"If you think you know German wine, drink again" ran the slogan of an advertising campaign in the UK a few years ago. Consumers, it seemed needed persuading but a succession of good vintages, the enthusiastic advocacy of wine writers such as Jancis Robinson and the appearance of a broader selection of German wines on the lists of an increasing number of London’s top restaurants seems to be finally stimulating an appetite for these most underrated of wines.
But the process is slow which is why I and an international group of food and wine journalists recently found ourselves on a trip to Germany’s southernmost wine regions to see some of the up and coming talent for ourselves.
The topography of southwestern Germany certainly differs from northern regions such as the Mosel, Mittelrhein and Ahr: the north has vines growing on steeper slopes along the river valleys, whereas the south has much more variable topographical conditions, from flat farmland to gentle rolling hills - and some impressively steep valleys too!
More crucially, the southwest is home to some of Germany's most promising young winemakers. The up and coming "Generation Riesling" has experience of viticulture from both inside Germany and abroad.
Germany has enjoyed consistently good vintages since 2001, due in no small part to that looming meteorological albatross - global warming. As Ernst Buscher, a spokesman for the German Wine Institute told me, global warming is having a generally beneficial effect, helping grapes achieve a level of ripeness they haven’t always done in the past. (even though there are worries that the distinctive Kabinett style will become an increasing rarity)
It’s also made it viable for many more of Germany's top producers to convert hectare after hectare of conventionally grown grapes to organic grapes. With support from the EU, Germany is now at the vanguard of the organic wine movement, and the GWI predicts there will be 5000 hectares of organic production by 2013, almost half the total vineyard area.
So here below are the 10 wines which stood out for me, some of them really outstanding bargains. Unfortunately none is currently available for retail in the UK, but orders can be placed directly with the vintners. Or make that an excuse to visit these beautiful wine regions and pick them up for yourselves! I’ll be suggesting a route for a wine-trip in the next couple of weeks.
*Prinz zu Salm - Dalberg'sches Weingute*
+ 49 6706 9444 0
Tucked away in the picturesque Nahe village of Wallhausen, Prinz Salm's weingut (wine estate) has been producing wine since 1200, and is the oldest family-owned wine estate in Germany. A member of the young winemaker and chef group "Nahe Talente", Prinz Constantin zu Salm (right) is the 32nd generation of Schloss Wallhausen winemakers in the region.
1) 2007 Riesling Kabinett
At €8 this is the estate's bestseller with good minerality and classic citrus notes: a great food wine - would go well with a roasted chicken stuffed with couscous, apricots, lemons and pistachios. Also excellent with cold lobster, crab or scallops that have been given an Asian twist.
2) 2007 Riesling Spatlese
A steal at €11, this off-dry sptlese would match with spicy, fragrant foods such as Thai curry, or with a light strawberry dessert
+49 6244 349
This organic wine estate, run by father and son Walter and Tobias Zimmer (pictured right) is at the heart of Westhofen in Rheinhessen. Dating back to 1466, the estate joined the "Federal Association of Ecological Viticulture" in 1991 and now has 25 hectares of organically grown grapes.
3) 2005 Gewurztraminer Trockenbeerenauslese - Westhofener Kirchspiel (Organic)
2005 was a good year for this trockenbeerenauslese: a powerfully fragrant sweet wine with enough acidity to keep it fresh and invigorating on the palate. At €26, it's not cheap, but worth every penny. This would pair well with exotic, sweeter desserts, such as lychee or passionfruit tarts or a classic apple and cinnamon strudel
+49 6345 3539
Walking through the steep valley of Peter Siener's vines it's easy to see why his wines have such strong minerality - the soil is predominantly slate, which is unusual in the Pfalz region, but he also produces a Riesling grown on sandstone - much fruitier and more acidic than the slate-grown grapes on the hotter side of the valley. I preferred the sandstone version below. (Siener is pictured right)
4) 2007 Birkweiler Kastanienbusch Taschberg Riesling Trocken
This is named after the kastanien (chestnut) bushes growing near the vines, a really subtle, elegant example of a dry Riesling, with good fruit and light minerality. Great with grilled white fish such as a sea bream, seasoned very simply with lemon, salt and pepper, on a bed of sorrel leaves with some cooked broad beans: a match made in heaven
Heidelberger Strasse 100
+49 7251 16719
Another organic wine estate, the Klumpp family - also a father and son operation - have 23 hectares of vines and have been fully organic since 1990. Young winemaker Markus Klumpp (right) consciously keeps the acidity slightly higher in his wines to allow them to stay fresh during ageing. His wines sell out within half a year of release - not bad for a wine estate in a region best known for its beer festivals!
5) 2007 Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris)
Grauburgunder is the predominant grape in Baden. Retailing at €7.50, this is a full-bodied and zesty wine, tempered by five months in small oak casks. It's well-rounded enough that it can handle a variety of foods: think grilled chicken salad, light saltwater fish or pale game.
6) 2006 Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) "SK"
If you think German Pinot Noirs lack the finesse and elegance of their Burgundy namesakes, think again. At €25 this Pinot was the best red we tasted - full of classic wild strawberry on the nose, earthy notes and enough oak to balance the fruit, with a suggested ageing of 8-12 years - although sadly only two barrels were made! Would be perfect with roasted game such as venison or pheasant.
7) 2007 Scheurebe
A relatively modern hybrid between Silvaner and Riesling, Scheurebe has tropical notes, often perfumed with blackcurrant. A versatile wine, drink as an aperitif or marry happily with light game, or a tart passionfruit pudding. A steal at €12
Am Buehl 6
+49 781 41238Andreas Laible (right) was recently nominated Young German Wine Maker of 2008. The estate's steep vineyards are also in southern Germany's Baden region. These are excellent conditions for grapes such as Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc), Pinot Noir, Scheurebe and a local variety of Traminer. Although Baden isn't a traditional growing region for Riesling, this young winemaker is producing some lovely examples with strong mineral character
8) 2007 Riesling Auslese
This is a fabulous sipping wine - I could quite happily have spent the whole afternoon nursing it! A great example of the German expression "Riesling, one grape - many possibilities"! (€16.50)
9) 2007 Scheurebe Spatlese Trocken
Lots of citrus character here: grapefruit, clementine, with an elderflower, cardamom twist. Luscious, would be a superb match with Indian dishes, or indeed with a fresh goats cheese and citrus salad (€10)
10) 2007 Clevner Traminer Spatlese Trocken
Tramin, originally named after the Tyrolean village with the same name, is referred to as Clevner in Baden. This is a tremendous wine (€9.50) bursting with classic rose aromas, so fragrant and seductive - yet clean, crisp and refreshing. A glorious example of a versatile wine: it's almost best sipped as an aperitif, but would match extremely well with Middle-Eastern or North African food, particularly with rose harissa seasoning
Signe Johansen is a young Norwegian food writer and cook who is about to embark on a MA in food anthropology