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home > food & wine dictionary > Germany

Food and Wine Dictionary

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Germany's approach to wine is somewhat different from that of other European countries like France and Italy because Germans aren't as focused on wine-the simple fact is that Germans prefer beer. In fact, German per capita wine consumption is less than one-third of either France or Italy. Yet Germany is considered a negative producer because it consumes more wine than it makes, whereas Italy and France produce more wine than they drink. The cool climate in Germany makes it overwhelmingly a white-wine producer (and all their best wines are white) because red grapes don't ripen well under such conditions. The main grape varieties for white wines are MÜLLER-THURGAU, RIESLING, and SYLVANER, which, respectively, represent about 25 percent, 20 percent, and 10 percent of the country's total planted acreage. Other white varieties include BACCHUS, EHRENFELSER, ELBLING, FABER, GEWÜRZTRAMINER, Gutedel (CHASSELAS), HUXELREBE, KERNER, MORIO-MUSKAT, OPTIMA, ORTEGA, Rülander (PINOT GRIS), SCHEUREBE, and Weissburgunder (PINOT BLANC). The main red varieties are PORTUGIESER, Spätburgunder (PINOT NOIR), and Trollinger (SCHIAVA). Riesling is by far the star of the German wines. Germany's approach to promoting wine quality is different from other APPELLATION systems, such as France's APPELLATION D'ORIGINE CONTRÔLÉE and Italy's DENOMINAZIONE DI ORIGINE CONTROLLATA. Appellations in other countries are geographic in nature and have specific regulations controlling each area. Germany, however, chose to base their wine quality on levels of ripeness and sweetness of the grapes. The focus on sugar content embodies the theory that grapes with higher sugar levels are riper and therefore yield richer wines with deep colors, intense flavors, and opulent BOUQUETS. The German wine laws adapted in 1971 set up three categories for defining the quality of German wines. DEUTSCHER TAFELWEIN (DTW) is the lowest-quality level followed by QUALITÄTSWEIN BESTIMMTER ANBAUGEBIET (QbA)-"quality wine from a specified region" and the top level, QUALITÄTSWEIN MIT PRÄDIKAT (QmP)-"quality wine with distinction." Within the premier QmP category, there are six subcategories that ranked from lowest to highest are: KABINETT, SPÄTLESE, AUSLESE, BEERENAUSLESE, EISWEIN, and TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE. CHAPTALIZATION (the addition of sugar) is allowed for DTW and QbA wines but not for QmP wines. It's one of the major differences between the quality levels-most grapes with enough natural sugar are reserved for QmP wines. The addition of sugar, which is converted into alcohol during FERMENTATION, allows producers to reach the required minimum alcohol levels for a DTW or QbA wine. If a quality wine (QbA or QmP) passes all its requirements, an AMTLICHE PRÜFUNGSNUMMER (official test number) is assigned. Abbreviated as A.P.Nr., this number is printed on the label, along with name of the ANBAUGEBIET. Additional information may be printed on a quality-wine label if other requirements are met. For instance, the name of the grape variety can be included if 85 percent of the grapes used in the wine are of one variety. Compared to French and Italian wines, those from Germany are generally lower in ALCOHOL (ranging from about 81/2 to 11 percent) and usually contain at least some RESIDUAL SUGAR. The higher-quality wines-such as Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese-are quite sweet. Recently, there's been a trend toward making more of the DTW, QbA, and Kabinett wines in a less sweet style-either TROCKEN (DRY) or HALBTROCKEN (half-dry). Though Germany's appellation system isn't based on it, geography does come into play. The top two categories, QbA and QmP, must come from specific growing areas. Germany has developed a structure for defining the growing areas-from large general regions to specific vineyard sites. A large general growing region for quality wines is called an ANBAUGEBIET. There are now thirteen of these regions, and their regional name is required on labels of quality wines (QbA and QmP). German law established eleven of these Anbaugebiete in 1971 in an effort to meet European Common Market rules. The original eleven Anbaugebiete are: AHR, BADEN, FRANKEN, HESSISCHE BERGSTRASSE, MITTELRHEIN, MOSEL-SAAR-RUWER, NAHE, RHEINGAU, RHEINHESSEN, RHEINPFALZ, and WÜRTTEMBERG. Two more Anbaugebiete were recently added from the former East Germany-SAALE-UNSTRUT and SACHSEN. Except for Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen, all of Germany's primary growing regions are located along the Rhine River or one of its tributaries. Each Anbaugebiet may be further divided into BEREICHE (districts), GROSSLAGEN (general sites), and EINZELLAGEN (individual sites or vineyards). An Einzellage could be compared to a specific GRAND CRU or PREMIER CRU vineyard site in France's BURGUNDY region that's recognized for a history of producing high-quality wines. There are about 2,1436 Einzellagen throughout Germany. The names of specific towns and villages with decade-old reputations for wine-producing prowess are also important in the world of German wines. On German wine labels the name of the town or village (often appended with an er, which converts it to an adjective) precedes the name of the GROSSLAGE or EINZELLAGE. For example, the Einzellage named Mäuerchen associated with the village named Geisenheim appears on the label as Geisenheimer Mäuerchen, while the Grosslage named Auflangen associated with the town of Nierstein appears as Niersteiner Auflangen. If an Einzellage is classified as an ORTSTEIL, it doesn't need the nearest village's name.

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Material adapted from the The New Food Lover's Companion

© Copyright Barron's Educational Services, Inc. 1995 based on
THE FOOD LOVER'S COMPANION, 2nd edition, by Sharon Tyler Herbst.

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