If there is anything in the world of wine that is certain, it is that German wines are to the non German market a complete mystery. Complex laws, and complex labels make life very difficult - wines are labeled not only by maker - quite possibly the single most important piece of information on the bottle - but also the sugar ripeness of the grapes - which determine where in a hierarchy the wine sits. In addition where the grapes for the wine come from is put on the label - which would be fine if the Germans hadn't come up with several different levels of classification from single vineyard site, through a group of vineyards, to a commune, a group of communes and so on. This is further complicated by the very fact that a town may give it's name to both single vineyard sites - the equivalent of a grand cru - capable of producing fantastic wines - but also give it's name to what the Germans call a "Grosslage" or a group of communes. So Piesport lends it's name to both Piesporter Goldtropfchen a vineyard site by the town of Piesport that is on a steep slope and is capable of excellent wines from Riesling only and also to Piesport Michelsberg a large area under vine producing wines from poor vineyard sites from poor grape varieties such as Muller Thurgau.
Inexpensive German wine has forever been tainted in this country by three names : Blue Nun, Black Tower and Liebfraumilch - none of which anyone should use for anything other than washing paint brushes in.
But there are some real bargains out there - one name particularly to look out for is Dr Loosen - a brand created by Decanter Man of the Year 2005 Ernst Loosen - who makes some really wonderful Riesling that is becoming more and more available in the UK all the time. Look out for his Dr L Riesling all over the place - absolutely ideal with a Chinese meal, or on a hot Summer's day as an aperitif or for drinking during the afternoon - the low alcohol won't knock you out either.
Ernie has also invested in buying the JL Wolf winery in the Pfalz (Dr Loosen is just for Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) which tend to be less expensive, slightly less expressive - but definitely worth looking out for.
Over the coming weeks, I'll be trying to help de-mystify German wines a little (though they are still something of a mystery to me!) and hopefully point out some wines to try. For now it's Dr. L - or look out for "The Naked Grape" Riesling from Waitrose - also worth a go!