Best German Wines for Oktoberfest
For sixteen days, beginning in late September until the first weekend in October, one of the world’s largest fairs invites 6 million people to celebrate Oktoberfest. Held in Munich, Germany people from around the globe travel to the festival to drink over 2 million gallons of beer and snack on Schweinebraten (roast port),Würstl (sausages), Sauerkraut (red cabbage), and Käsespätzle (cheese noodles). German schlager music, large beer tents, and carnival rides are all part of the fun and it gives Wine Oh TV a great opportunity to segue into the world of German wine.
Home to 13 major wine regions, the majority of wine production is located in the south-western part of the country where the climate is more conducive to grape growing; the farther west, the warmer it becomes. It is also home to the one of the most difficult wine classification systems. Not only is it confusing, but the labels are indecipherable for non- German speaking wine consumers. The wine classifications starts with the bottom level (Tafelwein & landwein), and proceeds to Qualitätswein bestimmeter Anbaugebiet (QBA), to the top level, Prädikatswein, which is further subdivided into six different categories. If that isn’t difficult enough, wine is also classified by regions, vineyards, size of the winery, sweetness, and dryness all with equally hard to pronounce names.
But, German wine has not only been crucified for its difficult to read labels, it has been hit with bad publicity around its overly sweet wines like Blue Nun that were once popular pre World War II. Because German grapes are heavily dependent on the vintage, there are some years that the grapes on the vine don’t ripen. To counter the searing acidity of an unripe grape, German winemaker’s were and can add copious amounts of sweetener or süssreserve to unfermented grape must.
Today though, German winemakers prefer to make wine according to the vintage and use what mother’s nature gives them. This means the classification system must be fairly complex to account for all levels of sweetness or dryness. In a good year, most German wines are generally white, low alcohol, light and unoaked. The majority of the vines planted in Germany are Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Dornfelder, Portugieser, Grauburguner (Pinot gris) and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). German Resiling can range from dry (trocken) to Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). TBA wine, meaning dry berry selection, creates some of the best dessert wine in the world. Made from overripe, shriveled grapes on the vine affected by noble rot, this wine is only made during certain years, and the price reflects it. The other grapes such as Müller-Thurgau (white), Dornfelder and Portugieser (red) are rarely seen in the Unites States.
Unfortunately, decent German wines are hard to find in large alcohol warehouse stores like BevMo and even in small wine shops as they don’t move off the shelves. The best way to get a really good German wine is to find a restaurant that has a lengthy wine list or order it online. Price also, unfortunately, is a good indication of quality. Any German wine bottle under $10 is most likely going to be very sweet and put together poorly. The best way to find quality German wine is to start learning how to read those complicated labels, so you know what you are buying.
If you are looking for a wide variety of German Wines check out K&L Wine Merchants they typically have a large selection.
German Wine Picks
2011 Kalinda Rheingau Reisling QBA, $10.99
2010 Schloss Vollrads Riesling Spätlese, $24.99
2011 Joh. Jos. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese, $45.99
2008 Nelles “Ruber 1479N” Spätburgunder Trocken, $21.99