Our quick and handy guide to a few of the German beer styles you'll likely run into at your local shop.
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This acid-driven white wine grape has been at it for over 500 years, and has changed gears, reinvented itself and worn any number of hats. Its future looks bright—and long.
What sets this style apart from a witbier are the adjuncts. Coriander and salt are added during (or after) the boil in order to create a fuller mouthfeel and added complexity. (This tradition may have arisen from salty springs that provided early brewers their water.) Typically brewed below 5.0% ABV, these session beers are ideal to crack open on a warm spring day.
It is one thing to drink wine at home, to open bottles at a dinner party, to remark on how delicious something is. It is one thing to read the long, hard-to-pronounce words on a label as you sip, and find a picture of that place online or in a book. It is another thing entirely to stand on that hard-to-pronounce hill and feel the wind pulling at your hair, feel the loose red rocks slipping under your sneakers.
Can you imagine arriving here and thinking, 'that looks like a good place to plant grapes'? It's so steep that it's hard to keep your footing, the red slate rocks sliding out from under your shoes.
When people ask me about why riesling seems so trendy right now, my first answer is that it's delicious, and my second answer is that it's delicious with food. There isn't heavy oak or heavy alcohol to stand in the way of a happy match, and the wine tends to have a delicious herbal and mineral character that makes it a particularly fantastic partner for seafood. Want to try for yourself? What's for dinner tonight?
Next Tuesday is my birthday, and for the first time in several decades I care slightly more about the occasion than the rest of you do. It's entirely possible that I wrote a big "Hey, it's my birthday!" post last year, but if so I assure you I was faking it, because last year my birthday was a Sunday. No one needs an excuse to drink outside on a summer Sunday afternoon, and a dozen sunshine beers is plenty parade enough for any well-adjusted partially grown man.
Riesling nerds tend to sigh when you mention Willi Schaefer; the tiny production, the beautiful flavors, the few bottles they've sequestered away in long-term storage. There's an elegance and polish to this wine that you don't see at lower price levels, but the excitement is still there. A fennel and elderflower note reminded us a bit of pastis, with blue-green, mentholated eucalyptus-like flavor as it opens up.
Munich's Oktoberfest began not as a beer festival, but with a royal wedding—on October 12, 1810, Crown Prince Ludwig I of Bavaria married Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen, and Bavaria rejoiced. Everyone in Munich was invited by the Bavarian National Guard to enjoy the five-day party. The field in which most events were held became known as Theresienwiese, in honor of the princess. In fact, it was so much fun (and remuneratively rewarding for Munich's city fathers) that it was decided to celebrate the royal couple's anniversary each year in similar style.
It's as luscious as a dripping ripe peach, but as tart as one, too. It's a smooth, golden wine that's not cloying, with a delicate minerality that's woven through every sip, soft hints of slate and peach skin. If you're going upscale, serve with lobster ravioli in a light cream sauce. But the perfect pairing might be fried chicken and buttery biscuits.
If you see it, buy it. The name of the winemaker is written quite small on this bottle (perhaps he's humble) but you can't miss the vineyard—Ürziger Würtzgarten, the 'spice garden' of the Mosel, known for its old vines on steep hills of slate and bright red sandstone. Wines from this vineyard tend to be spicy, and this one really captures that; it's roiling with flavor.
This is such a pretty, glimmery wine. The flavor reminded us of baked apples stuffed with golden raisins and cinnamon sticks, balanced with a lemony tartness, a hint of Thai basil and juniper, and a very fine, silvery minerality. Young winemaker Matthias Meierer (son of Klaus Meierer) is a rising star of the Mosel. He's fresh out of school (he graduated from Geisenheim Viticulture and Enology University in 2005) and works a few days a week at Fritz Haag in addition to the time he spends at his family's 12.5 acre estate.
It takes awhile for the minerality and spearminty, resiny-pine notes to come out in this gently sweet wine; it's a bit less effusive and dynamic than yesterday's spätlese. Which isn't to say it's not pretty; this elegant wine has luscious Golden Delicious apple flavors and a mellow, honeyed core. Serve this wine with any creamy seafood preparation (try scallops with a saffron-infused sauce, or delicate lobster ravioli.)
This is wonderful wine. It's light and lithe for a Spätlese, with a creamy minerality. Sweet pear and applesauce notes (with flecks of vanilla bean) are balanced with tart, prickly acidity and hints of spearmint. If you're leery of sweet wines, this Mosel riesling may convince you that you've been missing out—it's deep in flavor but not overrich, detailed and complex and most importantly, balanced.
I was in my neighborhood wine shop yesterday, calculating how many bottles I could possibly shove in my too-packed fridge, when this wine caught my eye. I couldn't avoid it, really; there were stacks of Züm everywhere I turned. Was it a tremendously good deal (on sale for under $10) or did they just buy too much? My verdict: this Mosel riesling is a solid budget pick.
Wow—this one is a steal. This Urzig, Germany estate has winemaking history going way, way back; their entry-level qualitätswein is a seriously good value for around $14 (and sometimes less.) Bright fruit bursts forward in the first sip: ripe apricots and juicy tangerines. Mouthwatering tartness balances the fruity sweetness; it tastes a bit like a mouthful of orange and strawberry Starburst candies. This wine has none of the reserved, austere qualities of the drier budget rieslings; it's as gulpable as freshly squeezed orange juice, and at 8% ABV, it goes down easy.
A needles-and-pins sort of wine, full of buzzy acidity and lots of spicy ginger-chew-candy flavor. This vibrant Mosel wine is intensely fruity and concentrated, like apples two ways (the first tart bite of a Granny Smith, and the clove-and-cinnamon spiked applesauce you eat with pork chops.) It's tasty stuff, packed full of personality. Veins of minerality rise through each glass, and at the finish you're left with wet stones dissolving slowly in your mouth.
This off-dry wine from the Saar region in Germany is densely packed, like crab-apple concentrate (including the tannic skins.) The tanginess zings on the finish, though up front you mostly taste apricot jam and flinty minerals, with a balsam-sage note that might please fans of juniper-forward gins. The combination of acidity and minerality can read as almost bitter here; this is an angular wine, not a light, graceful, gauzy one.
At around $15 for the liter, this dry riesling isn't going to blow you away with complexity, but it's tart and refreshing, with a bright lime and green apple tang. It's made with hand-picked grapes from steep-slope Mosel vineyards. If you taste closely, there's a core of sweet-tart peach ring candy and a hint of minerality, but this is a guzzler, not a sipper.
I think what many people don't realize about sweet wines is how bright and vibrant they can be—even refreshing. This isn't viscous tropical-fruit nectar, it's wine at once crisp and gently sweet. This Rheingau Spatlese smells a bit like fresh gingerbread, almost peppery. The fruit is pure and luminous: skin-on pears, yellow cherries, baby clementine segments, and a nice balancing green-apple tartness.