German wine. It's one of the most magical wines on earth. It is delicate yet full-flavored. Aromatic, yet firmly chiseled. Like scrimshaw, it is etched.
Unfortunately, so many of its low-end offerings still give the entire category a bad name. German wine is not sugar water. Far from it. And the good stuff is not coming at you at $10 a bottle.
Take the Donnhoff Estate Riesling Trocken 2011, Pfalz ($23) The nose is all talc, delicate and slightly pollen. On the palate there is jasmine. But the finish possesses a crunchy acidity that makes you think that you are chewing on ice. It's bracing. Like a gymnast, the wine is graceful yet muscled.
The Muller Catoir Riesling Trocken 2001, Nahe ($27) is a wild animal, tamed. There is tangy passion fruit and pineapple, but it impacts the palate like a spider web … delicate, yet high-tensile strength. It's a laser beam of intensity. Flavor in an ethereal package.
These are wines of substance and structure with a diamond-etched flavor profile ... like drinking lace or sipping snowflakes. They marry well with shellfish, fin fish, white meats, and just about any dish with a citrus edge. They are fruity, yet bone dry.
Trocken. That's the buzz word in the world of German wines these days. Trocken wines are dry, i.e. no residual sweetness.
It only stands to reason. In centuries past, a cool growing environment harvested grapes that were low in sugar and high in acid. The finished wines were tart. To balance things out, winemakers left a little sugar in the wine to curb that bite. Yes. There was sweetness, but it was more than offset by the searing acid levels. Good quality German wines always alluded to sugar, but never tasted sugary.
But global warming or climate change (depending on whether you are a Republican or Democrat) has created a shifting environment that has given Germany warmer summers, riper grapes and lower acid levels. As a result, the winemakers are not always inclined to leave unfermented sugars in the finished wine. There is no need. The dry wines (i.e. wines with no residual or leftover sugar) are balanced without it!
There are many more of these "trocken"/dry or "halb-trocken"/off-dry or "feinherb"/off-dry wines on the market these days and with reason. It's all about balance.
If you've never sampled German wines because of the "sugar" stigma, you should re-think this wine category. Hunt for the dry versions to start. They marry well with Asian, Indian, and Fusion cuisines.
Naturally, German fare, with its tangy mix of sweet and sour, pairs admirably also. But in these instances, you should be delving into the halb-trocken or feinherb arenas. Remember, if there is sugar in the dish (like sauerbraten) there needs to be sugar in the wine!
You should also do your food and wine pairings with a grain of salt. Literally.
Salt and sugar is a fabulous combination. If you are serving up something salty (soy sauce, ham) match it up with something sweet-ish (a halb-trocken or feinherb Riesling from Germany). The palate tease is extra-ordinary. It's the equivalent to maple syrup on bacon, melon and prosciutto, and honey-roasted peanuts. Salt. Sugar. Fabulous.
But sugar isn't everything. Fruit can also carry the match. And German wines, even the dry versions, are abundantly fruity. Sometimes the promise of joy is more than enough. And in that, Germany still delivers. Big time.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun