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Harnessing Germany's ‘undiscovered’ potential

Published:  19 August, 2021

Germany is pretty much a blank slate for many consumers, but with contemporary wine styles that mean there’s all to play for.

This was one of the key themes to emerge from the recent Wines of Germany/Harpers Big G closing debate – A wine for all reasons: why German wine is the smart choice – where a panel of prominent retailers, importers and on-trade specialists shared their experiences of selling German Wines both in the trade and to consumers.

Ruth Spivey, consultant to the on-trade and The Wine Show, described Germany as having “undiscovered potential for a lot of consumers, with a broad range of wines still to be discovered”.

This, said Spivey, was especially true for younger generations that had never encountered the now distant bad rap of the “sweet Liebfraumilch reputation” from the 1970s and 1980s.

Fast forward to today, and as Elliot Awin, partner at ABS Wine Agencies, highlighted, Germany’s wine offer is remarkably closely aligned with the trends that are shaping the wine drinking market in the UK and elsewhere.

“Consumers are looking for points of difference and to understand those differences between the styles of wine,” he said.

Awin added that in addition to Riesling, and the now rising popularity of Spätburgunder, Germany’s diverse varieties match the increasingly adventurous nature of wine drinkers, remaining for most way beyond the mainstream.

In Riesling, of course, as the panel agreed, Germany has perhaps an unrivalled flagship variety. With the grape as a typical and well-recognised entry point for most, as with Malbec and Argentina or New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc, where Germany’s calling card stands out is with its highly individual character and also its variety – down to its nature as a “wonderful prism on the terroir”.

“Riesling and the dominance of Riesling grown on different terroirs really can help people look at the way a grape variety can change with its sense of place,” added Awin.

“As with Spätburgunder – Pinot Noir – too, [Riesling] just has this innate purity and every winemaker at certain level has this fantastic attention to detail that creates such purity and such individuality.”

Relating the experience of guests at Vagabond Wines, buyer Colin Thorne agreed that people come to Germany “without any preconceptions… certainly at the younger end of the spectrum, and Germany comes as a surprise”.

Thorne added that “the key thing about the wines for our guests is that they have this direct and impactful flavour without feeling like they are cluttered or heavy”, instead delivering “freshness and brightness and drinkability”.

On the price front, he borrowed “an old Steven Spurrier phrase” – namely that these are typically wines that offer ‘value for pleasure’.

For Spivey, the impact of that freshness presents the key to selling Riesling (or Spätburgunder to Pinot-philes) as the door opener, and then once hooking the drinker in, sidestepping them to other varieties and styles. Food compatibility was also cited as a major plus across Germany’s medley of varieties.

“Broadly, they're very good food wines as well because they've got that sort of linear purity,” said Spivey. “But, also the sort of lightness and freshness so you can drink you know sort of several bottles over a meal without getting knocked out.”

The shift to drier styles of Riesling, it was agreed, provided the best entry point, with the mix of labels, from “a bit punk with swear words to gothic and traditional”, also allowing engagement with quite different consumer mindsets and expectations.

Awin highlighted how a Dönnhoff Riesling Kabinett on the Fat Duck’s tasting menu is the most requested wine, underpinning the strong affinity of Riesling for a medley of differing dishes.

Intriguingly, though, Awin also revealed that as an established specialist in Germany, some of the most drunk wines in the ABS portfolio are Weissburgunder, Grauburgunder and Spätburgunder – but labelled as Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

Clearly more people are taking the journey beyond Riesling and thus the focus turned to how best to structure a list to make the most of the country’s offer.

To general agreement, Oddbins’ head buyer Ana Sapungiu said that the key to creating a successful German portfolio was to ensure that once the ‘basics’ are in place it is then important to flesh out the offer by showing more of Germany’s diversity.

“I totally agree with showing that diversity, and I would lead with the with dry Rieslings at the various styles and price points, and then Spätburgunder, or Pinot Noir,” said Sapungiu.

“And then add everything else around it – it's important to show the diversity, to have that critical mass, don't just have two or three skus, have 10 or 15 and make an impact.”

And, mindful that the pandemic has accelerated a trend for many consumers to be more adventurous, Spivey again drew much agreement by suggesting that the unknown factor, and even the perceived complexity of German labelling and diversity, could be swung around as an engaging journey of discovery.

“There're all these little idiosyncrasies, but for me that's one of the amazing, beautiful things about wine as a subject that keeps me captivated. And I think it's actually something that's celebrated [by many wine drinkers] and Germany offers that abundance,” she concluded.

The Big G Trade Sessions also included the following tasting masterclasses, which can be watched by clicking on these links below:

Germany’s new wave: why German wine is trending now (off-trade focused)

Hosted by David Motion of The Winery alongside Harpers editor Andrew Catchpole this tasting session explores the up-and-coming trends in UK retail with regard to German wines

Diving into Generation Riesling (on-trade focused)

Hosted by Ronan Sayburn of 67 Pall and Andrew Catchpole this tasting shines the spotlight on Generation Riesling and the diverse new wave of German wines