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Posted by Gerald D. Boyd on February 4, 2015 at 1:57 PM

Wine Atlas of Germany

In 1967 Alexis Lichine released his Encyclopedia of Wines & Spirits, followed a few years later by Hugh Johnson’s seminal The World Atlas of Wine.  Those two wildly successful wine reference books started a trend in wine books that included an array of encyclopedias and atlases.  Many of those references are out of date now, such as Johnson’s The Atlas of German Wines, last revised in 1993. 

But there’s now reason for lovers of German wines to rejoice; a trio of German wine writers has released Wine Atlas of Germany, a meticulously researched and sumptuously illustrated guide to one of the world’s greatest and under-appreciated wines.  The authors of this new book are Dieter Braatz, a magazine editor and author of a guide to Germany’s best wine estates; Ulrich Sautter, author of Wein A-Z, and Ingo Swobada, co-author of Riesling.  Hendrick Holler gets deserved credit for the precise and gorgeous color photographs that support the text.  

The time is right for this atlas, because the most current atlas of German wine, by British writer Stuart Piggott, was released 18 years ago.  So it’s safe to say that a few things have changed with German wines over the last two decades, not the least that the hierarchy of German wine now includes the regions of Saxony and Salle-Unstrut, in the former East Germany. 

Besides an in-depth peek at German wines not previously explored in an English-language text, Kevin D. Goldberg, the book’s translator, describes the changes in the complex German wine laws since 1971 and the complications of translating certain German viticulture and enology terms, such as Grosslage and Einzellage, contributing to better understanding by those who encounter German wine labels.  This may seem like a small point, but a good translator can make a world of difference in explaining what is in the writer’s mind.   (Gabriel Garcia Marquez, author of the Nobel Prize-winning novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, maintains that the English translation by Gregory Rabassa to be superior to his own Spanish-language original.)

Fans of German wine know that style has historically been given more attention than the concept of terroir.  For years, the wine world shrugged its collective shoulders at the mention of the French term terroir to explain variations in quality separating some vineyards from others.  Lately, though, a growing number of growers and winemakers have embraced the concept of terroir, including the Germans.  The authors explain that, with the passage of a resolution in 2012 by the Confederation of Prädikat Wine Estates (or VDP), a number of things have changed such as the acceptance of the significance of terroir rather than wine style. 

The importance of these recent changes in the classifications of German wine are stressed by the authors as a way to better understand the state of present day German grape growing and winemaking.  The introductory chapter, entitled, “What Makes a Vineyard Unique,” provides a plausible answer to the question of how vintners develop a reputation for their wines so that consumers are willing to pay a premium price “for a bottle endowed with a little piece of earth.”

Other introductory material includes a short history of winegrowing in Germany followed by a current classification of German wines, including more information on the VDP classifications and then the obligatory list of wine grapes.  It’s fun to scan the list, picking out unfamiliar wine grapes such as Acolon, Cabernet Mitos (a cross between Lemberger and Cabernet Sauvignon) and Dunkelfelder (No, not Dornfelder).   A sidebar in the chapter on history provides an incomplete explanation of Oechsle, the must density measuring system used by German winemakers, that is a mystery to just about everyone else.  There is a chart showing the minimum must weights in Oechsle for Qualitatswein and Pradikatswein (Spätlese, Auslese).  But for the curious wine person familiar with other scales such as Baume (Australia) or Brix (United States), there is no formula to convert Oechsle to either scale.  

The bulk of the text is a region-by region account, complete with history, climate, sites and soils and the author’s picks for “The Best Vineyards…” in any of the 16 regions.  Wine fans will recognize at least half of the wine regions, with such familiar names as Mosel, Saar, Ruwer and  Rheingau.  The other regions like Baden, Taubertal and Hessische Bergstrasse are less familiar.  Except for the more common Mosel and Rhein wines one is likely to find in most major U.S. markets, the others may require some serious searching.

For American wine drinkers, use of the word “vineyard” in a title is a bit misleading, since the term usually applies only to the site where grapes are grown.  In this atlas, “vineyard” means so much more.  In addition to vineyard data, each “Best Vineyard” profile includes important producers and a brief general description of the wine made from grapes grown in different soils.  This is an unusual and welcome addition that speaks directly to the new German emphasis on the importance of terroir.

The last 55 pages of the atlas offer an extensive and informative Vineyard Index and a Village Index.  Vineyard and village entries are listed by region/municipality/village and the map locator and vineyard listing, or in the case of a village listing, just a map locator.  This is a useful and handy cross reference for anyone who has spent time--tracing with your finger--back and forth across a map, to find the village you were supposed to be in 30 minutes ago.

Wine Atlas of Germany is packed with precise detailed maps that zero-in on the area of choice, and plenty of beautiful full-color photos that tell their own story.  The photo of an ingenious trackway, explains how growers and pickers negociate the steeply sloped vineyards along the Mosel and Rhein rivers.  Or there’s the beauty of the fabled Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard above the sparkling Mosel river.  This is a book packed with facts and information and well worth the price for the serious student of German wine.


Wine Atlas of Germany, Dieter Braatz, Ulrich Sautter, Ingo Swoboda; University of California Press, hardcover, $60.  ISBN:  9780520260672

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Gerald Boyd, Columnist Emeritus for Wine Review Online, contributes book reviews on an occasional basis from his so-called "retirement."

Bishop’s Peak, San Luis Obispo County (California) Pinot Noir 2013 ($22)
I’ve had consistently good luck with the Bishop’s Peak wines that I’ve tasted during the past few years, but this is probably the best of all of them.  It is an exceedingly welcome departure from the overtly-sweet, all-too-thick norm in California Pinot at this price level, showing layered aromas and flavors of red cherries and berries with a softly smoky, spicy finish.  Very classy for the money…and in my opinion, the whole point of Pinot is to be classy rather than brassy.
90 Michael Franz

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This Issue's Reviews
 
The Jackson Legacy
Robert Whitley

It has been nearly four years since Jess Stonestreet Jackson, the visionary vintner, passed away. Jackson was, like Robert Mondavi and Ernest & Julio Gallo before him, a towering figure in the California wine industry. His namesake winery, Kendall-Jackson, introduced an entire nation to the pleasures of chardonnay, one of the world's great white wines but barely a blip on the radar of American wine enthusiasts before Kendall-Jackson Vintner's Reserve Chardonnay became a household name in the early 1980s.
Pinot Blanc Can Be a Star
Paul Lukacs

It must be hard being Pinot Blanc. You come from a noble family, one of the most renowned in the world of wine, but you are regularly belittled as being dull and bland. Your big brother, Pinot Noir, is an international celebrity with legions of frenzied fans. But You? Sure, you're widely planted, but you're hardly ever the star. Instead, you usually end up playing a supporting role--to Riesling in Germany and Alsace, to Chardonnay in Burgundy (where you're such an outcast that you have to operate in disguise), and to your sister, Pinot Grigio, in Italy. As the British wine writer Oz Clarke quips, Pinot Blanc has a 'perennial personality problem.'
Wine With
WINE WITH…Duck Breasts with Port Wine Sauce & Duck Fat Home Fries


On Valentine's Day we decided to celebrate by bringing out a few bottles of select wines that we'd been hoarding in our cellar. Since this particular group of wines was red, and would probably be big, mouth filling and (we hoped) complex, we wanted to pair them with a dish that would be both celebratory and robust enough to do justice to the wines. What should we make? We considered simply grilling a fabulous steak or lamb chops, or perhaps preparing Tournedos Rossini or a similar classic beefy dish. Any one of these would have been excellent with the wines, but what we eventually decided on was duck breasts, pan-seared to perfect pinkish-red with a crackly crust, then drizzled with a lush, deeply flavored Port wine sauce. The sauce, which was inspired by a classic recipe from Paula Wolffert, tastes fairly sweet by itself, but co-mingling with the dense, rich duck it all coalesced into a savory, rather than sweet, seductive entity. Potatoes sautéed in some of the duck's own fat added a further note of gustatory--and dare we say romantic?--appeal.
On My Table
Pedigree Without the Price
Mary Ewing-Mulligan

I imagine it can't be easy making wine in Central Tuscany. On the one hand, you would be part of one of the most scenic, most visited and most famous wine areas in the world -- the place where Chianti Classico, Chianti and Brunello di Montalcino are situated. On the other hand, you would compete with many hundreds of other wineries for consumer recognition of your brand and possibly even your historic terroir. Consider the small zone of Carmignano, which overlaps the northern part of the large Chianti zone, just west of Florence: despite its heritage and the fine quality of the wine, how recognizable is the name even among knowledgeable wine lovers?