German Wine Labels

Many people are confused or put off by the amount of more or less opaque information on German labels. So, here is a rough guide to help you decode them, which also is a good starting point for learning about the wines. You may consult an example label to go with this guide. There is a lot that German label tell the consumer, but there is also plenty they do not say or where they can easily mislead unsuspecting buyers. The following items of informations should be found:

Producer: the name of the estate should be prominent on the label, as the producer is the most crucial factor for the quality of the product. Look for the term "Erzeugerabfüllung", or the new, more strictly defined "Gutsabfüllung", which indicates a wine bottled by the producer/estate. Wines not labelled thus are best left alone. (The Regions sections contain lists of the best growers.) Grape variety: this should be indicated, but not always is so in the lower qualities. If it is not the variety will be inferior, possibly a blend of them (Müller Thurgau and worse). Legally a wine needs only to contain 85% of the declared variety, and the remaing 15% are a matter of trust unfortunately. The classic variety is Riesling, but some others can be good too. (See Grape Varieties for more.) Quality/Ripeness level: there is an ascending hierarchy of ripeness levels, which are determined mainly (though not exclusively) by the sugar content of the grapes before fermentation, their must weights. It is thus somewhat confusing to call them "quality levels" as more sugar alone does not make a better wine but only a sweeter or a more alcoholic one. The lowest qualities, Landwein and Tafelwein are normally best avoided. The next level is "Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete" (QbA), which can be of descent quality. Occaisonally though, very fine wines are sold as QbA's, or even Tafelwein, if they violate additional legal restrictions, for example by using new oak barrels. Chaptalisation is allowed for QbA's. No such addition of sugar is allowed for "Qualitätswein mit Prädikat" (QmP), which comes in 6 levels (the "Prädikate"/attributes). They are in ascending order of must weights: Kabinett < Spätlese < Auslese < Beerenauslese (BA) and Eiswein (ice wine) < Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) The extreme must weights of BA's and TBA's (and some Auslesen) are achieved by using botrytised grapes (see picture). Eiswein is made from naturally frozen grapes. Additional Subdivisions: The various levels are often further subdivided by means such as (shorter/longer) gold capsules or various numbers of stars on the label. These indicators have no legal definition and can mean different things for different producers. The use of gold capsules for the best Auslesen (GKA) is quite sensible because this category covers a particular wide range of ripeness degrees, yielding wines of rather diverging style. Sweetness/Dryness: if this is not indicated the wine will be slightly sweet to extremely sweet, in rough correspondence with the ripeness level. Mainly on the
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domestic market you find wines labelled "trocken" (dry) or "halbtrocken" (semidry), indicating a low content of residual sugar of max 9g/l for trocken, max 18g/l for halbtrocken (less in Franken). Wines up to Auslese level can come in dry style. Keep in mind though that not only residual sugar but also acidity, and age, have an important influence on how dry a wine really tastes. The sweetness is adjusted either by stopping the fermentation before all sugar is converted to alcohol, or by adding unfermented sterile must ("Süssreserve / sweet reserve") to a fully fermented wine. The latter method is popular for lower predicates especially among less quality conscious producers. Sweet reserve can raise the residual sugar level, but not the must weight of QmP wines. It is realively easy to abuse sweet reserve, by using stored must from other vintages and different grape varieties without having to declare it. See also the essay on dry wine. Alcohol: Alcohol levels tend to be low in Germany, and can be an indicator of residual sugar levels, when the ripeness level is taken into account. Dry Auslesen tend to have the highest alcohol levels, up to 15% vol. in some cases, while Kabinetts, and even TBAs, can come at under 8%. Vintage: The year when the grapes were grown - not necessarily when they were harvested - is indicated. Eiswein is sometimes harvested as late as in January of the following year. Again, only 85% must actually be from the vintage, creating another loop hole for abuse. Origin: several levels of specificity (and deception!) are possible. Besides the wider the region of origin, such as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Nahe, Franken, Baden, etc. one may find more specific references to either of the following: o the district: "Bereich Soandso", where "Soandso" is usually a famous village, far away from where the grapes actually were grown. These wines are best avoided. o a larger vineyard zone: "Blabla-er Soandso"; "Blabla" is a village and "Soandso" a collection of vineyards ("Grosslage"). Grosslage wines are rarely of any interest. Many notorious Grosslagen such as "Niersteiner Gutes Domtal" and "Bernkasteler Kurfürstlay" contain none of the vineyards that these villages are justly famous for. o a single vineyard: "Blabla-er Soandso", where "Soandso" this time is a not a large zone but a single site. How can you tell? You cann't from the label. You have to know what is a Grosslage and what is a single site ("Einzellage"). Books, such as Johnson's Pocket Guide, can help. Efforts are under way to classify Germanies vineyards according to their quality, but they meet some resistance. I list Johnson & Pigott's "grand cru" vineyards of the MSR region, and those of the VdP Nahe Vineyard Classification. AP-Number: The "amtliche Prüfungsnummer" is the ID of the wine. Same AP = same wine. The final two digits give the year in which the wine was approved (not the vintage), and the two digits before that give the running number of wines to be approved from the producer in question. Producer and region are coded in the remaining initial digits.

Example of a Label

Explanation:
• • • • • • • •

Producer: Weingut Hermann Dönnhoff, at Oberhausen, using the "Gutsabfüllung" category; Grape variety: Riesling; Quality/Ripeness level: QmP, Auslese; Dryness: no indication, thus (medium-) sweet; Alcohol: 9% vol; Vintage: 1994; Origin: Nahe region; o single vineyard site: Oberhäuser Brücke. AP-number: 775301002195; o approved in 1995; o running number 21;

Grape Varieties

Riesling "To me, the Riesling grape makes the greatest white wines in the world." (Jancis Robinson) Germany's greatest grape is the worlds most underrated variety of today. It has it's own typical aroma and "nerve", and yet also the ability to reflect the soil characteristics of its vineyard more than any other variety. Flowery and fruity aromas (peach, pear, apricot, apple, currants, mango ...) as well as herbal, spicy, and earthy or mineral notes (often slate) are common. Even petrol and other strange smells can develop. With its low alcohol levels and high acidity, it is difficult to make harmonious, fully dry wines from it. Still, the best dry Rieslings from Germany, Alsace, and the Wachau in Austria, are great, intense, racy wines, which can compete with the best dry whites of any other variety. Lighter Kabinett wines with a hint of residual sugar, and sweeter Spätlesen, are more widely associated with German Riesling, and they are unrivalled in their delicate balance and finesse. When attacked by botrytis, Riesling can produce the most stunning dessert wines, whose enormous sweetness is balanced by extreme acidity levels. These wines need to age, in order to develop their full complexity and harmony, and they do so for decades (and cost fortunes). Yet even humble Kabinetts can live - and improve - for many years. If Chardonnay is the white wine world's Mercedes (or its Toyota?), then Riesling is its Ferrari.

Müller Thurgau Genetic research was believed to show this to be a cross of Riesling and Gutedel, not of Riesling and Silvaner as formerly believed. But this has been contested recently, and it was probably Riesling and Madeleine Royal instead. Whatever it origins though, it remains one of the vices of the German wine industry: early ripening, high yielding, and planted all over the place since the 60's, it produces tanker loads of rubbish, rarely rising to the dizzy heights of mediocrity. Some ambitious growers experiment with dry styles, low yields, and even new oak barrels, to squeeze something interesting out of (or rather into?) it, and call it "Rivaner" to distinguish it from ordinary MT. Given its ancestors one should probably call it "Riedel" instead ;-). Silvaner An old variety, loosing ground to the new crossings. Unfortunately it is used very much a workhorse grape for making bland wines. It finds its greatest expression in some of the dry wines of Franken, where it can be reminiscent of a good Chablis (when grown on limestone soils), or even be opulent with exotic fruit notes. To call it ``Sylvaner" is illegal in Germany, which is why I will not do so.

Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) Traditionally it is called "Ruländer", and under this name it is usually made in a rich, oily, sweetish style. The trend for modern ``Grauburgunder" has been to drier and crisper wines in recent years. New oak is increasingly applied with some success (and excess), mainly in Baden and the Pfalz. Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) Widely grown to make dry wines, which can be among Germanies best dry wines, with nice melon and pear aromas. Many producers hold it in higher regard than Grauburgunder. Among the trendy ones it is a prime candidate for oak treatment. Baden and the Pfalz are particularly successful. Scheurebe A successful Riesling / Silvaner cross, capable of high quality. The best Rheinpfalz producers, and some others, make gorgeous wines from this variety (but less subtle than Riesling), often with aromas of red currant and grape fruit. Good for dry and sweet wines, but only if made with care, from a good site. Rieslaner A relatively rare and demanding Riesling / Silvaner cross, with a lot of (dramatic rather than subtle) Riesling-character. In the Pfalz Müller Catoir is the master of this grape. It is more widely successful in Franken, hitting its heights usually as a dessert wine. Other whites include Kerner, Huxelrebe, Gewürztraminer, Traminer (Clevner), Chardonnay, Muskateller (Muscat), Morio-Muskat, Elbling, Ehrenfelser, Gutedel (Chasselas), Bacchus, Faberrebe, Siegerrebe, Ortega. Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) German Pinot Noirs used to be (and to some extent still are) "white wines with color", sweetish and dull. They often were made into pink "Weissherbst" wines, occasionally even as pink ice wines. In recent years though, ambitious producers have joined the search for the holy grail of red wine, with low yields, higher must weight, extraction, and tannin levels, and maturation in new oak. These serious red wines are all the rage, and sell at serious prices with astonishing speed. Some truely fine pinot noirs have started to emerge, but they are vastly outnumbered by "me too" red wines of uninspiring quality. Other reds include Portugieser, Trollinger, Dornfelder, Schwarzriesling (Müllerrebe / Meunier), Lemberger (Blaufränkischer), Staint Laurent.

Must Weights
QbA's and the various Prädikate for QmP wines have their legally required minimum must weights, which may vary between regions and grape varieties. They are usually given in "Oechsle", but I will use degrees (by vol.) of potential alcohol instead. The must weights have been raised recently in some instances, and may thus be higher than what you find in older sources. Notice that actual alcohol levels may be lower, because of the presence of residual sugar, or higher, due to declassification by the producer, or addition of sugar to QbA's before fermentation. For Riesling, the required levels are: QbA Kabinett Spätlese Auslese BA/Eiswein TBA Ahr, and 6.1 9.1 10.0 11.1 15.3 21.5 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Mittelrhein 6.1 9.1 10.6 11.7 15.3 21.5 Nahe 7.0 9.5 10.3 11.4 16.9 21.5 Rheinhessen, Pfalz 7.5 9.5 11.4 12.5 16.9 21.5 Rheingau, and 7.0 9.5 11.4 13.0 17.7 21.5 Hess. Bergstr. Baden (except *) 7.5 10.0 11.6 13.8 18.1 22.1 *Baden (Bereiche 7.5 10.0 11.4 13.4 17.5 21.5 Bodens. / Frknl.) Württemberg 7.0 9.4 11.4 13.0 17.5 21.5 (except *) Franken, and *Württemberg 7.5 10.0 11.4 13.8 17.7 21.5 (Bereich Bodens.) Sachsen 7.5 9.5 10.6 11.9 15.3 21.5 I still haven't got the figures for Saale-Unstrut. In Germany "Oechsle" degrees is used to measure must weights. Here is the official conversion table:
deg. Oe % vol. I deg. Oe % vol. I deg. Oe % vol. ----------------------------------------------------------------40 4,4 I 59 7,3 I 78 10,3 41 4,5 I 60 7,5 I 79 10,5 42 4,7 I 61 7,7 I 80 10,6 43 4,8 I 62 7,8 I 81 10,8 44 5,0 I 63 8,0 I 82 10,9 45 5,2 I 64 8,1 I 83 11,1 46 5,3 I 65 8,3 I 84 11,3 47 5,5 I 66 8,4 I 85 11,4 48 5,6 I 67 8,6 I 86 11,6 49 5,8 I 68 8,8 I 87 11,7

50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58

5,9 6,1 6,3 6,4 6,6 6,7 6,9 7,0 7,2

I I I I I I I I I

69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77

8,9 9,1 9,2 9,4 9,5 9,7 9,8 10,0 10,2

I I I I I I I I I

88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96

11,9 12,0 12,2 12,4 12,5 12,7 12,8 13,0 13,1

deg. Oe % vol. I deg. Oe % vol. I deg. Oe % vol. ----------------------------------------------------------------97 13,3 I 116 16,3 I 135 19,2 98 13,4 I 117 16,4 I 136 19,4 99 13,6 I 118 16,6 I 137 19,5 100 13,8 I 119 16,7 I 138 19,7 101 13,9 I 120 16,9 I 139 19,8 102 14,1 I 121 17,0 I 140 20,0 103 14,2 I 122 17,2 I 141 20,2 104 14,4 I 123 17,3 I 142 20,3 105 14,5 I 124 17,5 I 143 20,5 106 14,7 I 125 17,7 I 144 20,6 107 14,8 I 126 17,8 I 145 20,8 108 15,0 I 127 18,0 I 146 20,9 109 15,2 I 128 18,1 I 147 21,1 110 15,3 I 129 18,3 I 148 21,3 111 15,5 I 130 18,4 I 149 21,4 112 15,6 I 131 18,6 I 150 21,5 113 15,8 I 132 18,8 I 114 15,9 I 133 18,9 I 115 16,1 I 134 19,1 I

The highest must weight ever recorded in Germany was 326 degrees Oechsle.

Dry or Sweet?
No other issue concerning German wine divides opinion more sharply than this one: should German wines be dry or sweet? It's either-or, compromise is not an option. Declare yourself, and join the battle. It's a bit like saying to a Frenchman: you either like Montrachet, or d'Yquem, but you cann't like them both! Most Germans I know come out for the dry side. This has usually to do with the fact that they have never even tasted a fine "sweet" Auslese from a leading producer. They simply don't know about the great sweet wines of Germany. All they know about is the sweet plonk in the supermarkets, and they will not be seen dead with a bottle of that stuff near them. They have developed almost an allergy to residual sugar in wine. Outside of Germany, opinion is divided again, between those who only know the sugar water but don't know that there are any dry German wines at all, and hence normally reject German wine altogether, and those who know and appreciate the finer sweet wines but have not come across a good dry example. The latter are not to be blamed for their ignorance. It takes a Sherlock Holmes to locate a fine dry German wine outside Germany. Little wonder they usually argue against dry German wines. The issue is so prominent in debates about German wine because it carries so much historical baggage. In previous centuries German wine was mostly dry. There simply wasn't the technology to stop fermentation, or to sterilize musts and add them as sweetening agents to dry wines. Germanies climate being as cool as it is, it is clear that the main problem was to produce a wine that wasn't acidic and harsh. Only under exceptional circumstances, in the greatest of vintages, one would find sweet wines in Germany. No wonder these wines were revered and commanded the highest prices. In the old days, great wine was sweet wine. Then came technology, and everything changed. It became possible to produce wines of any chosen level of residual sugar. Sweetness was no longer dependent on favorable vintage conditions, but on the decision of the wine maker. The market wants sweet wine, so the market gets sweet wine. That was the slogan in the post WW2 economic recovery. It was the birth of the sugar water. Eventually, the more critical consumers became sick and tired of these wines, and demanded German wines that tasted more like the French or Italian wines they had learned to like in the meantime. Now, sweet wine was bad wine. The domestic market no longer wanted sweet wine, so the domestic market got dry wine again. This was the the birth of acid water: the bad habits of sugar water production, high-volume low-cost low-quality mass production, were largely kept, only the residual sugar was left out. Such wines were often neutral, harshly acidic, and unbalanced. They were revered by the gurus for only one reason: they were not sweet. The export markets meanwhile swallowed the ocean of sugar water that could not be sold at home, and a few drops of fine sweet wine.

Sweetness took the blame for the poor quality of most German wine, because it was used to cover up the blandness and emptyness of so many wines. But sweetness is not the root of the problem. Blandness and emptyness is! More and more, this is being understood in Germany. We now see more dry wines that no longer need a dose of sugar to make them palatable. Very slowly they even begin to penetrate the export markets, in tiny numbers. One the other hand, more Germans discover that sweetness can be more than a cover-up, that it can be an integral part of a style of wine that is rightly admired by a small number of devotees around the world. Among those who know good German wines of all different kinds there really is little argument about dry wines from Baden, Franken, or the Pfalz, or sweet dessert wines from Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and the Rheingau. But there still is quite a bit of disagreement about the merits of semi-sweet lighter wines, like Kabinetts with noticable residual sugar. Some argue that at least for these wines sweetness really just masks the lack of extract and ripeness. I think this is wrong. I don't mind extract, but higher ripness is not easily achieved in our latitudes, and residual sugar usually makes those low alcohol / high acidity German wines far more pleasurable to drink. If the balance is right such wines are really semi-dry and fruity rather than sweet. I would regret to see them replaced by a larger number of hard and joyless, but "serious", dry wines. On the other hand, there are those who argue that while southern regions in Germany may be well-suited for dry wine production, the northern regions, MSR in particular, are not. They should stick to what they are known for, and what they do best. Again, I disagree. Having tasted the results that some committed growers have achieved in good vintages, with low yields, and high ripeness, I claim that MSR's potential for great dry wines is enormous, but to realize it it takes a particular effort and favorable circumstances. Under those conditions, the results leave me in no doubt that I would regret if such wines were not being made. Where does this leave us in relation to d'Yquem and Montrachet? It is easy enough to name a sweet German wine on the level of the former (the dessert wines from Egon Müller, J.J. Prüm, or Robert Weil will do nicely), but for the latter I have to admit that I simply don't know. I believe that the greatest dry German wines are still to come, when the best winemakers use their best grapes from their finest vineyards with no effort and expense spared. Maybe we will see a German Montrachet emerge. In support of this hope I would refer to the great dry Rieslings from the Wachau (like F.X. Pichler's 'M' cult wines) or Alsace (like Clos St. Hune). Who will be able to afford it is another question

German Vintages
I can only give a very rough overview, as it emerges from various sources and my own limited experience. Notice also that the quality of a vintage is often measured by the amounts of top levels of ripeness achieved in that vintage, rather than by the comparative merits of e.g. the Kabinett wines of that year. The can also be some regional and varietal variations. So take any such chart with a good pinch of salt.
2004 2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994 1993 1992 1991 1990 1989 1988 1987 1986 1985 1984 1983 1976 1975 1971 1964 1959 1953 1921 good good good very good bad good very good very good very good variable very good, very good, good, fair, great, very good, very good, fair, fair, good, bad, very good, very good, very good, great, very good, great, great, great, wet autumn, the antithesis to 03 the dryest and hottest vintage ever Glorious prospects watered down by wet atumn Rainy Sept. saved by glorious October difficult year, lots of rot, some highlights soft and forward wines for early enjoyment esp. for Kabinetts and Spl., great Eisweine very ripe, soft, fruity, forward wines ripe, healthy grapes with good acidity difficult uneven year, superb in MSR high acidity and much botrytis, many TBA's excellent ageworthy wines, great in the Saar maturing quickly, often too soft, with highlights high acidity should make them last for some time a classic year throughout, racy, for long keeping too soft and early maturing for greatness often unfairly overshadowed by 89, keeping well drink now drink now, some good ones some vg MSR Rieslings now highly enjoyable some QbAs can surprise mostly at their peak or declining, great Eisweine not keeping too well, often lacking acidity lasting better than '76, less botrytis, better balance classic year, keeping very well the best should be still vg almost as great as '53, some legendary TBAs according to some the best vintage of the century some legendary wines, like Thanisch's B.'er Doctor TBA

Regional Variations
2003 2002 2001 2000 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995 1994 1992 1989 1985 worse: Mosel, ...? better: Rheingau, Pfalz, ...? better: Middle Mosel, Nahe better: Franken, Nahe, lower Mosel (alias Terassenmosel;) (+...?) better: Saar better: Nahe, Pfalz, Untermosel, Rheingau better: Saar, Ruwer, Ahr; worse: Pfalz better: Pfalz; worse: Saar, Ruwer, Franken better: M-S-R, Mittelrhein, Ahr; worse: Franken, Pfalz worse: Baden, Wuert. better: Nahe, Rheingau, Rheinh. worse: Franken, Rheingau, Rheinh.; better: Mittelrh. better: Baden, M-S-R, Pfalz

A note on the 2004 Vintage
2004 was a difficult vintage, esp. at harvest time. There never was a long enough dry spell to help the growers. The wet and cold conditions meant that they had to wait for the acids to drop, but made it difficult to harvest anything beyond (high) Spätlese. The acidity is the defining feature of the vintage, and makes the wines a copmplete contrast to 2003. Some acid lovers have praised 04 thus, perhaps beyond merit. Dry wines are a particular difficult area for the vintage, and high quality Auslesen are rare. I am tempted to call 04 "average", insofar as average is good these days. There are many good wines to be had from 2004, for sure. Some will have a long life probably, and may need the time to harmonize and integrate their considerable acid backbone.

A note on the 2003 Vintage
Certainly, 2003 is an extreme vintage. It was hotter and dryer than anyone can remember, and the wines show it. There has been some talk of how the acidity (addition of which was legalized) of the Rieslings is showing surprisingly well, and of minerality in the wines, but I remain scpetical about that. All 03s have lots sugar (fermented or not), relatively low acidity and extract. This is not what classic elegant Riesling is made of. Still, good wines are around, even superb ones, and a few legendary TBAs in the making. But when even some (unacidified) Saar wines start to taste flabby, problems cannot be denied...

An early note on the 2001 Vintage
The rainy September threatened a rerun of 2000, but things turned very well in October, with gloriously sunny and dry wheather. The late ripening Riesling had the advantage of coming out of the wet period healthy and with very sound acidity. The warm wheather gave very good ripness, comparable in places to 99, but with better stuffing, and far superior acids. The Middle Mosel has probably profited most from the conditions, and receives a lot of attention, bordering to hype. This ceratinly is a vintage to be joyful. Whether it deserves being called a great one throughout is perhaps a bit early to say.

A note on the 2000 Vintage
From early flowering to the summer all looked set for a record breaking harvest, but then the weather turned, and drowned the grapes in water, and often in rot. The market is awash with grape juice of very poor quality. Good wines will be exceptions, and a great credit to the grower. They do exist though, and the most successful 2000s can outshine comparable 99s for their greater minerally extract and depth. Some of the usual suspects in MSR, Nahe, and even Pfalz made very fine wines, and Franken was really successfull. One should not write this vintage off.

A note on the 1999 Vintage
1999 seems a bit like a re-run of 1997, with its softly fruit and forward wines. Only that the wines seem even softer, and even dilute from high yields, with added

botrytis in many cases. If you see racyness and elegance there is not much for you to find in 1999. The Saar had a year of exceptional must weights, and some call it a great Saar vintage. I'm not so convinced of that. Time will tell.

A note on the 1998 Vintage
1998 was looking fine (too dry and hot if anything) until September when it started to get cold and wet until November. The harvest thus was very difficult, and favored the dryer regions of Germany. The ripeness of the grapes still managed to increase, but rarely exceeded Spätlese levels, with the important exception of a considerable number of ice wines that were made possible by a severe frost in November. These are the wines that 1998 will be remembered for in the decades to come, not only for their exceptional quality, but possibly for being the last ice wines of the century, as well as perhaps the last of a dying kind of wines whose must may by law be concentrated only by wholly natural means (no fridges, reverse osmosis, or what have you...). Compared to the riper years of 1997 and 1999, 1998 also has the edge in terms of a more solid acid structure, making the wines more elegant and probably more ageable. The Pfalz 98s are superb.

A note on the 1997 Vintage
97 started problematic. Frost reduced the crop substantially in Saar and Ruwer. Spring and early summer were cool and wet. Flowering was interrupted in many places, leading to problems of uneven ripeness. Yet August and September up to early October were warm and sunny, perhaps sunnier than any year in recent memory. Then came some rain again, but too little to do damage. A dry period followed with frosty nights. The frost was not strong enough for Eiswein, but it reduces acids further and turned the leafs brown. In late October rain returned and diluted the grapes that were still hanging. There was hardly any bortytis for making BA or TBA. A little Eiswein was made as late as February 98. The general picture is one of ripe, fruity, soft wines that drink well young, but many of which will not last that long. The low acidity poses problems in particular in the Pfalz. Red wines look very promising. Saar and Ruwer wines are superbly concentrated, due to very low yields, and posess excellent acidity levels.

A note on the 1996 Vintage
A realtively cool and dry summer led to a very late harvest of healthy grapes (very little botrytis). The wines have high acidity (too high sometimes) and good to very good extract. The Middle Mosel looks best within MSR, and the Rhein regions fared better still. The best Rheingau wines are superb, and the Pfalz had perhaps the best vintage since 1990. Baden was very sucessful too. The warmest regions and vineyards have a clear advantage in 96. Some massive Eisweins were made around Christmas. Yields were low again. 96 looks like a long term vintage for elegant, ageworthy wines.

A note on the 1995 Vintage
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer has been lucky again! 95 continues the string of very good vintages in MSR, in marked contrast to some other German regions, and certainly is on a similar level as 93 and 94. MSR's advantage in 95 was the fact that Riesling ripens very late in these latitudes. In fact, most MSR-producers and critics consider it slightly superior to 94. From QbA to Auslese, 95 seems to have produced a little denser, riper wines, with better integrated acidity and more substance. They are also less accessible than the young 94s, not giving as much away on the nose. Yields were rather low (in all of Germany). The more northern Rhein regions are a more mixed bag, and the Pfalz had to cope with serious (unnoble) rot problems.

A note on the 1994 Vintage
94 looks terrific for sweet wines. The dessert wines may even be better than in 93, which was a very good year, although 94 was in some ways a more difficult vintage. The general picture is one of extreme ripeness and botrytis levels with very high acidity at the same time, making thrilling wines in the top predicates, including plenty TBAs. Lower predicates are perhaps not quite so exciting in 94, dry wines in particular, as they tend to lack extract to balance the acidity.

German Wine and Food
Conventional wisdom says German wine doesn't go with food. There is indeed a grain of truth in this, but one glance at the wide spectrum of varieties, ripeness and dryness levels of these wines shows that it cannot be the whole story. There is no argument about the fact that "serious" dry reds or dry Grau- and Weissburgunders from Germany go well with food, just like their counterparts from elsewhere. With Riesling, esp. in its sweeter forms, the matter is more interesting, which is why I will concentrate on this variety here. The crucial factors to be observed here are sweetness, acidity, and overall intensity of the wine in question.

Wine without Food
Anyone who has ever organised a wine tasting will have noticed that in such a context, where wine is drunk more or less on its own, sweeter wines tend to steal the show, despite most peoples insistence that they only like dry wines. When food comes into play the odds are reversed. The sweeter styles of German wine thus tend to be most naturally enjoyed on their own, with occasional exceptions. This may well be part of their unpopularity with a wider public, who only know wine as a partner of food. At the lower end, where residual sugar is relatively low, a Kabinett for example makes a lovely aperitif, as well as great sipping through the evening, and so does a mature Spätlese. Higher up, for BAs and the like, one might try to match them with desserts, but this can be tricky. The balance of sweetness and acidity of the wine is shifted by the counteracting sweetness and acidity of the food, usually not for the better. Because of their high acidity, good German dessert wines are less in need of food to refresh the palate, as it is often appropriate for more cloying expressions of sweet wine. In particular with increasing maturity, their intensity, complexity, and balance of such elexiers makes them often stand most happily on their own.

Wine with Food
Dry(ish) German Riesling can be a wonderful food wine. Their acidity makes them often quite severe on their own, but provides palate cleansing refreshment when paired with food. Beware though that too high acidity is also a danger factor when pairing Riesling with food: instead of just cleansing the palate it can wipe out every other taste in sight. The range of food German Rieslings can be served with is quite large, and the intensity of flavor is a crucial factor here. Many dry Spät/Auslesen stand up to almost anything, including many forms of red meat, game for example, and even sausages with Sauerkraut, but they overpower more delicate dishes. A lighter Riesling, balanced by a hint of residual sugar, may often be the better choice, in particular when the dish has some (often unnoticed) natural sweetness of its own. The Rheingau "Charta"

organisation promotes halbtrocken Rieslings as partners for food quite successfully. Hot food also tends to go better with low alcohol wines that have some sweetness rather than fully fermented bone dry versions. Off-dry fruity Rieslings are often excellent partners for moderately hot & spicy cuisine from far eastern countries. At the sweeter end, young Spät- and Auslesen may appear less overly sweet with certain cakes, which can enhance the enjoyment. Fully mature wines with residual sugar taste less sweet, and can partner mildly savoury foods, such as patees, successfully. Cheese can also be a good match, even for very sweet wines. Still, the finest Auslesen and above should not have to share the limelight with anything else. The space for experimentation is enormous, though I wouldn't recommend any Rieslings to go with *very* hot curries (or any other wine for that matter) and with various Mediterranean dishes or chocolate (stick to Banyuls, Madeira etc.).