Article by ANNA LEE C. IIJIMA
In Germany, where wine preferences have long been swinging dry and drier still, the market is dominated by trocken, or dry wines made from Riesling, Pinot Noir (known as Spätburgunder), Pinot Gris (or Grauburgunder) and more. Among the very best are dry wines classified as Grosses Gewächs, or “great growths,” GG for short.
They represent standout dry expressions of exemplary single vineyards known as Grosse Lage, Germany’s version of the grand cru. These are recognized for historically producing wines of distinction.
GG wines are produced in each of Germany’s 13 wine regions. They must contain no more than nine grams per liter of residual sugar, adhere to strict quality and production guidelines and utilize only specific grape varieties classic to each region.
The modern-day GG classification was codified in 2002 by the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP), an exclusive organization of German winegrowers. The VDP system is distinct from the German prädikat that classifies wine into categories like kabinett, spätlese or auslese, based on the ripeness of grapes at harvest.
Here are just six of Germany’s top regions for GG bottlings.
The VDP’s GG framework was formed by a coalition of enterprising Rheingau winegrowers known as the Charta. In the 1980s, the Charta advocated a regionwide focus on high-quality, dry Riesling production and the resurrection of historic vineyard classifications that link wine quality with provenance, not sugar levels. At the top of this classification were the Erstes Gewächs, which are comparable to premier cru, or first-growth, vineyards.
Many Rheingau producers labeled dry Riesling from top vineyards as Erstes Gewächs, in keeping with the Charta, until 2012, when the classification was replaced with Grosses Gewächs.
Since 2018, non-VDP winegrowers have incorporated the Rheingau Grosses Gewächs (RGG) designation for flagship dry, single-vineyard wines. Both the RGG and VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS regulations permit Riesling and Spätburgunder GGs.
Among the region’s iconic dry-style wines from non-VDP producers are Georg Breuer’s textured monopol Rieslings, Eva Fricke’s vibrant single-vineyard dry Riesling and J.B. Becker’s sinewy spätlese trocken Riesling and Spätburgunder.
In recent years, German wine lovers, particularly Millennials or members of Gen-Z, most likely associate Rheinhessen with its cult-status dry wines and rock-star winemakers. Until the turn of the 21st century, however, Rheinhessen was best known as Germany’s heartland for inexpensive, sweet bulk wines.
The drive to retell Rheinhessen’s story as one of quality and provenance has made it one of Germany’s most riveting wine regions. It’s a hot bed of highly sought-after GGs and similarly produced single-vineyard-designated dry wines.
Wines to Try
Wagner-Stempel 2017 Heerkretz Riesling Trocken GG Gold Cap; $69, 94 points.
Intense aromas of smoke and earth are gradually replaced by crisp pear and apple notes that intensify from nose to palate. It’s dry and full bodied, with concentrated orchard-fruit flavors moderated by dried herbs and sun-dried hay. It’s a complex wine that balances savory and fruity beautifully but needs some time to open. Hold till 2022; it should improve through 2030 and beyond. The German Wine Collection.
Blessed with ample sunshine and a warm, dry Mediterranean climate, the Pfalz is a focal point for Germany’s most powerful, sun-drenched GGs. While Riesling is the dominant variety here, the VDP also permits GG Spätburgunder and Weissburgunder.
The Pfalz has a long, noble history of exemplary dry winemaking. Its storied Kirchenstück vineyard is widely considered the region’s greatest. It consistently produces some of the world’s greatest dry white wines.
Like Rheinhessen, however, production in the Pfalz was dominated by high-volume, mass-market sweet wines in the decades after World War II. In recent decades, however, historic icons of the northern Pfalz seem to have awoken from years of listlessness.
Südpfalz, in the south, is where much of the region’s bulk-wine production was centralized. There, pioneering producers like Rebholz and Friedrich Becker not only revolutionized the production of dry, terroir-driven, single-vineyard Riesling and Spätburgunder, but they elevated Weissburgunder (also known as Pinot Blanc) to heights unseen almost anywhere in the world.
Wines to Try
Ökonomierat Rebholz 2017 Im Sonnenschein Weisser Burgunder GG ; $103, 95 points.
Pinot Blanc is typically a shy white grape, but this powerful, voluptuously textured wine offers intensely concentrated apricot and white peach flavors marked by whiffs of blossom and lime perfume. It’s decadent but balanced neatly with zesty acidity and a reverberating mineral tone. Delicious already but should improve through 2037. The German Wine Collection.
Pfeffingen 2017 Weilberg Riesling GG Trocken Gold Cap; $56, 94 points.
The nose here is subdued suggesting barely a whiff of crushed stone, but there’s an abundance of zesty lemon, tangerine and grapefruit on the palate. Dry and full bodied, it’s a dense, richly textured wine with a firm, steely finish. Tasted at the end of 2019, it’s still quite closed. Hold till 2023, it should gain even more breadth through 2030. The German Wine Collection.
Von Buhl 2017 Forster Pechstein Riesling GG; $68, 93 points.
Soft, luscious yellow peach and pear are balanced pertly by fresh grapefruit acidity and a dusty mineral edge here. While dry in style, it’s a plump, silken sip accented by hints of bramble and sweet spice that linger on the finish. Enjoy now through 2035. The German Wine Collection.
Baden, Germany’s sun-kissed southernmost wine region, boasts a remarkable diversity of GG grape varieties of Burgundian heritage. The region is most known for Spätburgunder, Weissburgunder and Grauburgunder, but it also produces GG Riesling, Chardonnay and Lemberger.
Spätburgunder is the most planted grape in Baden, and its flagship GG expressions range from muscular wines from the volcanic terraces of the Kaiserstuhl to transcendent, fruity wines from the cooler limestone slopes of the Breisgau. Oft-underrated varieties like Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder are grown with unusual reverence.
Baden’s most ambitious GGs have been historically criticized for intense extraction and oak embellishments, but there’s a clear generational shift bringing youthful vitality.
Wines to Try
Salwey 2015 Oberrotweiler Eichberg Pinot Gris GG; $53, 94 points.
Layers of smoke and spice accent vibrant lemon, pear and apple in this dry but lusciously textured Pinot Gris. Plumpness on the palate is balanced by firm hits of steel and mineral along with a savory touch of white mushroom. It’s an intense, structured wine that should improve well through 2030. The German Wine Collective.
It’s ironic that Franken, one of Germany’s most eminent producers of predominantly dry, terroir-transparent wines, is one of its least known. The region excels in svelte wines that are often powerfully mineral. Most loved is Franken’s soft-edged, luminous Silvaner, but Riesling, Spätburgunder and Weissburgunder round out the region’s four recognized GG varieties.
Great, dry wines have been a part of Franken’s history long before the rise of the GGs, says Andrea Wirsching, managing director of Hans Wirsching. While much of Germany embraced cheap, cheerful sweet wines, Franconians held to their Fränkische-trocken, or Franconian dry wines, an informal moniker for wines with a maximum residual sugar level of four grams per liter.
At Hans Wirsching, flagship single-vineyard dry wines labeled spätlese trocken were produced as early as the 1980s. They’ve evolved, Wirsching says, as a new generation of highly educated, well-traveled winemakers in the 1990s prompted a “renaissance of great, dry single-vineyard wines.”
“A good GG should have an alcohol level of between 12.5% and 13.5%,” says Wirsching. With current climates, however, “if we worked our vineyards as we did in the early 2000s, they would be 15–16% abv. We want our GGs to be concentrated and complex,” but above all else, elegant.
“With too much alcohol, we’re in danger of losing that elegance,” she says.
To preserve the freshness, minerality and perfume so classic to the region’s dry wines, many of Franken’s winegrowers are seeking out cooler sites and new vineyard management techniques to slow sugar accumulation in grapes.
Wines to Try
Hans Wirsching 2016 Iphöfer Julius-Echter-Berg Silvaner GG Trocken Gold Cap; $36, 94 points.
While juicy and richly textured, there’s plenty of zip and vibe in this dry, deeply satisfying white. Crisp pear and green plum flavors are concentrated and fresh, finishing on zesty notes of lemon peel and crushed stone. Drinks beautifully now, but it’s concentrated enough to improve through 2040 and will likely hold much longer. The German Wine Collective.
The incomparable finesse and electric edge of the Mosel’s noble sweet Rieslings link them inextricably to the identity of the region—so much so that legendary winegrowers like J.J. Prüm and Egon Müller do not produce any dry wines whatsoever.
Yet, the Mosel produces Rieslings in an unparalleled stylistic range. In recent years, the region is increasingly lauded for dry, full-bodied and steely GG-style wines made exclusively from Riesling.
For the full read, visit Best Dry German Wine