Reinhardt, Stephan. The Finest Wines of Germany: A Regional Guide to the Best Producers and Their Wines. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.
Over the years, there have been very few good English-language books on German wines. In my opinion, the last great book in English on German wines was Stephen Brook’s The Wines of Germany, which came out nine years ago, and is difficult to locate these days. Therefore, I was quite excited when I first read that Germany was going to get its own volume in the Fine Wine Editions series.
Although I was not previously familiar with Stephan Reinhardt as a writer or a taster, I have to say that the publishers made a good selection by picking him to write this book. Stephan is a talented reporter who is keenly in tune with the history and the latest developments and trends in German wine. He is not so tied down to the past that he ignores lesser-known producers who have only begun to attract accolades for their wines; yet he fully understands that a powerful Grosses Gewächs and a precise Kabinett can be equally great.
As in the other volumes in the Fine Wine Editions series, Stephan has selected and individually profiled the producers that he believes are currently making the best and most significant wines in Germany today. These 70 producer profiles constitute the heart of this book. Ten out of the thirteen winegrowing regions are represented, with Hessische Bergstraße, the Mittelrhein, and Saale-Unstrut being the three omissions. Of course, nobody will agree with all of the choices here. Some readers may be stunned to find two wineries from Sachsen included, while others may be appalled that longstanding bluebloods like Bassermann-Jordan, Muller-Catoir, Gunderloch, and Christoffel/Mönchhof missed the cut. I myself was surprised not to see Karthäuserhof profiled, but the inclusion of Peter Lauer was a pleasant surprise. Specialists in Spätburgunder, Weissburgunder, and Silvaner also receive their just due alongside the masters of Riesling. Most of these profiles have accompanying photographs of the current proprietors, and many of these images duly reflect the personalities behind their wines.
Each profile goes into detail about the past, present, and future of each producer: previous and current owner and winemakers; their most important vineyards and grapes; and the predominant stylistic traits of their wines have evolved over the years. At the end of each profile are tasting notes on the most recent vintages of the wines that Stephan considers most essential to the understanding of each winery, with some notes on older vintages interspersed among them. Although these tasting notes are heavy on Grosses Gewächs, the author has also spotlighted his picks for the best values in German wine.
Just as I am skeptical about the existence of a perfect wine, this book is not perfect, and there are a couple of things that I believe the author could have done a better job with. First, the paucity of maps, and the lack of detail therein, leaves a lot to be desired. Second, I would have liked to see the most significant vineyards profiled separately from the producers. I know this is a complicated wish on my part, given the various parcels within many of these sites, and the difficulty in separating some vineyards from their best-known growers (especially, but not only, with monopoles). Then again, Stephen Brook made a good attempt to describe the primary characteristics of each major vineyard in each region of Germany in his book from nine years ago.
Nonetheless, The Finest Wines of Germany is a great read for anyone who wants to learn more about German wines. I certainly learned a lot – even in those regions that I am quite familiar with, there are producers here whose wines I have never seen, much less tried (Dr. Wehrheim, Knipser, Tesch, Battenfield-Spanier). Additionally, I learned a lot about those regions that I am barely familiar with, namely Württemberg, Sachsen, and the Ahr. To sum it up, this is an excellent new book to add to any wine lover’s collection.