Crash Course in German Wines: Some Thoughts
I’m now one month into my new job (still in London, different importer) at a Burgundy and German specialist, and I’ve been getting a crash course in German wines. In my interview I’d noted that Riesling seems to be having a bit of a moment; I’d tried more in the last month than I had in the whole previous year, to which the answer was “So, you’ve tried three this month?” Which, frankly, was accurate.
German wine sometimes gets a bad rap. The classification is complicated (some might say more complicated than Burgundy), the labels are hard to read, Riesling has had its ups and downs in reputation, and the regional body marketing campaigns have been overall less successful than, say, the Rhône valley.
One of the biggest problems? Sweet wine isn’t fashionable anymore. Sauternes, that famous sweet wine region of Bordeaux, is facing the same problem; young people, who are increasingly turning to cocktails or teetotalling, are drinking less wine, and very, very few dessert wines. While there is a lot of high quality dry Riesling coming out of Germany, the buyers for the sweet Rieslings (which are also the most expensive to produce) are dwindling.
There are some really excellent (and stellar value) Pinot Noirs coming out of Germany, but it rarely seems to be a go-to. Burgundy seems to have cornered the prestige Pinots, New Zealand has cornered the value Pinots, Willamette Valley is the dark horse coming from behind, so where does Germany fit in? One of the trade sales team members remarked that sommeliers aren’t necessarily willing to list a German red wine, but if you pour it for them knowing only the price and the grape, they’re all over it. Everyone wants Pinot Noir at a good price, but very few customers will take a chance on something unfamiliar.
Heading into this new job, I’m left with several questions that I’ll have to find answers to eventually. How do we get customers more familiar with German red wines? Can Riesling be cool again? Has sweet wine fallen out of fashion for good, or can it make a comeback?
If you have any thoughts on German wines, the popularity (or lack thereof) of sweet wines, Riesling, or any above, I’d love to hear them!