Wine Guide
German Fine Wines
As a producer of high-quality wines, Germany, is a well-oiled machine. Its equipment and administration is the envy of the world, its precisely assigned numbers make every batch easy to find and its residual sugar levels are measured with simplicity. Its dry Rieslings are the benchmark to which other countries aspire to. Its labelling laws are one of the most complete and comprehensive (not to mention confusing) in the world. And in terms of investability options, its potential is through the roof.

In order to fully understand why German wines have taken off as a viable investment since 2016 (an unbelievable 576% increase on 2015), we must first try and understand the changing history of its wine regions. What had once been an industry that prided itself on its engineering excellence had fallen out of favour on the fine wine circuit, and languished behind its European neighbours post-War. This was mainly due to the uniformisation of wines in the 1970s that decreed that in order to qualify for the coveted “Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete” (QbA) ranking (similar to France’s Grand Cru or A.O.C. rating), wines had to be sweet (the sweeter the better) so all producers did was up the percentage of ultra-ripe grapes. This meant the export wines of Germany became synonymous with producers such as Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch. It also meant that Germany’s difficult to ripen star grape - Reisling - lost out.

Thankfully this began to change in the mid-1980s. A new generation of wine producing enthusiasts who didn't care about the QbA started limiting yields and fermenting in oak as opposed to the traditional stainless steel vats of their ancestors. Global warming has played its part too and warmer summers allowed producers to experiment with Pinot Noir and in some cases Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. These changes gave rise to the dry styles that make up 70% of German fine wine today. According to Jancis Robinson, the country is responsible for “some of the world’s lightest, finest, longest living whites and some increasingly respectable reds”.

However, it is, of course, the Riesling grape that is destined for greatness in Germany. It’s naturally high acidity allows for practically limitless ageing (up to 100 years in some cases if properly cellared), while its delicate floral, fruity aroma makes it a favourite for drinking (although the noble sweet varieties of German Riesling have been hard to sell in the United States, an audience which in general prefers a dry wine). The regions can be boiled down to three different types: The good (Mosel), the not-quite-so-good (Rhinegau), the bulk (Rheinhessen) and the one to watch (Ahr).
There are 13 official fine wine regions in Germany, the most famous of which is easily Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (the region has been called simply Mosel since a change in the labelling system in 2006). Although not the biggest - it is, in fact, only fifth on the list, it is easily first in terms of quality. The triumvirate of villages border the Moselle River (with the Saar and Ruwer rivers either side of the larger Moselle) and topography is characterised by steep vineyards (over 50% are planted at 30 degrees) and slate soils. 8,800 hectares of vineyard are planted with over half given over to Reisling (the rest is 11.6% Müller-Thurgau and 5.6% Elbling) and those found along the banks of the Moselle are bathed by the sun for most of the summer months wines. However, wide variations in temperature from one end of the river to the other can result in wines ranging from being Haribo sweet to bone dry. Because of the complicated structure of the land and difficult growing conditions, farming is done mainly by hand which proves both labour intensive and expensive. This has resulted in lower yields which have worked in some cases (see J.J. Prum as an example) but it also means that many vineyards are being abandoned, as qualified workers become more and more scarce (workers have to be trained to be able to harvest horizontally due to the steepness of the slopes. Lives have also been lost which does not look good on a job description). Additionally, Mosel wines are ludicrously underpriced, another reason for Mosel’s dwindling production.

A mention must be given here to Saar, officially part of the larger Mosel region but unique in a number of ways. Saar itself has approximately 750-hectares of vineyards, but the cold easterly wind does not allow for long ripening as on the south facing banks. Saar wines tend to stick to traditional Riesling as the "standard" style, although dry wines are also produced. The region’s most famous wineries, Egon Muller and Van Volxem are testament to this.

With Mosel taking up pride of place on Germany’s fine wine leader board (seven of the top ten are from the region, including the no.1 spot Egon Muller’s top scoring Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese), in terms of fine wine this is the region that warrants the closest attention. It can also be erratic (the same Egon Muller wine gained €6,000 in three years, then lost €2,000 in 12 months), so you’ll need to act swiftly if you’re looking to make a profit.
Although relatively small at a little over 3,000 hectares of vines, Rhinegau should not be overlooked when considering adding to your german fine wine portfolio. A quietly beautiful region, that has roots going back to the 18th century, Rhiengau was Queen Victoria’s favourite area, producing “Hock” (wines from Hochheim), a term which is used by the British for all Rhine Valley wines today. Riesling and Pinot Noir dominate plantings, the former offering typical fruity acidity and the Pinot being particularly full bodied in better years. The remaining three of Germany’s top ten fine wines are from Rhinegau.
The largest of the 13 regions, Rheinhessen’s vast, varied terrain is Germany’s largest region. While much of the 26,000-plus hectares of vineyards are given over to mediocre grapes for blending, there is a small fine wine region. Called Rheinterrasse (Rhine street), the starling beautiful area is planted with vineyards that rise steeply from the left bank of the Rhine.
The Rheinhessen is famous for the variety of grapes it grows which include Sylvaner and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), as well as the ubiquitous Riesling. Today, however, there is greater emphasis on the highest quality varieties (Peter Keller’s wines are a perfect example), and Riesling is now the second-most planted variety in the region. Keller is also one of the pioneers of the region that is slowly leading it away from quantity and moving increasingly towards quality.
Very small and very north, Ahr is associated with the rising cooperative trend of making Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir). This region is planted with Pinot Noir (64.7%), Riesling (8.2%), Pinot Noir Précoce (6.2%) and gets a mention as it is practically unknown outside of Germany, offering savvy wine investors a head start when considering their portfolio. Still something of a wildcard, there are some notable exceptions that include xxxx.