher 0.059%; ⬆️ US 10yrs higher 0.074%;


Market scepticism continues to grow for cutting cycles to commence and markets are pricing out the curve, interest rate cuts from the DM markets as a result, plus less of them more crucially. Equities didn't have a great week, as Sunak announces he would like to see National Service and Trump's hearing ends in a guilty verdict. Mix that together with some interesting US headline data and higher core inflation in Europe to wrap up the week and it's a conflicting outlook both for the future of government as well as timing of interest rate cuts.


The market (and I tend to agree) are suggesting the first rate cut by the ECB won't be this June meeting and so with that, gives more credence to the idea that all the main 3 markets are holding off till a later date. That being said, the ECB still looks to be the frontrunner for cutting action to commence, whilst the US now could even see zero cuts this year (the market has priced 1 for now), given the timing of the presidential elections post summer.


From here for me, UK property has been reduced to bare bones with a feeling that the property market is treading water and with interest rates still high, still reducing the buyer contingent. (Why wouldn't you hold off, if you think rates will be lower for mortgages towards the back end of the year?). US equities still feel like a strong hold, it is an oversubscribed position but with Nvidia's latest results giving the tech sector a boost, it would be prudent to remain long near term. Short end UK gilts look appealing as a short term buy to hold strategy, more to come on this in later weeks.



📢📢 ANNOUNCEMENTS 📢📢


💥💥 The BIG NEWS of the week, was announced over the Bank Holiday Weekend, but The Andy and Olly Show is now looking to make their own wine in Spain!!! Very exciting, this is a dream project and something which we are both very excited to get into and whilst it may well still be a while before you see our wines in bottle and available for sale, do watch out for updates on our progress.


🎙️The podcast, The Northern Wine Guy Podcast Show continues to bring in big players in the wine industry, this week we had the pleasure of speaking to Michaela Morris, 'the voice' on Italian wines.


Also keep an eye out for the latest release which will shortly be dropping, which sees The Northern Wine Guy speak to the legend that is Sarah Knowles MW @ - Buyer for The Wine Society (The International Exhibition Co-operative Wine Society Limited) 


Future guests are looking very impressive on both shows too - so keep an eye out on the page and Instagram for new releases, or follow The Andy and Olly Show and The Northern Wine Guy Podcast Show on podcast apps!


Have a great weekend all!


Cheers! 🥂

Andy a.k.a. The Northern Wine Guy

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