What’s German for Drier than Dry? Fart Dry, Of Course

The dark wit of Berlin. Dangerously low water levels in the Rhine River. Black bread. Germany does dry like few others. And then there’s the wine. Despite its reputation as the land of Blue Nun, more than 60 percent of the wines made in Germany are dry. And within that 60 percent, there are discernible levels of dry, drier, and driest. So dry, in fact, there’s a very strangely specific word for it. (Of course there’s a word. It’s Germany. There’s always a word.)

Furztrocken. Literally: Fart. Dry.

As difficult to translate as I find a wine term like feinherb, it’s Kinderspiel when compared to furztrocken. The mindset is everything here. In English, we lazily circle our subject, adding adjectives according to aesthetic and whim. German seizes upon the essential elements and conscripts them into non-socially distanced lockdown. The result is often a uniquely singular image, bringing together ideas so nonsensical that they do indeed make sense, such as “fart dry.” A furztrocken wine is drier than bone dry. So dry, in fact, that it defies all moisture, leaving little more than dust in the proverbial wind.

In the U.S., riesling has a bad rap for being “too sweet.” Along with its difficult nomenclature and excess of umlauts, sugar is German riesling’s unfortunate cross to bear. But it doesn’t have to be. The Germans have multiple levels of dry. So over here, it’s confusing why Americans focus so much on sweetness. The International Riesling Foundation Sweetness Scale, introduced in 2007 by American wine critic Dan Berger, was created “to help our customers choose between the many different levels of sweetness the riesling grape has to offer.” Maybe it’s all simpler than that. Maybe just hassle your importer or retailer to start carrying the Fart Dry wines.

While colloquially sometimes used to describe agriculture, furztrocken is more commonly considered a gustatory evaluation of anything from schnitzel to cake. Furztrocken’s home has regional roots. In this case, south of Germany’s equivalent of the Mason-Dixon line, the Rhine River, where it crosses through the cities of Frankfurt and the great wine capital, Mainz. But furztrocken wines exist throughout Germany.

Unlike most everything else in Germany, furztrocken is not a number. It’s a state of mind. For winemaker Achim Reis of the low-fi, family estate Weingut Reis in Germany’s Mosel valley, it reflects a determination to challenge the stereotypes by showing that sweetness isn’t the only game in town. No question, it would be easy to produce the sort of delicate, butterfly-styled rieslings for which his region is known. But with half of his vineyards located in the steep Mosel hills, easy is not in this vintner’s blood. Reis’s, anything but easy, 2017 Furztrocken riesling is grown on old vines in the Kröver Steffensberg vineyard.

His very serious Furztrocken hits the tongue with an initial splash of classic riesling apricot, then grabs your palate and takes you on a wild, spicy, savory underwater ride. Sharp acid edges cut through the creamy texture leaving you dizzy with an aura of fine fruitiness, like candied raspberries or dried hibiscus hanging at the edge of your gustatory vision. Furztrocken speaks to the surprising, challenging, and malleable nature of the variety and vineyard.

There are, of course, other more socially acceptable ways to talk about dry when it comes to German wine. In the wine growing region of Franken, a gentleman’s agreement decrees that only dry wines under 4 grams of residual sugar per liter (the rest of Germany can legally reach 9 grams per liter) are allowed to be called “Fränkisch trocken.” These wines are earthy and spicy; more rustic than refined; more fact than fruit; and express a particular stony austerity of both people and landscape. Fränkisch trocken is the sort of wine that pairs better with beans and bratwurst than more delicate fare. Sold in short, squat no-nonsense flasks called Bocksbeutel, at first glance they look like they’d sit better on your hip than on a white-clothed table.

A furztrocken wine is drier than bone dry. So dry, in fact, that it defies all moisture, leaving little more than dust in the proverbial wind.

These wines are as much about what is NOT said than about what is, a liquid representation of stony silence. I appreciate this. As the mother of three boys, I understand the untapped power of a long, deep and silent stare. I lack the bandwidth for frills and fancy. As an American living in Germany, “fart” counts among the first German words I learned — somewhere between “please” and “I’ll have another.”

If the best of wines reflect the culture, then it only makes sense that the wines are as dry as the humor. There’s an old saying: What grows together goes together. It’s intended for food pairing, but perhaps there’s more to it than just that. Furztrocken wines are certainly ones to open when it’s time to — wait for it — cut the cheese.

Paula Redes Sidore

Carol Mercedes
Pink Hot Publisher / United Photo Press Magazine