Source: Schmitt Sohne USA
Over the past year I have become a big fan of German wines. Not Barry's Spätburgunders - too rare outside of Germany - but those made from their signature grape, Riesling.
I picture my wine buddies right now - is Joe delusional? Who drinks this stuff? Certainly very few of the people I know with an interest in wine - beginners, well-to-do collectors, blog writers - ever talk about it. But sales are growing - German exports to the U.S. doubled every year from 2002 to 2006, and I can't believe all of this is ending up in Lyle's cellar! Somebody is buying, so where is the "buzz"? Certainly it is not for lack of critical acclaim:
"Fine dry German wine must represent some of the world’s best bargains." - Jancis Robinson
"I was struck by how high many (German wine) prices have gotten in U.S. retail dollars ... yet I was also repeatedly amazed at outstanding, sometimes even extraordinary Riesling that still seems under-valued." - David Schildknecht
"I can’t help but think that dry German rieslings are singular in their own way, combining grace, delicacy and power in a way that nobody else’s dry rieslings can do." - Eric Asimov
I could fill a page with critical acclaim for German wine, so my title is misleading - there really is nothing wrong with German wine at all! More than a millennium of wine history and a dedication to quality has ensured Germany's place amongst the world's great wine regions.
So I guess my real question is, if it is so good, where is the "buzz" beyond the ivory towers of the wine intelligentsia? In my travels across North America, from the high-end restaurants to your neighbourhood bistros, there are few (if any) German wines on the lists, and I cannot recall the last time I heard a sommelier plugging a German wine. And a quick review of most wine shops in North America seems to confirm this - you have to work hard to find anything beyond a smattering of selections (or worse, they are well stocked with the cheap, sugary stuff).
I guess I should have an answer to my question but, like most of life's important questions, there is no simple answer. Some have suggested the daunting German language labels are to blame, but Italian and French labels don't seem to scare anybody. Another hypothesis I have heard is that Germans make sweet wine, whereas North American palates seek dry white wines. But German wine production and consumption is overwhelmingly dry, so why are they sending us the sweet stuff?
Seems like a "chicken and the egg" problem - we don't buy it so they don't ship it, and the little bits they do ship are hiding behind bottles of cheap, sweet plonk so we leave the store with American, Canadian, Australian, Alsatian or Austrian Riesling instead. The wine world is subject to waves of fashion, and I predict that renewed interest in Riesling will soon lead to a wider "buzz" around German Riesling.
If I've piqued your interest, head over to Lyle or Barry's sites, Germanophiles with a deep knowledge of and love for these wines.
(PS - I have never tasted the cleverly marketed wines of Schmitt Sohne, but I love those "Take Home a Little German" ads)