Germany's Wines and Wine Regions
Germany has 13 wine regions — 11 regions in the west and 2 regions in the eastern part of the country. German wines are mostly white. They’re fruity in style, low in alcohol, rarely oaked, and often off-dry or sweet. Their labels carry grape names, which is an anomaly in Europe.
Germany is the northernmost major wine-producing country in Europe — its climate is cool. Except in warmer pockets of Germany, red grapes don’t ripen adequately, which is the reason most German wines are white. The climate is also erratic from year to year, meaning that vintages do matter for fine German wines.
Germany’s finest vineyards are situated along rivers such as the Rhine and the Mosel, and on steep, sunny slopes, to temper the extremes of the weather and help the grapes ripen.
Riesling and other grape varieties
In Germany’s cool climate, the noble Riesling grape finds true happiness. Riesling represents little more than 20 percent of Germany’s vineyard plantings.
Another major, but less distinguished, German variety is Müller-Thurgau, a crossing between the Riesling and Silvaner (or possibly Chasselas) grapes. Its wines are softer than Riesling’s with less character and little potential for greatness.
After Müller-Thurgau and Riesling, the most-planted grapes in Germany are Silvaner, Kerner, Scheurebe, and Ruländer (Pinot Gris). Among Germany’s red grapes, Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) is the most widely planted, mainly in the warmer parts of the country.
Germany’s wine regions
The most famous of Germany's 13 wine regions is the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, named for the Mosel River and two of its tributaries, along which the region’s vineyards lie; and the Rheingau region, along the Rhine River. The Rhine River lends its name to three other German wine regions, Rheinhessen, the Pfalz (formerly called the Rheinpfalz), and the tiny Mittelrhein region.
Following are descriptions of notable wine regions in Germany:
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer: The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer vineyard rise steeply on the slopes of the twisting and turning Mosel River. The wines of the region are among the lightest in Germany (usually containing less than 10 percent alcohol); they’re generally delicate, fresh, and charming. Riesling dominates the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer with 57 percent of the plantings.
Rheingau: The Rheingau is among Germany’s smaller wine regions. It, too, has some dramatically steep vineyards bordering a river, but here the river is Germany’s greatest wine river, the Rhine. The Riesling grape occupies more than 80 percent of the Rheingau’s vineyards, many of which are south-facing slopes that give the Riesling grapes an extra edge of ripeness.
Rheinhessen: Rheinhessen is Germany’s largest wine region, producing huge quantities of simple wines for everyday enjoyment. Liebfraumilch originated here, and it’s still one of the most important wines of the region, commercially speaking. The Rheinhessen’s highest quality wines come from the Rheinterrasse, a vineyard area along the river.
Pfalz: Almost as big as the Rheinhessen, the Pfalz has earned somewhat more respect from wine lovers for its fairly rich and full-bodied white wines and its very good reds — all of which owe their style to the region’s relatively warm climate. Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Silvaner, and Kerner are among the most planted grape varieties of the Pfalz, but qualitatively Scheurebe and Blauburgunder (Pinot Noir) are important.
Nahe: One other German region of importance for the quality of its wines is Nahe, named for the Nahe River and situated west of Rheinhessen. The Riesling wines produced here are relatively full and intense.