Record prices for German wine as it sheds old image

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The Independent Online

Germany's much-maligned wine industry has finally managed to cast off its reputation as a purveyor of cheap, sweet plonk for mass consumption once epitomised by the veteran British off-licence labels "Blue Nun" and "Black Tower".

Figures released by growers yesterday showed that German wines are not only fetching their highest ever prices worldwide, but that sales of more expensive bottles are booming in the United States and Britain.

Ernst Buscher, a spokesman for the German Wine Institute, which is responsible for marketing the country's wines abroad said: "In America alone German wines sales were worth more than ¿100m (£70m) last year. That has sent a powerful signal to the rest of the world."

German wines are benefiting from the so-called ABC, or "Anything But Chardonnay", mood among white wine drinkers in the US who have grown bored with the country's most widely grown white grape. Instead drinkers are opting for high-quality dry and sweet Riesling wines of which Germany produces two-thirds of the world's quota.

In Britain, sales of German wines priced at £10 per bottle or more have risen by a massive 125 per cent over the past two years, with some sold in London restaurants fetching as much as £595 per bottle.

The most popular German wines are Rieslings – generally considered one of the world's finest white grape sorts – but there has also been a significant increase in the consumption of German red and rosé wines, which rose by 74 and 20 per cent respectively in Britain last year. Most of the red comes from the Pinot Noir grape of which Germany is the world's third largest producer.

In Germany, a steady increase in wine sales has been mirrored by a gradual decline in beer consumption. The boom has been strongest in the red wine sector, which accounted for 51 per cent of the wine market in the first half of this year.

The quiet revolution in German wines has taken place gradually as vintners have switched from turning out large quantities of sweeter wines designed for mass consumption, to producing higher quality, dryer wines for a select market.

In Britain, the popularity of German wine reached its peak in the Victorian era when it was generally called "Hock", a reference to the wine estates of the Hockenheim region. The queen was reputed to have coined the phrase: "A glass of hock a day keeps the doctor away."

Johannes Häger, a vintner at one of Germany's premier wine estates in the Pfalz region near the border with France put the increasing interest in German wines down to the fact that most of the country's wine growers now invested in high quality grapes which produced superior wines. "We are no longer interested in mass production. We did that in the seventies and bitterly regretted it," he said.