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German wines beyond Riesling

The country has much to offer, with the elegant Spätburgunder and the sparkling Sekt

Germany focuses on varietal wines.
Germany focuses on varietal wines. (Pixabay)

The first name that comes to mind when one mentions German wines is a fine Riesling. “But, there is much to discover,” says Sonal Holland who holds the distinguished title of Master of Wine, one that’s especially useful if a sommelier works in the international wine trade.  She goes on to pick a few: The light-bodied German Pinot Noir known as Spätburgunder; the easy-drinking Pinot Blanc; the elegant Pinot Gris or Grauburgunder that has a hint of pink; and Silvaner, which comes in a unique green, flattened circular bottle with a long neck, called bocksbeutel.

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As a fan of the floral and delicate Spätburgunder, Holland believes it’s the lightest Pinot Noir of all. It’s also a case study in how learning about wine is not limited to flavour and aroma; but has a broader scope involving etymology, geography and climate.  The etymology of the German Pinot Noir indicates its origin. Spät means late ripening and burgunder refers to the world famous wine region of Burgundy in France. With France as the neighbour in the south-west, separated by the Rhine river, it isn’t surprising that most of Germany’s viticulture is concentrated in this area, and it yields  the best Spätburgunder.

“In Germany, it’s all about varietal wines. This means wines made from a single grape which can stand out and holds its own in the bottle. So, you will only get high-quality grapes, like Riesling and Spätburgunder, which grow well in the cool climate,” explains wine writer and educator Ruma Singh.

Among the whites,  Holland makes a special mention of the Silvaner, specifically from the Franken region. The area has an interesting backstory. Its mineral-rich  soil formed over centuries and dates back to the  age of great extinction—the Triassic period about 250 million years ago—that lends immense characteristic to German wines today. “It produces extremely powerful, rich and mineral-tinted wines with amazing floral, herbal, pear-like aromas. Only in the Franken region, Silvaner finds its true expression; anywhere else, they are fairly neutral and unremarkable. I tasted some and they were so good.” It’s available in small quantities, and is almost impossible to find outside Germany (giving you one more reason to visit the country).'

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In the world of celebratory bottles, Italy has Prosecco, France has champagne, Spain has Cava and Germany, Sekt. Those who wish to learn more about German wines, Singh’s recommendation is the ‘wonderful book’ The wines of Germany by Anne Krebiehl, MW (Master of Wine).  “She loves her Sekt,” shares Singh.

Handy advice, shared by Holland, in picking German wines is to look for the alphabets VDP, short for Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, on the label. It is symbolised by a small eagle with a cluster of grapes representing its body, stamped on the side of the cap. VDP is an association of wine producers from the country and the bottles—Holland says most of  them are dry —stamped with it are regarded as among the highest-quality products from the top vineyards. It’s a useful tip for your next trip abroad, or while shopping for wines in duty free. The elegant German Pinot Noir, Spätburgunder, is available with select retailers in India, and one of them is Wine Park in Mumbai. 

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