Last month, Wines of Germany held the first ever UK Riesling Summit with over 100 members of the drinks trade descending on the RIBA in Central London. The idea behind the Riesling Summit was to encourage excitement and discussion about the most respected and versatile white grape in the world and get the trade to enjoy spending a day with Riesling.
The day started with a panel debate looking at the opportunity for German Wine as consumer tastes continue to move towards lower alcohol and lighter style wines. The panel was made up of Gerd Stepp (Winemaker and Industry Consultant), Helena Conibear (Director of Alcohol in Moderation), Maria Troein (Wine Intelligence), and Wines of Germany's (UK) Director Nicky Forrest.
Due to changing lifestyles and increasing government regulation, the idea behind the debate was to explore opportunities which might exist for Germany. As consumers increase their search for healthier options or at least, less heavy styles of wines, the panel also discussed if Germany's naturally low in alcohol options are currently being overlooked and possibly missing out. Should Germany seek to capitalise on the trend towards lighter wine styles and in doing so, would the UK trade support us?
Of course there are two totally different sectors here - under 5.5% with its 'technically / made 'wines' and advantageous tax breaks. This is the fastest growing sector of the UK market driven largely by price and margin. And then there is the second sector between 6-11% which has not benefited from tax breaks and shows slower growth within the UK market. Within the 6-11% sector, wines are naturally produced; therefore, wines within this sector taste like wine because they are wine. Conibear stressed the importance of the government's responsible drinking drive and the trade's promise to remove 1 billion units from consumption by 2015 - something that will be effected across beer, wine and spirits.
Conibear also considered the development of the low alcohol category as "very exciting" and considered it "Germany's best chance in years" as consumers are after lighter styles. This is something, of course, that Germany does very well because as everyone knows you can make an amazing fruity style wine with around 10%-11% alcohol that knocks the socks of most other wines at that level. In fact many years ago the Deutsche Weininstitut had a strapline: 'German wines - light and elegant naturally'. Is it time to bring it back?
So then the next question is about taste. As Stepp puts it, "winemaking is always in conflict. There's what's technically possible and then there's what's good for the wine." Far better from his point of view, was the ability of certain countries and regions to produce lighter, less alcoholic wines naturally, which as a result would retain the all important sense of balance between acidity, sugar and alcohol and lead to a better tasting, higher quality wine. "Naturally low tastes better," he concluded.
Rupert Millar from Drinks Business recently wrote, "It is difficult to argue against the idea that Germany should seek to capitalise on the trend towards lighter wine styles by pushing the message that it naturally produces less heavy and alcoholic wines."
Posted by Nicky Forrest