Have you ever picked up a bottle of German wine from say, 2001, and seen, an addendum, a postscript if you will, the two lower case letters “er?” as in 2001er? Is the wine actually from 2001? Bottled in 2001? Is it a blend of wines put together in 2001 from multiple vintages? Or does it mean that the vintner is only half sure of the year because of ancient bottling techniques that have yet to give way to modernization? Or, perhaps, a lonely anachronism that has clung to this, of all things, in the face of a world that doesn’t pay any mind to proud history and technique?

This question had irritated me for a few years until last year when i began drinking almost nothing but German whites for six months, at which point i had to know. Sure, you say, Wikipedia probably could have answered my question quicker, but philosophically i am opposed to Wikipedia, and besides, finding out the answer to a question yourself is much more rewarding, as any dog with fleas knows.

So the first people i asked were wine people who may (probably not) have had the same question plaguing them. The answers i got at first were sufficient:
“It’s an old system of numbering that doesn’t mean anything”
“It’s a throwback to old german wine laws based on old numbering systems”
Or any number of variations on the same thing. the problem with these answers, like the question that comes slamming back into the police officer’s head at 3:00 in the morning in any number of interchangeable cop dramas (“why didn’t he mention the car?”), was the answer didn’t answer the question “why the er?”

So this nagging question continued until a too obvious solution presented itself in the form of, you know, actually asking a German speaker. And not some second year German student who has pretended to read Magic Mountain but instead struggles with TinTin. Instead i found a native German speaker who is also fluent in English. the result of this is obvious, as i immediately got a good answer here:

“it’s not all that common. i wouldn’t say it’s wine only though. it basically translates to something like “(a or the) 1992 one”.

another example would be: “die 1992er ausschreitungen” -> “the 1992 riots”

in german you can’t just say “die 1992 ausschreitungen”. the regular way of saying this is “die ausschreitungen von 1992” (the riots of 1992). the only way to shorten this is to add the -er suffix, then you can shorten it to “die 1992er ausschreitungen”.

also of note is that a threesome in german is called a “dreier” (3er).”

So there you go. A 2001er riesling is, in effect, the riesling of 2001. The last part was a surprise, and the multilingual punning of sex + domestic activity increases by that much (“sure, we can get a dryer”).

Wine that brought this up:
1992er Carl Schmitt-Wagner Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Riesling Spätlese

What it tastes like: This wine was so classically German riesling that it will serve as a baseline for me from now on. Petrol, candied apples, slight citrus, cooked pineapples, lots of mineral notes, clean the whole way through.

What you should eat: I had pork witha carrot ginger emulsion. Something about pork recommends me to riesling. I think it may be my stereotypes about food, wine and culture. Remind me to do a post on this, my theories on why wines are described thusly are more interesting than they might seem. Or not.

What to listen to; Hard to imagine classical Germany and not Neu:

~ by Cory Cartwright on February 11, 2009.

4 Responses to “er”

  1. Glad to see you eventually nailed it, Cory. The er suffix on the vintage works exactly as does the er suffix appended to the wine’s village of origin. The Schmitt-Wagner you drank is from Longuich, and thus a Longuicher, just as it’s from 1992 and thus a 1992er. The analogy that makes easy sense to most people who ask me your very question on the wine shop floor is to think of it in the same way as you might call someone from New York a New Yorker (among other things…).

    • It’s like a demonym for dates then. Got it. Lucky we don’t have any readers from New York (or at least i don’t think we do).

  2. Corey – guess you didn’t study any languages requiring declensions. Since I’m one of those liberal arts studies, speaker of a few languages, none of them particularly well, type hacks, allow me to explain. German, like Latin, Russian and a few others, is a language requiring declensions. There are different cases, each with their own suffix, depending on the function of a noun. If a word is a subject it’s in the nominative case, a direct object is accusative, and to show possesion or origin you would use the genetive case. So ‘er is the German suffix for this case. So, as McDuff said, your riesling is from Longuich, and from the 1992 vintage. Tasty wines, those Schmitt Wagners.

  3. Thanks for that, Joe. No Russian, German, or Latin for me. Just some French and Spanish, both of which are suffering horrendously post-college. One question i still have (and either of you feel free to chime in) is why some bottles are dated like this and some aren’t? Simple anachronism or tradition? Is it regional?

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