Germany has much healthier alcohol laws and practices than the US. In Germany, the drinking age is 16 for beer. If you are under 16 and your parents are with you, they may order an alcoholic beverage on your behalf. A glass of wine or cup or beer with a meal is not unusual for a teenager at the family table. When there is a celebration, Sekt, or sparkling wine, is often present. In this environment, many children grow up understanding that alcohol is something to compliment a meal or celebration.

Drunkenness is not unheard of in Germany. Just visit Oktoberfest and you will see Germans and foreigners alike in a state of wobbly intoxication. The partying in Germany is some of the most enthusiastic celebrating I have ever witnessed. However, the attitude about drunkenness seems much healthier. The drunkard in Germany is responsible for their own decision to end up in this state, even if they are an alcoholic. A drunkard may be viewed as annoying or disruptive, but it is also their fault for ending up that way. It is not a thing blamed on the evils of alcohol or addiction, but rather a challenge to overcome.

At 19, I lived in Germany and tried my first good red wine at an Italian restaurant. It was a Chianti, which I ordered mainly because I was confident that I could pronounce the name if the wine. The Italian waiter promptly corrected my pronunciation, but the wine was an excellent dry-but-a-little-fruity beverage that made my face flush pleasantly. For most of that year, I confidently ordered Chianti, afraid to try anything else for fear of another disastrous mispronunciation.

In the spring, my father visited and we headed to the Rhein Valley. The region is ideal for growing wine grapes. With Dad there, I was confident enough to try some German wines.

Surprisingly, the extra dry Rieslings in the area were superb - a minor miracle since every US-manufactured Riesling that I have tried since has been sickly sweet with a strong alcohol aftertaste.

It was exciting, in light of this, to find an actual German wine at Trader Joes in the $7 per bottle price range: The Rheingau Pinot Nior.

For four days, I looked forward to opening this bottle and chose a night when I had worked until about 8 and could take the rest of the night to enjoy a glass of wine and a good book by the fire. This wine tasted much like a sweet, US Riesling, but was light red in color and came complete with a strong alcohol aftertaste. Blech.

One way to make it better, is to refrigerate it like a white wine. This reduces the aftertaste and makes it less sweet. Sweet wine lovers out there may enjoy this wine, but if you think dryer is better, leave the 2005 Rheingau Pinot Nior on the shelf and buy a nice Chianti.

Summary: 2005 Rheingau Pinot Nior at Trader Joes

  • Flavor: Sweet with a strong aftertaste
  • Color: Nice
  • Ideal temperature: Cold
  • Response to decanting: It gets worse
  • Recommendation: Don't buy

Maybe it is too young...