German Wine: History of Types and Regions

German spiced wine is the country’s heritage. But how much do you know about German wine? If you love enjoying a glass or two of German’s finest, here is everything you need to know.

Germany is among the world’s leading wine-producing countries. Extensive vineyards have been present in the country, along the Rhine River, since Ancient Romans days.

Today, Germany is number eight among the world’s largest wine-producing nations, creating over 1.2 billion bottles of wine per year.

For wine lovers, this means that the nation has even more to offer. The extensive vineyards add to the beauty, charm, and uniqueness of the German culture.

With the Riesling grape being the most acclaimed and widely grown in Germany, locals usually refer their wine to as Riesling. However, there are numerous other great German wine varieties, as we will see later.

So, how did Germany came to be one of the world’s renowned wine producers? What facts lie behind the German wine that you might not know?

Let’s explore this together.

German wines

History of Wine in Germany

Germany’s wine-producing history dates back to the Romans, with evidence of grape-growing and cultivation as early as 70 A.D. Moselle was the first established wine region. The popularity of wine paralleled the introduction of Christianity, and Charlemagne was instrumental in importing both to the area.

Most of the vineyards in medieval Germany were run by churches and monasteries, and under the supervision and careful tending of the monks, the quality of the grapes grown flourished.

Centuries went by, and vineyards expanded to an area many times larger than what is presently being cultivated, but in the 16th century, everything changed. German Beer started being locally brewed and quickly became the more popular beverage.

Between the damage inflicted by Germany’s thirty-year war and the continuing rise of beer’s popularity, the number of vineyards and acres devoted to wine production declined.

The end of the German church’s domination of wine production, as well as the intense concentration on quality, came in the 1800s. This was after the arrival of Napoleon, who distributed the control of German wine production outside of the church.

However, the culture didn’t die completely. Although Germany is no longer among the top three wine producers, it is still a leading wine producer globally.

German Wines Today

Today, two-thirds of Germany’s wine production is devoted to white wine. Of the 135 grape varietals permitted in the country, 100 are white wine grapes, and only 35 produce red wines or roses.

Most of Germany’s 252,000 acres of vineyards are located along the Rhine River, which creates a moist microclimate that contributes to German wine’s reputation for acidity.

Because Germany is one of the world’s most northern wine-producing regions, they struggle with getting enough ripeness in their grapes to produce red wines. But Germany remains a great wine region given its climate and environment.

To counter this problem in both red wines and white wines, most of their vineyards are planted on steep mountainsides so that they can maximize their exposure to the sun and the soil’s retention of warmth.

This makes mechanical grape-picking nearly impossible. For this reason, German wine is produced in an extremely labor-intensive way. Vineyards tend to be much smaller than in other wine-producing areas of the world.

Also, German wines receive mixed reviews among wine connoisseurs.

Most of Germany’s drier white wines stay within the country, while the sweeter, more fruit-intense wines they are known for, are exported.

But, you can always enjoy a mug or two of the traditional German mulled wine (Gluhwein) any time- it’s a traditional drink, especially during Christmas markets.

Germany’s largest export customer of wine is Great Britain, followed by the United States and the Netherlands.

Types of German Wine

sparkling wine

Germany produces around 10 million hectoliters of wine annually. This is equal to approximately 1.3 billion bottles, making the country the 8th largest wine producer globally.

As earlier mentioned, white wine dominates the German wine market, accounting for over 2/3 of the country’s total production. This includes the dry, sweet, and semi-sweet white wines.

But, there are also other renowned German wine styles, including red wines, rose wines, and sparkling wines (Sekt). Most of German Sekt stays within the country’s borders.

To get a clearer picture, let’s look at this comprehensive German wine classification guide.

  1. Riesling

German white wine

The most popular white wine produced in Germany is Riesling. As Germany’s flagship wine, Riesling constitutes over 1/5 of all the grapes grown in Germany. Its history dates as far back as the 15th century, with origins in the Rhine Valley region.

Riesling is a semi-sparkling white wine that has a nice crispness to it. It’s a highly scented wine with a flowery or fruity taste and high acidity levels.

The acidity results from lesser ripeness in grapes in the northern climate and because Riesling grapes retain high acidity even when ripe. However, sugar is added during production to lower the wine’s acidity.

For wine enthusiasts, this is among the best German wine varieties. It goes well with various dishes, including fish and pork, or even a spicy Asian cuisine.

  1. Grape Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)

Pinot Noir is undoubtedly the most popular German red wine variety. In fact, it has scooped several Decanter awards over the years.

Since Spätburgunder grows in all the German wine regions, the taste slightly varies due to the difference in soil and climate across the regions. However, the tastes are not all that distinct. All these varieties have a common spicy and stylish taste unique to German wines.

Ahr is the most notable German wine-growing region, where grape Spätburgunder accounts for around 50% of its production. Other regions still grow the grapes but in lesser amounts.

Unlike the Riesling variety, traditional Pinot Noir is low in acidity and is light in both color and body. But, there’s also another popular full-bodied variety that is dark red, with higher acidity levels.

  1. Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris)

While the grapes making this wine are reddish-grey, the wine is generally in the white German wine category. It is golden-yellow in color, full-bodied, and has mild to medium acidity levels.

Pinot Gris, as it’s known in France, is believed to be a mutation of the Pinot Noir grapes. The wine is dry and elegant and is perfect for almost any type of meal. Its fruity and spicy aroma makes it a great wine for various occasions.

Grauburgunder wine represents the smoother, drier version. But there is the other more –flavored, fuller-bodied version, known as Ruländer.  This version is named after its inventor Speyer, Johann Ruland, a businessman who discovered it back in the 18th century.

This German wine can be produced in various flavors, resonant of almonds, pears, pineapple, and nuts.

  1. Theodorus Dornfelder

This is an instantly attractive fruity German red wine, with richness in autumnal brambly and stylish sensations. Made from Dornfelder grapes, which are cross-breed of two distinct grape varieties, the end result is quality and uniqueness.

This German wine gives you a feeling of fulfillment that doesn’t come with many wine varieties. Typically, it’s like enjoying a glass of Pinot Noir with an extra oompf! It’s certainly among the best brands produced in Germany.

With this new hybrid variety, Germany can now easily produce darker, full-bodied, fruity wines that were significantly hard to produce before.

  1. Müller-Thurgau

This is another famous white grape variety in Germany, discovered by Herman Müller in 1882. He came up with these categories of German wines after a cross between the Riesling and Madeleine Royale grape varieties.

Currently, Müller-Thurgau is used to make one of the best German white wines. Other countries like Italy, Austria, Canada, and the US, also use it to produce white wine.

While some wine enthusiasts find this German wine too plain and sweet, others still enjoy the sweetness, as well as the peachy fragrance and mild acidity.

And, with over 42,000 hectares in cultivation globally, this makes Müller-Thurgau grapes some of the most largely produced – especially of the “new breeds.”

  1. Pinot Noir Précoce

Pinot Noir

Popularly known as Frühburgunder in some parts of Germany, this is another style of the famous Spätburgunder. However, the Frühburgunder variety is produced by achieving grapes ripeness earlier than those used in Spätburgunder production.

This gives this German red wine a distinctive personality from that of Spätburgunder. It is a full-bodied, darker wine with mild acidity compared to its counterpart.

And, when it comes to production, the wine is most common in the Ahr Valley.

  1. Eiswein

This is a type of German wine produced from naturally frozen grapes. That’s right! Although it sounds impossible, Eiswein wine actually comes from grapes grown in very cold temperatures.

These grapes are particularly light, with sweet, flowery, or fruity flavor. Generally, Eiswein is known as the ice wine.

While the water in the grapes freezes, the sugars and several other dissolved solids don’t. This allows the accumulation of a more concentrated juice on the grapes. When the frozen grapes are pressed and processed, a highly concentrated, sweet wine is derived.

  1. Silvaner

Silvaner is one of the German wines that have been integral to Germany’s culture for centuries, although that has continually lost ground.

Silvaner grape is a delicate, fairly neutral grape that has been so popular in German vineyards until the ’60s. But, it’s still quite popular in the Franconia region, as well as the Rheinhessen.

This German white wine is humorously called the Dracula Wine due to its old and pale appearance, especially when exposed to bright sunlight for lengthy periods. The wine, which tastes best when young, is full-bodied, and its acidity levels are mild.

See related: 14 Traditional German Christmas Food

German Wine Regions

German wine regions

While German beer has since become a predominant drink, Germany still produces substantial amounts of wine – especially for export. In total, there are 13 official German wine producing regions across the country.

Some are even among the top German tourist attractions. So, which are they?

  1. Mosel

Formerly known as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, it is the most famous wine-producing region in Germany. It lies along the River Mosel and its tributaries Saar and Ruwer.

The region boasts of steep vineyards, (among the steepest globally), and slate-laden soil. These factors result in grapes with significantly high sugar levels.

  1. Rheinhessen (Rhenish Hesse)

Formerly called the Liebfraumilch land, this is the largest wine-producing region in Germany. It’s located on the Rhineland-Palatinate state, and it’s famous for German white wines, red wines, and mixed styles.

  1. Ahr

This is a small wine region in Germany, along the Ahr River, a tributary of the Rhine. And, despite being a northern region, it’s known for red wine production from Spätburgunder grapes.

  1. Rheingau

The region covers Eltville, Rüdesheim, and Oestrich-Winkel. It’s another crucial region for Riesling production, although much smaller than Mosel.

The wine from this area has a fruity citrus aroma, mainly due to the presence of rich, granite base alluvial soil, plus sufficient sunlight.

  1. Baden

Baden is the southernmost German wine producing region. It’s also the warmest and sunniest. The region is renowned for its pinot red and white wines.

  1. Franconia

Also known as the Franken region, it includes parts of the Main River and the only wine-producing region in Bavaria. It’s popular for the production of dry Silvaner wines.

  1. Hessische Bergstraße

Known as Hessian Mountain Road in English, it’s a small wine-growing region in the Hesse state, renowned for producing Riesling.

  1. Mittelrhein

The region lies between the Mosel and Rheingau, on the mid parts of the Rhine. It’s a Riesling predominant region.

  1. Nahe

This region sits along river Nahe, a place with varied volcanic soils. It’s known for growing several grapes varieties, although the main type is Riesling.

  1. Palatinate or Pfalz

Palatinate falls second in the list of the largest German wine-producing regions. It is known for both red and white styles of wine. Until 1995, the place was known as Rheinpfalz in Germany.

  1. Saale-Unstrut

This region lies along two rivers; Saale and Unstrut. And, it’s the northernmost wine-producing region in Germany.

  1. Saxony or Sachsen

It sits on the southernmost part of Germany, in Saxony state, along river Elbe.

  1. Württemberg

Unlike most other regions, Württemberg is dominated by three grape varieties; Trollinger, Lemberger, and Schwarzriesling. It’s one of the two wine-growing regions in Baden-Württemberg.

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Updated: June 8, 2021 — 9:43 am

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