It’s no great secret that in terms of wine, Germany is known generally for its world-class whites, and more specifically for those made from its signature grape Riesling; red wines, no so much. But that said, there are indeed red wines made within the borders of Deutschland, and we’ve got one on the line right here.
It will surprise few that most of the reds that emanate from Germany come from the southern reaches of its territory (where there is more sun and warmth in general) and to further qualify, from the southwesternmost growing zones of Baden, Pfalz, and the region from which this wine springs, Rheinhessen. Just to maintain clarity, Rheinhessen is still primarily a white grape dominated appellation, with the most prevalent variety being the white Muller-Thurgau with the second most common being the aforementioned Riesling. But in the “show” position is the powerfully Teutonically-named red grape Dornfelder which composes 40% of this evening’s wine.
The Dornfelder grape is an all-German creation dating to the mid-1950s which was developed by crossing a host of crossed grapes with a second load of crossed grapes, most of which have northern European roots, to finally arrive at what is has become the final and standardized variety being grown in Germany today. All too often, man-made lab bench viticultural creations don’t live up to the expectations of their creators who are often looking to take the best flavor charateristics from one variety, the desired colors from another, the climatic preferences of yet another, and the disease resistence of a fourth (or fifth, or sixth). But as we know from that old margerine commericial: “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature”, the upshot of which is more often than not that some if not all of the desired traits sought don’t actually come through in the final strain. Dornfelder however is one of vine science’s great success stories: it’s got lots of real sophisticated flavors, a deep color, it ripens early and reliably enough to make it commercially viable, and it has a soild track record of resistence to a bevy of vine diseases. All of these positive traits have made it the fastest growing red variety in Germany in terms of total acreage.
The other 60% of this wine is made up of the justifiably world-famous and ubiquitously cultivated red grape from Germany’s long-time rival and neighbor France, and that variety would be none other than the truly great Pinot Noir. Though it is not common knowledge, Germany grows more Pinot Noir than most casual winos would imagine, and has been doing so for centuries with the proof being found in the fact that Pinot Noir has not one but two German names: Spatburgunder and Blauburgunder.
This wine, though a fairly simple gulper of a drink, shows the real kismet between these two grapes when grown under typical southwestern German vineyard conditions, with the Dornfelder filling in a deep color, “bass notes” and a denser mouthfeel that German Pinot is often short on, with the Pinot contributing its indomitable elegance and spicy ethereal flavors that Dornfelder, despite its solid quality, just cannot attain. Again, this is not a wine to line up against any of the great Vosne-Roamnees or Gevrey-Chambertins of the world, but what it IS is a clear testament that Germany is more than capable of making distinctive quality reds, and at great price points to boot.
Though I could have opted for a very traditional Geman menu to go along with this little charmer, I had some days before made my own home made graxlax from some Copper River salmon I scored at the fish market so I decided to follow the Scandinavian route and mount some slivers of the ‘lax on some rye toast with cucumber and red onions, and then follow that up with the super-classic main course of Swedish meatballs with Lingonberry jam and boiled ‘taters.
Rheinhessen “Wunderwein” 2012
Transparent, pinkish ruby color. Direct but still sophisticated nose of cherry, strawberry, red raspberry, brown spices, tree bark, mocha, pine needles, brook water, and a touch of wood smoke. The palate is medium light with soft tannins and a juicy acidity with clean and copmplex flavors of red currants, watermelon, sweetened cranberries, chestnut paste, paprika and hints of rosewater. Great warm slightly black-peppery finish.