Tony Eklof, originally from New England, has settled in Clonakilty after a career as a librarian at University College Dublin. His knowledge and passion for wine has been inspired by frequent visits to the wine growing regions of the continent, particularly Italy and France.
Quality wine, or Qualitatswein — except that on a German wine label, it doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is of good quality.
Do we not drink more quality German wine because it is not available in the local shops, or is it not available in the local shops because we don’t drink it? Either way, there are a number of contributing factors to the situation. Perhaps too many of us remember without much fondness experiencing the sickly sweet concoctions under the umbrella names of ‘Liebfraumilch’ or ‘Niersteiner gutes Domtal’. Unfortunately, the German wine sections of our big supermarkets tend to be small or nonexistent, or to consist of ridiculously named and middle of the road brands like ‘Bend In The River’. I am reminded that there was a time when you might be asked at a party, blue or black? (‘Blue Nun’ or ‘Black Tower’!)
There is another problem and that is the German classification of wine which makes the famous 1855 Bordeaux system, still in place, appear simple. Does gU on a wine label mean anything to you? I thought not. gU or Geschutzte Urspungbezeichnung probably doesn’t mean too much to any non-German speaker. It is the new term replacing ‘Qualitatswein’. You should choose above that basic level to ensure a German wine without added sugar to enhance the alcohol level. So, it turns out that ‘quality wine’ is anything but!
Now Qualitatswein mit Pradikatt or since 2007, Pradikatswein,
is a different story altogether. No added sugar means better quality. Within this classification of very fine wine we find, depending on the ripeness of the grape when harvested, Kabinett, (dry) Spatlese, (stronger and sweeter) and Auslese, (stronger and sometimes sweeter again, although of very high quality.) Other terms which are useful to know are Trocken, which indicates the wine is dry, or Halbtrocken meaning medium-dry.
Is it worth the effort to crack this nomenclature? Well, years ago, on a short job placement in the beautiful baroque city of Heidelberg spectacularly located on the River Neckar, I stayed in a 300 year-old inn next to an ancient church whose bells tolls every hour. Gastof Lamm had a lovely bar menu with a seasonal ‘spargelessen’ menu exclusively featuring dishes using fresh white asparagus. Asparagus soup, pasta with asparagus, asparagus with new potatoes, you get the picture. And the wines, were the crisp, flower-scented whites from the best of Germany’s 13 wine growing regions, (Mosel-Saar-Ruwer), my first experience of just how delicious a Riesling can be.
Mineralstein Riesling. M&S Cork. Around €10. A good no-nonsense example of a clean, tasty Riesling. Mosel Riesling Auslese. The most delicious example of a fine Mosel I have found in these parts.