The Wines of Germany: An Overview

Since the time of the Romans, Germany has been producing wine. At one time German wine was even more expensive than the finest French wine. Like French wine, the roots of the German wine industry were formed by the careful tending of monks, who, removed from the daily struggles of life, were able to focus their energies upon discovering how best to grow and make wine.

The thirteen wine regions of Germany are almost entirely clustered along the banks of the Rhine River, which flows from Switzerland north and east into the North Sea. German vineyards are located on steep south-facing slopes, in a few valleys and almost always close to a river which tempers the climate, acting as a heat reflector, which helps to maintain a constant temperature day and night. These conditions have proven well-suited for the production of white wines. Some reds are made but they are rarely exported and are dwarfed by the reputation of the whites. Germany is famous for its sweet wines although 50% of the wine produced is either dry or semidry. In fact, most average Germans drink dry whites but the international market has never developed a taste for them. The most common grape is Riesling, though historically many grapes were used. Typically, off-dry Riesling is what the consumer will find when shopping for exported German wine. One great trait of German Riesling is that they usually only have about 8% alcohol which is almost half the amount of alcohol that the average bottle of wine contains.

Because Germany has a cooler climate often the finished wines involve quite a bit of human intervention. These methods have been refined through the ages and are an integral part of production. The wines are completely dry after fermentation and so the winemaker must decide how much unfermented grape juice to add, preferably the juice is of the same grape and origin but no doubt this is not always done, especially with the cheaper higher production wines.

Another important aspect of German wine production is the importance of rot, known scientifically as botrytis, a fungus which grows on grapes left sitting long after they're fully ripe. The fungus serves to intensify the grape's natural flavors and results in extremely concentrated juice. Wines produced by this method are the pride of German wine making though the highest honors are reserved for the wines known as eiswein or ice wine. These are made from grapes that have partially or fully frozen on the vine. The winemaker then squeezes out the little, heavily concentrated juice that remains. Quantities are miniscule and the prices for these rare bottlings are astronomical.

The German wine industry is currently on an upswing as consumers rediscover just how wonderful these wines can be. The industry was virtually destroyed by the effects of the two World Wars. Also contributing to the decline in popularity was the shifting consumer preference for dryer wines. Often in the past sugar was used to cover up deficiencies in the raw materials but many responsible winemakers are returning to the labor intensive, small production techniques that made German wines so popular in the past.  German wines, due to low demand in the past eighty years, are usually very fairly priced. This is changing however, as quality has improved and sales have picked up. The days when German wine prices rival French prices might be returning all too soon.

Information is for educational and informational purposes only and is not be interpreted as financial or legal advice. This does not represent a recommendation to buy, sell, or hold any security. Please consult your financial advisor.