Germany is known around the world for the quality of its white wines, especially riesling and gewurtztraminer. But recently I discovered fine red wine varieties probably unknown to Chinese palates.
Red wine production surged in the 1990s and early 2000s, mostly driven by domestic demand. About a third of all German vineyards now cultivate red wine, and Germany is the world’s eighth largest wine-producing nation.
The most widely planted red is spatburgunder, better known around the world as pinot noir, notes Jancis Robinson in her Oxford Encyclopedia of Wine.
But this column is about dornfelder, an early-ripening red grape variety created in 1955 by August Herold at Germany’s wine research school, the State Training and Research Institute for Wine. Dornfelder is Germany’s second most widely grown red grape.
It is a blend of the helfenstein and heroldrebe varieties and was named after Immanuel Dornfeld, founder of the aforementioned wine school. The latter wine variety, heroldrebe, was named after August Herold and was itself a hybrid of blauer portugieser and lemberger created in 1929.
The dornfelder variety has been praised for the intensity of its color and its capacity to blend with other grapes. Yet the wines I tried were single variety and dark cherry in color, and relatively light though complex. They were sweet like merlot but lean, the leanness explained by their low alcohol – 12 percent, the result of being grown in Germany’s cool climates. The wines I tried, from the Pfalz region in the north of Germany, tasted of sour cherries, and the oak treatment gave a vanilla flavor and provided structure to the wine.
Since most tourists to Germany think of white wines when they order in a restaurant, it is often a struggle to get them to drink red wine.
However, some of the wine bars and restaurants in Berlin’s city center will offer tastes of red wine to tourists, to help them appreciate that wine style.
Marco, a wine waiter in a central Berlin restaurant known simply as Lebensmittel in Mitte (“the wine shop in the center of town”) told me he always offered tastes of red wine when tourists came to his restaurant. “Local people know the quality of German red wine, but tourists, especially Americans, don’t know about them. That’s why I always offer some tastes.”
Dornfelder is easier to grow than spatburgunder. The better quality versions of dornfelder, which spend time in oak, have a velvety texture and offer flavors of plums, blackberries and cherries. These wines average in price from $11-21 in Berlin.
* “German reds, a treasure-trove of surprises” in China Daily, 6 November 2010, page 12.