How much do we know of modern German wine? In this five-part series Chris Losh visits the winemakers that are reshaping the country’s landscape, and debunks some worn-out clichés in the process
Cliché I: Germany is all about white wines
It is in a sense, of course, in that it’s the spiritual home of the majestic Riesling. But there’s a shift taking place. In the 1980s, Germany had an 80:20 split between white and red wines; now that’s more like 65:35 – and the move to reds is continuing.
The change isn’t coming at the expense of Riesling, whose numbers are solid, but of Müller Thurgau – the largely unloved workhorse behind Liebfraumilch – whose numbers are disappearing faster than a Brexiteer’s promise.
Plantings of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) have grown by 50% in the last 20 years, and are showing no sign of stopping. If current trends continue, it will be the country’s second-biggest grape variety in a few years’ time. Pub quiz fact: Germany is the third-biggest grower of Pinot Noir in the world, after France and the USA.
Interestingly, other big winners in the Great German Grape Lottery over the last 20 years have been fellow ‘Burgundy’ grapes Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weißburgunder (Pinot Blanc). Climate change is almost certainly a factor in all of this, more of which later, but it can be surprising how hot a slatey terraced south-facing vineyard can be.
Jean Stodden, who makes sublime Pinots up in the Ahr Valley, reckons his Herrenberg vineyard, where giant chunks of slate absorb the heat and radiate it back up onto the vines like a waffle grill, can get up to 50°C. He sends his pickers home at lunchtime before they expire. Sebastian Fürst in Franken even talks about acidifying and doing stem work to add fresher, greener elements to some wines that would otherwise, he feels, be lacking in balance. It’s safe to say that no one was talking about whole-bunch fermentation 20 years ago.