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Culture

Second-Rate Grapes? German Wines have a Bad Rap

Diners in some of the world’s finest restaurants rarely ask for German wines. Cheap wines like the ubiquitous “Blue Nun” have thrown a shadow over wines which connoisseurs say are some of the most exciting around.

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German wine has a marketing, not quality problem

The poor German wine has been called the ugly duckling of the wine world. Dismissed as too sweet or bone dry and dull, German wines for many have been relegated to the rarely visited or thought about corner of the wine cellar.

Indeed, could there be anything more unfashionable than offering a guest a glass of Liebfraumilch?

This bad reputation has made itself felt in the world’s top restaurants, where German wine falls far behind French or Californian on the most requested list.

The French, well known for their chauvinistic leanings, prefer the home-grown stuff. And even if one does manage to convince a French wine connoisseur that there are drinkable wines produced outside of la belle France, finding a German wine in a restaurant to prove your point will be challenging. German wines only occasionally appear on the menu and then are rarely ordered.

The same story holds true in Belgium. "Our guests rarely ask for German wines," said the wine steward of the three-star restaurant "Comme Chez Soi" in Brussels. Diners here prefer French wines 99% of the time. From the 2,000 wines on the menu, only four German ones are to be found.

The Russians prefer looking further abroad for their wines. Chilean or South African varieties are popular in Moscow.

In Japan, German wines are losing ground. While they once made up almost a quarter of the wines offered in restaurants, over the past few years that percentage has fallen to eight. Chilean or Californian wines do better there.

London is the only world capital where one will find a real appreciation for German wines. "The acceptance seems to be growing," said Bettina Stricker with the German Wine Information Office. Still, wine buyers here put German wines in third place behind French and Californian.

Marketing, not Quality Problem

German wines suffer from an image problem, according to Kurt Beck, premier of Germany’s leading wine production state, Rhineland-Palatinate.

"It’s not the German wine," complained Beck, "it’s the German wine marketing."

Most wines that people around the globe are familiar with, the household names, have questionable quality at best. Take Liebfraumilch, for example. This wine is produced and exported in large quantities, usually with inferior grapes from over-cultivated vineyards.

"The fact that wines like these dominate the image of German wine is a marketing disaster, and a self-inflicted disaster," writes Peter Ruhrberg, a German wine aficionado whose website encourages wine lovers to overlook the stereotypes.

The Experts are less Dismissive

While the general public may have a low opinion of the Teutonic grape, many wine journalists, connoisseurs and trade insiders think German wines are some of the most exciting on the market today.

Wine magazines often remind readers that the finest German wines, usually Rieslings, are some of the best around. And even in the world’s wine capital Paris, German wines enjoy a decent reputation.

And sommeliers are more and more willing to recommend German wines to their restaurants, according to wine importer Terry Theise, especially the younger ones.

"They are a new generation of wine professionals," Theise said. "They were not trained to worship Bordeaux and Burgundy, they're not intimidated by anything and they're always on the lookout for something different."

The Price is Right

Another advantage the German grape has is its price. As wine becomes more and more trendy, prices for top vintages skyrocket.

While German wines, particularly the late-harvest ones, can reach similar astronomical price levels as quickly as grand cru Burgundies and cult cabernets from California, there are still bargains to be found.

"There is plenty of excellent German wine selling at prices that only gets you dish water in Burgundy," said Peter Ruhrberg. "I’m not the first person that predicts that German wine will reach cult status in the near future. Now is the opportunity to be ahead of fashion."

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