The best German wines are white and come from the valleys of the Rhine and Moselle and their tributaries.
Only 15 per cent of German wine is red, and very little of that is exported. German wine Jaw controls quality as tightly as geographical origin.
Thus, wines from the great estates can be downgraded in a bad year and the lower grade vineyards may produce a highly graded wine in a good year.
The three main grades, from the bottom up are Tafelwein (which need not be submitted for analysis), Qualitatswein (which must be officially tested for quality and alcohol content), and Qualitatswein mil Pradikat (officially tested for high quality and alcohol content and containing only its natural sugar). This last grade is subdivided, according to must weight, into Kabinett (the basic grade), Spatlese (made from late gathered grapes), Auslese (made from selected ripe grapes), Beerenauslese (made from overripe grapes, or grapes shrivelled by noble rot, the fungus Botrytis cinerea, edelfaul in German), and Eiswein (made from grapes gathered frozen on the vine).
Moselle wine, made almost entirely from the Riesling grape, owes its great quality and flavor to the salty soil in which this aristocrat of grapes grows. The wines of the tributaries Saar and Ruwer are normally included under the heading of Moselle wines, but the greatest wine is made on the Moselle itself between Pies-port and Erden and including Bernkastel, the best known wine of the Moselle.
Rhine wine, also known in Britain as hock (derived from the name of the town Hochheim), is generally softer and less acid than Moselle wine. The greatest wines come from the district of Rheingau and include the famous Schloss Johannisberg and Schloss Vollrads. Rheinhesse, on the opposite bank of the Rhine, produces large quantities of lesser wine and is best known for its Niersteiner and Oppenheimer wines. Rheinpfalz, the Palatinate, is the largest of the German wine districts and the furthest south. Its warm climate results in the production of more full-bodied wines than elsewhere in Germany. The river Nahe is a tributary of the Rhine, rising near the Moselle. It is, therefore, no surprise to find that those wines of the Nahe district that are made from the Riesling grape share some of the characteristics of both Rhine and Moselle wines. The best known Nahe wines are those of Schloss Bockelheim and Bad Kreuznach. The well known wine Liebfraumilch takes its name from the Liebfrauenkirche church at Worms in Rheinhesse. These days, however, it may come from Rheinhesse, Nahe, or Rheinpflaz and is usually a soft flavored, blended wine of no great distinction.
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