Shop Amazing German Wines at Waitrose Cellar
By Master of Wine, Christopher Burr
Some of you old enough will remember Liebfraumilch, brands like Blue Nun and Black Tower which sold millions of cases in the UK back in the 1960s,70's and 80's.
The wines were slightly sweet, fresh and bland, made mostly from a crossed grape varietal called Muller-Thurgau. The one good thing about them is that the Germans know how to make "correct" wine, so whilst they were dull, at least they were well made.
Through the 1980s and 1990s the British palate became more refined, probably wanting dryer white wines and the choices from other parts of Europe and the World began to get bigger and bigger.
I was somewhat surprised and pleased to find a Liebfraumilch from the Mosel as almost their least expensive wine at £4.79 in Waitrose. Made by a very good wine grower Peter Mertes, it is exactly how I remember the better class of Liebfraumilch, totally correct, fresh clean and medium sweet, but rather bland. But with duty at £2.23 per bottle and VAT at £0.96, it is a miracle that something so drinkable should still be available.
Liebfraumilch fell out of fashion, sadly dragging with it the British consumers love of all German Wine for many years, but now, along with Gin, sherry and good Vermouth, I sense an inkling of a revival.
The history of good German wines in the UK goes back to Queen Victoria and her marriage to Prince Albert. The British knew that a green bottle meant Mosel Valley wines and a brown bottle meant Rhein wines.
They called Rhein wines Hock, after the town of Hochheim in the Rhiengau. Indeed, in Hochheim, Victoria and Albert visited some vineyards during their honeymoon and there is an excellent vineyard call Hochheim Konigen (Queen) Viktoriaberg, with a wonderful statue of our former Queen in the middle of the vineyard.
Top vineyard Mosel s and Rhiengau s up to the 1930s fetched higher prices here than first growth Bordeaux.
In the mid 1990's Winston Churchill a notable imbiber, insisted on top German wines with his Dover Sole, so much so that the German Ambassador in London would send him a few bottles now and again!!
I suppose with two wars and a change in tastes to dryer wines, it is not totally surprising that we do not favour those wines above all others these days, but they are still superbly made, and the Riesling grape is one of the best at expressing where it is grown.
The trend for dryer wines has also hit Germany and many winemakers now make a Trocken (dry) or Halb-trocken (half dry) version. But fermenting the sugars to dryness makes the wines a little more alcoholic, up to 12.5% generally, whereas the sweeter stills are often less than 8%, so gorgeously light and fresh with wonderful crisp acidity balancing the residual sugars. I have to admit I have a personal love for these wines!
I recently tasted some of Waitrose Cellar's range. Firstly, a dry Trocken wine I was speaking of above;
Georg Mosbacher Deidesheimer Herrgottsaker Riesling Kabinett Trocken from the Rhienpfalz south of Mainz is a superb dry Riesling with a multitude of fruit flavour, grapefruit, lime, apple and a minerally finish. Bone dry and great with food. £14.99.
Then Dr Wagner's Mosel Riesling 2019, is a fine bright fresh wine packed with fruit , a touch of sweetness balance by crisp bright acidity, the perfect aperitif. £10.49
Then, back to the Rhienhessen area for a wine under the specially selected harvest regulations called an Auslese. Gunderloch Nackenheim Rothenberg Riesling 2016 is rich and intense with lots of ripe fruit and minerally mid-palate and a wonderfully complex finish. This is sweet but balanced by lovely acidity. A total joy, and in the 1920s this is the sort of wine drunk with fish dishes with a creamy sauce, and it still works well like that! £26.99 or a 37.5cl bottle.
Finally, one of Germany's greats, for me one of the "first growth" vineyards of Germany back in the steep sided Mosel Valley.
Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2008. Sonnenuhr literally meaning the sun dial, as the steep vineyard faces directly south opposite the town of Wehlen, capturing all the day's sun right up to harvest, late summer early autumn even and often into November.
Not as robust as the Gunderlock, but intense and wonderfully elegant and balanced, with layers of flavours and wonderful freshness. Made by the superb Dr. Ernie Loosen. £15.99 per 37.5cl bottle.
One thing will have occurred to you reading this, and that is how difficult the German names are to remember, or even pronounce! I think this may be one of the other reasons great German wines are not so fashionable these days here ! But perhaps this means that they remain good value for such superb quality, so don't tell too many people! Cunningly Ernie Loosen has "clocked" this point, and has two lovely Mosels on the shelf, called simply Grey Slate after the soils where his Rieslings grow, and DR "L", after himself.
I like to think Waitrose have their fingers on the pulse of consumer trends, hence their great selection of German wines, or perhaps they are just as enamoured with their quality as I am and want to share them with their customers, anyway it is a trend worth supporting.
Christopher Burr, MW,
18th March 2021