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Delhi Wine Club
VDP: Tasting First Growths of Germany

Posted: Monday, 25 July 2011 15:04

VDP: Tasting First Growths of Germany

July 25: Indian Wine Academy recently organised the second Master Class of German Grand Cru VDP wines at the German Embassy where Joel Payne, author of the famous annual wine guide Gault Millau conducted a wine tasting of 20 VDP wines for a special group of wine aficionados in the presence of the Chargé d'Affaires, Herr Christian-Matthias Schlaga. Subhash Arora reports

After the audio visual presentation of German wine laws, wine regions and the VDP, the invitees were treated to a taste of a cross-section of wines in pairs from different producers from Franconia-Silvaner from Horst Sauer and Hans Wirsching; Pfalz (Palatinate)-Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc) from Dr. Wehrheim and Ökonomierat Rebholz ; Pinot Gris from Baden-Bercher and Dr. Heger; Riesling from Nahe (Diel and Schäfer-Fröhlich), Riesling from Pfalz (Dr. Bassermann-Jordan, Dr. Bϋrklin Wolf, A Christmann and Knipser), Riesling from Rheingau (Schloss Schönborn, Schloss Johannisberg, and Robert Weil), Rieslings from Rheinhessen –Battenfeld Spanier and the off-dry Riesling Spätlese from Mosel Saar Ruwer Schloss Lieser and Willi Schaefer.

To showcase the growing quality and importance of the red wines, especially the Pinot Noir in Germany, the Spätburgunder from two wine estates of J J Adeneuer in Ahr and Bernhart from Schweigen in the Palatinate were also tasted at the end.

Through the selection of these wines, Joel was able to present most of the popular varietals from most of the wine regions where VDP wines are being produced- only Mittelrhein, Sachsen and Württemberg were not included due to the paucity of time.

If the names of wines and producers sound difficult to pronounce, it’s because we do not import most of these wines in India and jawohl, the inherent difficulty in understanding the German names.

VDP- Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter

Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP)- the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates, founded in 1910 is the world’s oldest private association of top quality wine estates. It has a membership of 194 members and frames its own laws within the government regulations. In 1990 there were 161 members but 108 were added and 75 have been ‘expelled’ or renounced their membership.

VDP enforces voluntary adherence by its members to the quality criteria that exceed the minimum prescribed by law. For example, the grapes are selectively harvested by hand and vineyards are planted primarily with traditional grape varieties. Thus, the grape varieties, yield, style, packaging, marketing are under the review of the Association which is owned and run by growers only.

Estates and their wines are inspected and certified on a regular basis to ensure ongoing high standards, from vineyard maintenance to cellar technology. Every 5 years the membership is reviewed.  About 20 years ago, a lot of about 20 producers left on their own on the question of chaptalisation which VDP does not allow. Ostensibly, producers have been waiting to be a part of the Association, not many want to leave.

VDP- the Quality Trademark

Eagle, the logo of VDP on the neck of each bottle produced by a member, has become a symbol of quality and its classification has become the driving force in tapping new markets. This is, when the German wine laws that were modified in 1971 are generally believed to be very confusing and have resulted in the decline of quality of German wines. From the classification based on nature, soil and vineyards, the government based it on the sugar content and consequent alcohol potential. The industry saw a nadir of the famous Rieslings that commanded prices as high or more that the chateau wines of Bordeaux, like chateau Latour in the early 1900s.

German Law of 1971

Most outsiders and a majority of quality German fine wine critics believe that The 1971 law brought down a tradition and history. Almost all German wines had almost always been always dry, contrary to what many believe as cheap and sweet wines. Today, they are considered cheap and sweet because of chaptalisation which is not allowed for the VDP members. In fact About 20 years ago, a lot of about 20 producers reportedly left VDP on the question of chaptalisation which VDP does not allow it. If ‘village’ could be mentioned, it would be considered a better wine. There is no mention of vineyard sites.

New VDP Vineyard Classification of 2001

Preservation of Germany’s finest vineyard sites has been one of the objectives of VDP. Using Burgundy as a model, it began to establish a private vineyard classification of its members’ sites with a three-stage pyramid like Burgundy based on the origin, with Erste Lage being the top estates equivalent of Grand Cru. Since the German laws do not allow the vineyards to be mentioned on the labels, a stylized  logo with the numeral 1 followed by a grape cluster is used to indicate that the wine has been made from the Grand Cru vineyards as accepted by VDP.

The dry wines with less than 9 gms of residual sugar are labeled Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru). Again, since this is not allowed by law, the registered trade marks GG so signifies, with the exception of Rheingau where it is known as Erstes Gewächs (which literally means First Growth). The fruity wines with natural sweetness are considered as traditional Prädikat-from Spätlese, Auslese, BeerenAuslese to TrockenBeerenAuslese (TBA) in the increasing order of sweetness.

Next in the hierarchy is Terroirwein, from classified sites of superior quality. This is followed by Ortswein or Gutsweine which is high quality basic wine that reflects regional character.

Today, if the eagle logo and a numeral “one” next to a stylized cluster of grapes – embossed on the bottle or in the background of the labels, behind the name of the vineyard site, and if it has helped the world markets recognize the wine quality of these estates, it is thanks to self-regulation.

As Joel Payne shared over the mouthwatering snacks and several different wines after the seminar, ‘today Erste Lage is a private initiative and the quality control is strict. But if the government takes the initiative , things could go wrong, as the state is not keen to keep quality high and even if it were, in a democratic society where votes do count for politicians, it would not be practical to roll back to the earlier standards .’

Most of the VDP wines retail for €25-40 according to Payne. This means that in Duty Free shops they should be available at even better prices at which point the First Growth-Grand Cru white wines would be at a fraction of the cost of their Bordeaux or Burgundy reds. Those who find white wine more suitable to their palate, ought to be queuing up at the Delhi and Mumbai ‘Arrivals’ lounge if and when they were available. They would still be out of reach at the Retail stores although discerning restaurants with knowledge and understanding of these beauties could find them seductive for the right profiled customers.

A word of praise is due for the German embassy. Whether it is due to the Ambassador Thomas Metussek being passionate about wines or due to a planned strategy from Berlin, it has been actively supporting the wine initiatives during the last couple of years with more fervour  than before. Even Herr Schlaga who represented the Ambassador in his absence, tasted it out till the last guest left the compound, discussing and debating the virtues and quality of German wines, especially the VDP wines that we had thoroughly enjoyed during the tasting-even though I found the red ones  a trifle too astringent and him nodding that perhaps we should not refer to the variety as Pinot Noir and simply call it Spätburgunder. 

For a couple out of several earlier articles, please visit:

Historical Tasting of Grand Cru VDP German Wines

WWS: VDP-Self Regulation within German Laws

Subhash Arora


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