This is the my most enjoyed volume to date in the ‘Fine Wine Editions’ released under the auspices of the team at ‘The World of Fine Wine’ magazine. So far, I’ve reviewed ‘The Finest Wines of…’ books on Bordeaux, California, Rioja and North-West Spain, and Burgundy for this website, and I have read the Champagne and Tuscany editions before starting my on-line work. The series is a valuable boon to the wine enthusiast and wine professional and provides an up-dated resource that Faber and Faber produced with their series of wine books in the 1980s.
What makes this volume on Germany stand out is the absolute enthusiasm, passion and personal projection that comes through in Stephan Reinhardt’s writing. However, it’s not opinion, rhetoric and diatribe, but a perspective on the many complex issues that the German wine industry faces from the view of a wine lover who would like to see his country’s wine become properly recognised as some of the very best in the world.
Stephan is a highly respected and well-known writer and commentator on German wine. His work has meant visiting hundreds of producers and tasting thousands of wines in the course of his work. It is clear that he knows the people, their background, the vineyards and the wines intimately, and he certainly has strong ideas about them with a view to what constitutes quality. As a commentator with an international audience, he is very aware of what will strike a chord with those outside of his home country and the impressions they have of German wine.
The introduction of ‘The Finest Wines of Germany’ sets the scene superbly, defining the ‘cool-climate’ nature of Germany as a grapegrowing country and how the noble Riesling variety features. The concepts, truths and fallacies of the importance of sugar sweetness and the recognition of vineyard site are discussed. His subtitle “From Oechsle to terroir” is perfect, and Reinhardt explains the pradikat system of ripeness and the Erste and Grosse Lagen plus Gewachse concepts of vineyard classification. Reinhardt describes the geography and soils, and runs through the gamut of varieties used besides the all important Riesling, and notes their growing importance. Current philosophies and trends in viticulture and winemaking are covered. Of course there are many other topics that matter, and these come through in the main body of the book.
It can’t be easy selecting just 70 producers to profile in this book from around 2,400. And as in all the other editions in this series of books, you’ll never please everyone. There are a few that I know personally that I wish were included. We only see a tiny offering of German wines in New Zealand on the opposite side of the world, so it may seem meaningless to read the précis of the majority of those chosen for selection. Indeed Reinhardt recognises this, and admits that it is his personal selections.
The regions are covered in the following order: Saxony and Saale-Untrut, Franken, Wurttemberg, Baden, Pfalz, Rheinhessen. Rheingau, Nahe, Mosel and Ahr, all introduced succinctly with their unique features presented, as well as an impression of the current state of affairs. Reading each section, one can see that the producer profiles have been chosen carefully to represent the breadth of style and diversity, not only in wines, but philosophies – all at the top end, of course. Reinhardt’s tasting notes are detailed and evocative, and a joy to read. If the book were expanded to have twice as many producer pen-portraits, I don’t think I’d get tired of reading them.
Although I’ve visited Germany for wine previously, I wanted to book airline tickets to do it again, straight after putting the book down. This time, I’d spend far longer there, and visit more widely. I’d read Reinhardt’s profile of any producer I would be visiting beforehand, and I know my visit would be highly enriched by doing so. In fact, the book would be my main guide in selecting who I’d put on my itinerary.
The Finest Wines of Germany, By Stephan Reinhardt
University of California Press, Berkeley, 2012 ISBN 978-0-520-27322-1