German wine: Making Waves

09 April, 2014

Germany is a small, mature wine producer and is also one of the largest importers of wine in the world. Christian Davis reports

German wines are coming of age in more ways than one. They have been dogged by the epithets “cheap and cheerful” and “cheap and sweet”, from years gone by, but discerning, knowledgeable buyers and consumers now know that Germany makes world-class wines, particularly (but not only) Riesling and Pinot Noir or Spätburgunder.

Ernst Loosen of Dr Loosen Estate in the Mosel, is a high-profile, and at times controversial, figure in the German wine trade. Asked about German wines’ weaknesses he says: “The difficulty for people to read the labels and the past errors of marketing it as cheap and sweet.” As to its strengths, he says: “Its versatility. Many wines claim to be good with this or that meal for marketing purposes, but with German wine you can find a match from the starter to the dessert that really works.

“I see Germany as a country that can offer the perfect style wine to the given market, and we are able to create slowly a trend for the other style – for example dry Riesling in traditionally sweeter markets. It is an exciting variety from dry to dessert style and everything in between, and in emerging markets that are just experiencing it for the first time it is very popular,” says Loosen.

Marian Kopp, managing director of premium Wurttemberg cooperative Lauffener Weingaertner, says: “German wine exports had suffered too long from the ‘bad days’ with the Liebfraumilch craze in the ’70s and ’80s. In the meantime, due to solid work by the German exporters and the wine institute, it has regained some good reputation, especially with its crisp Rieslings and delicate Pinot Noirs.”

David Motion is a well known figure in the UK/London wine trade. His Winery retailing business specialises in German wine. As to perceptions about German wine, Motion has strong views: “The prejudice that existed in the UK between the late 1970s and the present day simply doesn’t exist in Scandinavia and the low countries. Dry Riesling and Spätburgunder are found on all the top gastronomic restaurants’ wine lists and heavily recommended by their sommeliers.

“In the US Riesling trocken is hard to find, largely because the key German importers and writers are besotted by the sweeter styles. That said, the US market is not as fixated on residual sugar as the UK, so you do see them around. Spätburgunders are scarce. 

“Anecdotally I hear that German wine imports into the US and Japan have fallen from 2008, reported to be related to the financial crisis. Again anecdotally, China hasn’t started properly with German wine yet. India? Storage and knowledge are issues, volumes are tiny,” he says.

“Germany’s only weakness is nothing to do with the wine itself but an out-of-date lack of confidence within the trade,” claims Motion.

Kopp used to head up the Racke Group then worked in California promoting South African wine brand Golden Kaan before returning to Germany. He says: “About 52% of all wine consumed (domestically) by value is German wine. There is a stable, solid consumer base and, due to the market shortages in 2010, 2011 and 2013 the wine prices had gone up. Consumers accepted the price hikes as OK,” says Kopp

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