White Wines of Germany
Some of the finest, the most delectable white wines in the world come from the beautiful vineyards along the borders of the Rhine and are known as Hock in English. The wines of Moselle and Franconia are often lighter.
from the districts of:
Schlossjohannisberg*, Winkel, Oestrich, Erbach, Eltville, Rudesheimer
Nierstieiner Domtal, Niersteiner Auflangen*, Dienheimer, Oppenheimer, Mettenheimer, Laubenheimer
Bad Kreuznach, Niederhatiser, Schloss Bockelheim
Deidesheimer, Wachenheimer, Bad Durkheimer
from the area of the Moselle, and the Saar and Ruwer Rivers:
Bernkasteler Riesling, Bernkasteler Doktor*, Bernkasteler Doktor und Graben, Trittenheimer, Piesporter, Brauneberger, Zeltinger
from the district about Wurzburg on the River Main:
Steinwein, Iphofen, Randersacker, Wurzburg (Leisten)
*=very fine and very costly
This table groups together the three main types of German wine, the chief areas from which they come, and gives the names of just a few of the individual wines within each type. Since there are 10,000 vineyards, and over 150,000 wine growers, German wines are a very complicated subject, especially as there can be great variety even within one vineyard. However, here is a little more detail.
The name ‘Hock’ is an anglicized diminutive of Hockheim, the old city three miles upstream on the River Main before it joins the Rhine. It was at Hockheim, in 1850, that Queen Victoria gave her name to a vineyard providing her choice of wine — Koningen-Viktoria-Berg, and it may still be bought in Britain at a reasonable price.
From the Rheingau, the area to which the Hockheim vineyards belong, come the finest and costliest of Hocks, full-bodied, flavoury, delicately fragrant and long-living. Almost all of them are made from the Reisling grape — which is very often named on the label on the bottle, and usually means that the contents of that bottle will be expensive!
The route below the Rheingau vineyards is surrounded by some of the most splendid scenery in Europe, and winds through villages of great charm, all of them bearing the names of famous wines — Johannisberg, Winkel, Oestrich, Erbach, Eltville and Rudesheim. This last is a very popular summer resort, famed for its succulent sausages and the vigour of its singing in the gay wein stubes.
Rheinhessen, on the left bank of the Rhine, is-a larger area than Rheingau, stretching along the right bank of the river, and the Hocks which it produces are rather less delicate. Maybe its greatest claim to fame is that it yields the best-known and (certainly in Britain) most popular of all German wines — Liebfraumilch.
The name comes from the Liebfrauenstift vineyard, close to the old church at Worms called the Liebfrauenkirche, but it has been freely used for blends of wines coming from places that may be far away from Worms. Even so, a remarkably good quality has been maintained over many years. Now, under new laws taking effect from the 1971 vintage, Liebfraumilch must be a blend of grapes grown in Rheinhessen, Nahe or the Palatinate, not just any German white wine, and this, unfortunately, is bound to put the price up. Almost as popular as Liebfraumilch i Britain and other countries, too, is Niersteiner, from Nierstein, also in Rheinhessen. (The name of a village or area with ‘er’ added to it becomes the name of its wine: Nierstein/Niersteiner, Bernkastel/Bernkasteler.) All the neighbourhood families depend, directly or indirectly, on the vines, and as there are some 500 individual owners of vineyards, quality naturally varies. At the relatively cheap end of the scale is Niersteiner Domtal (Domtal is the name of a district, not a vineyard), which is fresh and agreeably flowery. Like other inexpensive Niersteiners, it is a good companion for fish, and may be drunk right through a meal by anyone who prefers white wine to red. At the other end of the price scale is the rare and beautiful wine from a single vineyard, like Niersteiner Auflangen Riesling Feinste Auslese. The German words are a brief ‘biography’ of the wine: Niersteiner is the district, Auflangen the name of the vineyard, and ‘Riesling Feinste Auslese’ means ‘Made from finest selected bunches of Riesling grapes’.
Wines from the Palatinate are heavier in flavour and bouquet than other Rhine wines. Their prices vary very much: a Deidesheimer, for example, can be very reasonable, and a Wachenheimer Gerumpel Riesling Trockenbeeren Auslese can be more than ten times more expensive. The latter wine is a rarity, made from selected grapes, virtually picked one by one; the last three words in the name tell you, in fact, that the wine is made from specially selected bunches of Riesling grapes which have been allowed to shrivel like raisins. The Riesling is used for these splendid wines, but the predominant grape in Rheinhessen is the Sylvaner.
The quantities of German wine may be tiny compared with those from other European wine-producing areas, but the variety is really remarkable. The greatest of the Hocks have a luscious, heady opulence, whereas the Moselles are summery, fresh and crisp, so that they often produce a tingle on the tongue. In colour, they are a lighter gold than the Hocks, and have a faint green tinge. Their acidity is quite high and their alcoholic content fairly low.
The Moselle vineyards are on mountain slopes, terraced to hold the slatey soil, and work is hard, because the use of machinery on the steep hillsides is almost impossible. The Riesling is virtually the only grape grown in the whole area. Most of the familiar wines come from the Middle Moselle, between Trittenheim and Alf — this is the home of Bernkasteler, Piesporter, Brauneberger, Wehlener and Zeltinger.
Bernkasteler Riesling is one of the most popular, not only because it is light and inexpensive, but because Bernkastel itself is such a delightful town. After King Edward VII’s doctor had recommended Bernkasteler Doktor to him, it achieved such fame that the demand unfortunately became impossible to meet. However, it is possible to find a Bernkasteler Doktor und Graben (Graben is the vineyard next to Doktor).
And there are some very admirable characteristic and reasonably-priced Bernkastel wines available — Deinhard’s popular Bernkasteler Green Label, for example, which is comparable in price and quality to an equally well known brand-name Hock — Liebfraumilch Crown of Crowns, from Langenbach. Wines from Piesport are also favourites abroad, particularly Piesporter Goldtropfchen. Wines from this district tend to display a tarry flavour and this gives them fullness.
The best known of all, outside Germany, is the Steinwein from Wurzburg. It is dry, even austere, with a more robust flavour but a fainter bouquet than other German white wines. It is bottled in a flat, oval green flask, a bocksbutel. Generally, though, Franconian wines are light, delicate, fragrant and dry to medium dry. The grape most used in the area is the Sylvaner.
The provinces of Baden and Wurttemberg, and the area about the Bodensee, near to the Swiss border, produce between them a quarter of Germany’s output of wine, using a mixture of Riesling and Sylvaner grapes, but almost all of it is drunk locally.
Main Types of Grape
RIESLING: Used in making almost all the fine Moselles and Rheingau Hocks.
SYLVANER: Used for cheaper wines. Has very pronounced bouquet and taste. Predominant Rheinhessen grape.
TRAMINER: Used particularly in the Palatinate, for full, scented wines tending to sweetness.