After a short break, we are back with the remaining episodes of NG Wine School Season Two. This week we have left Italy and are moving on to look at the wines of Switzerland and Germany.
Watch the full episode here.
Episode 24 - Germany and Switzerland
The wines of Switzerland can be fantastic, but most are small scale boutique producers and it rarely makes its way out of the country. As such, Switzerland’s wine production is mostly for domestic consumption. As only 1% is exported, and costs in Switzerland are high to start with, the price of Swiss wine over here tends to be rather high; they are, nevertheless, worth trying, particularly if you visit Switzerland.
To give you an overview, the main grapes grown here are Chasselas for Whites, alongside a little Muler Thurgau, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. Elsewhere, Chasselas can be uninspiring and is more often seen as a table grape but the Swiss manage to get some real complexity and interest out of it. For reds, the dominant grape is Pinot Noir, with some Gamay and Merlot also grown. Half of all plantings are accounted for by Chasselas and Pinot, so these are the wines you will most likely come across.
Swiss Vineyards are stunningly beautiful, gardened rather than farmed, to paraphrase Jancis Robinson and there are over 200 varieties grown here. There are many regions, most with AOC status based on the French Appellation rules, but in practice, most wines come from the west of the country.
As most of the wines are largely unavailable, this has only been a very brief overview of Switzerland and its wines and we will now move on to Germany
Moving on to Germany which has some reasonably complex wine regulations, which are at least informative about quality and style. The more simple regulations are practically unseen outside of Germany so we can skip over them. A few terms you may also see on a wine label are Trocken- Dry- Halb Trocken- medium-dry- Weingut or Weinkellerei- Wine estate or producer Gutsabfullung or Ezeugerabfullung- producer bottled, usually a good sign of quality.
Germany’s reputation suffered as a result of a lot of Germanic whites such as Laski Riesling, Hock etc which were mostly made from grapes other than true Riesling or over-cropped Muller Thurgau. These wines tended to be low alcohol, relatively low acidity and were mostly rather insipid. The best wines from Riesling have a tension between sweetness and acidity, meaning even when bone they dry they still give the impression of barley sugar sweetness.
There is a trend towards Rieslings being made in an increasingly dry style, suiting our palates from the nineties onwards. However, the off-dry to sweet styles can be amazing and are perfect matches for Asian and Asian fusion food.
The majority of Germany’s major wine regions are in the south and clustered in the West. From north to south we have the Mittelrhein with the small Ahr region to one side on the river of the same name. To the southwest is the river and region of Mosel, which we’ll look at in a bit, then Rheingau, Nahe, Rheinhessen and Pfalz. To the east, Hessische Bergstrasse then Franken, and to the south Baden with Wurttemberg to the east. Far in the east are Saale Unstrut and Sachsen.
Mittelrhein has the typical German steep slopes on either side of the river; the best sites face southwards towards the sun and is predominately Riesling. Ahr, which neighbours it, is tiny but makes superb Reds mostly from Pinot Noir, here known as Spatburgunder. Spat is german for late; there is a variety called Fruhbugunder also found in Germany and to some extent the UK that is early ripening, with Fruh being Germany for early.
The Mosel is more than any other, a region synonymous with quality and Riesling. The slate soils and steep riverside vineyards are as stunningly beautiful as the wines themselves. If Mosel is all about slate, Nahe is where there is a greater diversity of styles due to the variations in soil types; some clay, some volcanic and some weathered basalt – all showing Riesling’s ability to show the vineyard in the glass. No grape is more transparent at reflecting the terroir.
Rheinhessen is by far the largest region, and has the greatest diversity as a result of various soil types again, but also a new wave of winemakers who are pushing the envelope beyond the classical. There is also a lot of Silvaner planted here, which is a grape that has not really caught attention in the UK but can be excellent.
Bordering Alsac is Pfalz, which has a similar fairly dry moderate climate and producers largely similar wines. As its warmer than most regions, the Rieslings here are less edgy than those from Mosel, with more peach fruit and less green apple. There is also a greater diversity of grapes grown with Pinot Grigio, Pinot Blanc and Scheurebe for whites. Pinot Noir dominates for reds.
Baden again borders Alsace and Switzerland, and the food culture is perhaps the strongest in Germany and the wines are reflective of this. Pinot Blanc, Grigio and Noir are all excellent food wines, as is the local speciality Gedutel.
Saale Unstrut is pretty much the northern limit for wine production and the wines here are mostly dry and white. Some of the best sites are on steep terraces to make the most of the meagre sunshine. Similarly on the edge is Sachsen. Muller Thurgau, ripening earlier than its parent Riesling does better here and tends to make some good Gewurztraminer.
This concludes our look at German and Swiss wine, we hope you enjoyed learning more about them in this week’s Wine School Episode. Join us next time where we will be moving on to look at wine production in Austria and Hungary.