Howdy pardners, happy new year! How’s that hangover treating ya? If you still have one now, a week later, then I tip my hat to you.
Still too soon to drink wine, I bet. Let’s learn about it instead. Kind of an educational hair of the dog, if you will. By the end of this I guarantee you’ll be thirsty again. You’re welcome.
Week four! This is where we leave the science behind (sort of) and move to full on geography. From this week onwards the classes will be zeroing in on specific regions and the fruit they grow there. I was particularly pumped about this week (especially when I arrived at class and saw six tasting glasses all lined up and ready to go). This week was the week of my love, Riesling. And some other grapes, but I don’t know if I have the word count to go into them. Let’s find out, shall we?
First stop on our geographical tour is the Alsace region in France. If you look at a map you’ll see it’s this skinny little line hugging Germany on one side and the Vosges mountains on the other. The Vosges mountains are Alsace’s best friend, coz they protect the vineyards from rain and other unfavourable weather conditions, allowing the region a long, dry, sunny growing season and the ability to grow my best friend, Riesling.
The wines in Alsace are all single varietal, meaning they’re made from one type of grape, not twenty as you sometimes see, and if the varietal appears on the label, the wine must be 100% that grape – in other regions, the benchmark is 85% for you to slap the word on the bottle. Tough crowd, Alsace. Alsace Grand Cru is even tougher – the wines must be made from one of four ‘noble’ varieties, which are Riesling (<3), Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Gris. The term Grand Cru is a bit of a contentious one in Alsace. Grand Cru, for the uninitiated (or un-French) literally means ‘great growth’ and is used to indicate the very best vineyard parcels of a region. It’s a pretty prestigious designation, but in Alsace there are mutterings that the area covered by ‘Grand Cru’ is way too big and includes some less-than-incredible bits of land. Idk. I’m still too much of a wine idiot to know if that’s true or not, but I do love a bit of drama. Alsatian Rieslings are usually medium to full-bodied and dry, with citrus and stone fruit flavours. Yum.
There was also a labelling upheaval in 2021 in Alsace. Alsace is a region that does it all – dry wines, sweet wines, everything-in-between wines. Because of this variation, it wasn’t always possible to tell what kind of wine you were buying, unless you tasted it first (possible if you were on a vineyard in France, not possible if you’re in an aisle at Sainsbury’s). So now vignerons must indicate the level of sweetness on their wine labels: sec (dry), demi-sec (medium-dry), moelleux (mellow) or doux (sweet). So much DRAMA. But we can’t dwell here, we’ve got to head over the border to…
Germany. Ah, Germany. I could write this entire post about Germany (and I probably should, if only for revision purposes, as it was heavily implied that Germany will come up in the exam because the examiners know what a tricky little son-of-a it is) but I won’t. As ever, I’m gonna give you the headlines.
The best sites in Germany can be found on steep, stony, south-facing slopes, to make the most of all the heat and sunlight they can get given the country’s cool climate. The sites have to be worked by hand, an expensive endeavour. There are some vineyards in Mosel that are so dizzingly steep they’ve been abandoned, because the costs of running them got so high that the actual price of the wine would have been beyond what anyone would pay. When you think about what some richies pay for wine, it must have been pretty darn expensive. Some people do like to make life hard for themselves. But thank god they do, because if they didn’t we wouldn’t have…
Prädikatswein! These are Germany’s best wines, and must have a minimum must weight (amount of sugar in the grapes). They MUST have it. Geddit? Sorry. There are six levels of sweetness within Prädikatswein, but I’m not going to name them all here because that would just be showing off. You really want to know? Ah, you’ve twisted my arm. Here goes…
Kabinett* (dry) --> Spätlese (late harvest) --> Auslese (specially selected) --> Beerenauslese (specially selected BERRIES) --> Eiswein (I feel like you can probably work that one out) --> Trockenbeerenauslese (specially selected DRIED berries). Phew. Mouthful, that one. Flavours range from delicate and floral to peachy and full, from bone-dry to sweet. Suffice to say, they’re all yum.
*I looked up why Kabinett wines are named as such and it literally means ‘wine to be set aside in a cabinet’, i.e. a wine of superior quality kept to one side for later sale. Isn’t learning cool?
Germany being Germany, some producers weren’t satisfied with their bottles just being labelled Prädikatswein. They wanted to distinguish themselves even more. So they banded together and formed the VDP, initials which stand for a very long German word that I won't misspell here. The members of the VDP have classified their vineyards and they include some of the best sites in the country. They also adhere to very strict rules (GERMANY!) and as a reward, they get to emboss an eagle and a little bunch of grapes on their bottles. What a flex.
There are about fifteen thousand tiny towns in Germany whose names and grapes I’ll have to memorise someday, but since the exam isn’t for several months I’m going to make that a later-me problem. The lecture also made brief pitstops in Austria and Hungary, but I know you’re dying to get to this week’s recommendations, so I’m going to skip over them. No offence, guys.
Each week we get to taste a bunch of wines, to test our abilities to discern their appearance, their flavour and their quality, from poor to outstanding. Five out of the six wines we tasted this week were deemed ‘outstanding’. Sometimes I can’t believe I get paid to do this. Speaking of outstanding, here are some of my favourites from this week’s regions. Why are they all Rieslings, you ask? Coz I'm obsessed.
Here's a gorge dry number from Pfalz in Germany, aka one of the towns I'm supposed to know about. This one's a hun from the Alsace, and here's a sweetie from Nahe. Not too sweet, just sweet enough. Like me? Who said that?
Enjoy your New Year's headache and catch ya next week.