Wine is produced in many different regions across the world which is why there are so many different varieties and options to choose from. For real wine enthusiasts and connoisseurs, the region in which a particular wine is produced plays a very important role in the overall quality of a wine because it will affect it’s taste and flavor profile. Luckily, if you don’t like the flavor profile or taste produced by a certain region from around the world, you can simply try a different wine product that was produced in a separate region. That makes the possibilities when it comes to tasting and consuming wine virtually unlimited, certain regions, however, are renowned for their expertise in wine crafting and premium grape selections. If you’re familiar with high-end wine varieties, you probably know that Germany is one of those regions that are well-known for Its stellar production quality when it comes to making fine wines for the public.
Germany has a very rich history in wine manufacturing and production which had made it a leader in the wine industry today. When it comes to selecting the perfect German wine, there are several factors that you must consider before making a final purchase decision about which bottle is best for you. German wines are made using various different grapes that are grown under very stringent and tightly monitored conditions in order to produce the finest wine possible. Germany has a wide selection of premium grape for you to choose from all of which have their own unique characteristics in terms of how they taste and hit your taste buds.
As with many European countries that produced wine, the wine history of Germany is one that stretches across the millennia, and one which was influenced primarily by the rising and falling of empires and occupying forces. Those great viticultural pioneering men, the Romans, were the first to cultivate wild wine grapes in sites such as Piesport, which remain critical to the wine industry to this day. Some incredible archaeological evidence has been found in recent years to support the claim that Germany was once a cornerstone of the Roman empire’s wine-producing network, the largest Roman0based wine press ever formed outside of Italy was uncovered in Piesport, and dated to 400 A.D.
Once the vineyards were established in Germany, and key grape varieties identified with which to make quality wines, the cultivation of wine grapes in Germany exponentially grew afterward. Once the Roman settlers retreated Germany was free, leaving the kingdoms of Germany to begin establishing their own identities and way of doing things, it was the church which took on the mantle of vintner, and monastic wineries sprung up across the central and southern stretches of the country, further exploring the potential of the land.
The expert winemakers in Germany know what they’re doing when it comes to producing fine wine products that give consumers the ability to explore and combine different food combinations how they want. If you’ve been looking for a premium quality German wine variety but have had no luck, today is your lucky day.
In this guide, we’re going to explore the many different regions in which German Wine is produced and how you can go about choosing the perfect German wine selection for your desired taste profile. We’ll cover important information like the various types of German grapes out there and the different regions in which German wine varieties are cultivated so that you can have a better understanding of the true history about German wine varieties. German wine varieties come in many different flavor profiles and taste so let’s begin with how you’ll know which type of German wine you’re buying.
German Wine Varieties: Labeling & Terms
When it comes to German wine selections, they are known for having rather confusing or complicated labels and terminology attached to them. Because of this very reason, we’re going to give you a detailed breakdown about all of the various German wine terminologies that exist so that you’ll be able to ensure that you’re making the right decision when it comes to the wine that you decide to purchase.
- Auslese, naturally fully ripe grapes produce what is usually a long-living medium-sweet wine.
- Beerenauslese (BA), very sweet rarities usually sold at a very high price.
- The classic, official designation for dry wines made from traditional grape varieties. See Selection.
- Deutschersekt, German wine made sparking (cf Sekt).
- Deutscher Wein, formerly known as Deutscher Tafelwein, this is the most basic sort of German wine constituting less than 5% of an average crop.
- Eiswein, ice wine, which often fetches more than Beerenauslese.
- Erste Lage, one of the VDP’s controversially selected ‘first growth’ vineyards.
- Erstes Gewächs, the name for Grosses Gewächs in Rheingau and Hessische-Bergstrasse.
- Feinherb unofficial term for a medium dry wine.
- Grosses Gewächs, a term for top quality dry wines from top sites as decided by and for members of the VDP.
- Gutsabfüllung, estate-bottled.
- Halbtrocken, literally ‘half dry’, wines which taste medium dry.
- Kabinett, the least ripe of the Prädikatswein categories (see below). Such wines can make lovely light-bodied dryish aperitifs.
- Landwein, Germany’s answer to France’s IGP wines, previously known as Vins de Pays.
- Liebfraumilch, strictly a creation for export markets. In practice almost any medium-dry vaguely aromatic blend can qualify as Liebfraumilch, once traded savagely as a commodity.
- Prädikatswein, wine with one of the Prädikats: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, BA, TBA, and Eiswein.
- Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet (QbA), by far the dominant category this includes not only all of the Liebfraumilch and basic blends but also some perfectly creditable wines from top producers who decided they needed chaptalization (which is outlawed for Prädikatswein) to make them balanced.
- Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), the old name for Prädikatswein.
- Sekt, sparkling wine. Deutscher Sekt is a member of the elite made from German rather than imported (often Italian) wine.
- Selection, the official designation for dry-tasting wines made from hand-picked grapes from a specified plot with a controlled yield.
- Spätlese means literally ‘late harvest’. This category includes many fine, concentrated wines from bone dry (trocken) to medium dry.
- trocken means ‘dry’ and any wine so labeled is designed to be drunk with food. It is also likely to be more alcoholic than wine not labeled trocken because the grape sugar has been fermented into alcohol. These wines are particularly popular in Germany and increasingly so abroad.
- Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), (literally ‘dried grapes that were late-picked’, a reference to the shriveling effect of botrytis), the sweetest, richest most luscious sort of Prädikatswein which is produced in tiny quantities and usually sells for fabulous prices. Noble rot (Edelfäule) is usually needed to concentrate grape sugars sufficiently to meet the required ripeness levels – although some grape varieties have been specifically bred to ripen spectacularly, if not always sumptuously.
- VDP, Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, an association of many of the top producers, most of them with a long history.
- Winzergenossenschaft, Winzerverein, two common names for co-operatives.
The least ripe of the prädikat levels, and typically the lightest of a grower’s offerings. With their low alcohol levels and a touch of sweetness, these wines make ideal picnic quaffs and mouth-watering apéritifs. Most often consumed in their youth, they can last for ten years or more.
Made from select bunches of grapes left on the vine until they achieve high sugar readings, these wines often carry a hint or more of botrytis. While some are sweet enough to serve with simple fruit desserts, others are best sipped alone. With age, some of the sugar seems to melt away, yielding wines that can ably partner with roast pork or goose. Thirty-year-old auslesen can smell heavenly, but sometimes fall flat on the palate. Enjoy them on release for their luscious sweet fruit, or cellar for ten to twenty years.
Literally, “late picked.” These grapes are generally only late-picked with respect to those grapes that go into Kabinett or QbA wines. If vinified dry (an increasingly popular style), they can still seem less than optimally ripe. Traditionally made, with some residual sugar left in, they are extremely food friendly. Try them with anything from Asian food to baked ham and roast fowl. Most should be consumed before age twenty.
“Berry select” wines are harvested berry by berry, taking only botrytis-affected fruit. While auslesen are usually sweet, this level of ripeness elevates the wine to the dessert-only category. Hold up to fifty years.
These “dried berry select” wines are made from individually harvested, shriveled grapes that have been heavily affected by botrytis. Profoundly sweet and honeyed, their over-the-top viscosity and sweetness can turn off some tasters, while others revel in the complex aromas and flavors.
Made from frozen grapes that are at least equivalent in sugar levels to beerenauslese, but which produce wines with much racier levels of acidity. The intense sugars and acids enable these wines to easily endure for decades. Aside from the ripeness levels denoted by the German wine term QmP system, you can expect to see the terms trocken and halbtrocken on some labels (their use is optional). Trocken, or dry, may be used on wines with fewer than 9g/L residual sugar (less than 0.9 percent); halbtrocken (half-dry) refers to wines with between 9 and 18g/L. Given the allowable ranges, these wines may be truly dry or verging on sweet, depending on the acid-sugar balance. In an effort to simplify German wine information, a few relatively new terms have cropped up that supplement, replace, or partially replace the traditional labeling system. Erstes Gewächs wines, or “first growths,” come only from designated sites in the Rheingau. Classic wines must be “harmoniously dry” and must omit references to specific villages or vineyards. Selection wines bear a single-vineyard designation on the label and must be dry. Like anything in the wine world, the German wine dictionary is ever-evolving.
Now let’s take a look at some of the most prominent regions in which German wines are cultivated and produced. There are several different regions in which German wine products are produced so you’ll want to keep that in mind when you begin looking for the right German wine variety to purchase for our specific taste or flavor profile.
German Wine Varieties: By Region
Germany is home to a slew of premium German wine varieties that offer vastly different tastes and flavor profiles depending on what you’re looking for. This is one of the main reasons that German wine varieties are so popular with many different cultures and people from across the world. In the section below, you’ll find a complete list of all the different regions that German wine varieties are produced in. Use this information to help you make the perfect selection when it comes to which German wine variety is best suited for you.
Steep slate slopes and slightly warmer temperatures than found in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer yield powerful, sturdy wines, with ripe fruit flavors underscored by deep minerality.
The coolest of the German growing regions, and home to Germany’s crispest, raciest, and most delicate Rieslings. Green apples, floral notes, and citrus are all likely descriptors, but the best wines also display fine mineral notes that express their slate-driven terroirs.
This small side valley is the only rival to the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer for elegance and finesse, with Rieslings that balance lightness of body with mineral-based tensile strength.
Source for much of Germany’s production, the quality here can vary from generic liebfraumilch to fine single-estate wines.
One of Germany’s warmest winegrowing regions, with a great diversity of soils, microclimates, and grape varieties. Dry styles, whether made from Riesling or other white grapes are more common here and show better balance than those from cooler regions. Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) is also more successful here than elsewhere.
Franken lies some 65 km east of the Rhine, in Bavaria, with most of its vineyards planted on the hilly slopes lining the Main River and its tributaries. Würzburg is home of the famed vineyard Stein, which gave rise to the generic term Steinwein, formerly used to denote all Franken wines. Fuller-bodied, less aromatic, often drier, firmer and earthier, Franconian wines are generally the most masculine of Germany’s wines. Part of Franken wines’ singular personality is due to the climate: cold winters, high annual rainfall, early frosts long, warm autumns are rare. As a result, the late-ripening Riesling plays a minor role. Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, and Bacchus are the most important white varieties. Red wine grapes thrive in the western portion of the region between Aschaffenburg and Miltenberg. The finest Franken wines are traditionally bottled in a Bocksbeutel, a squat green or brown flagon with a round body which lends considerable recognition value to the region’s wines.
Baden is the southernmost of Germany’s wine regions. It is primarily a long, slim strip of vineyards nestled between the hills of the Black Forest and the Rhine River, extending some 400 km from north to south. Comprised of nine districts, Baden has many soil types and grape varieties. Nearly half of the vineyards are planted with Burgunder varieties: Spätburgunder, yielding velvety to fiery red wine; Grauburgunder, a dry, food-compatible wine, or marketed under the synonym Ruländer to denote a richer, fuller-bodied (and sweeter) style; and Weißburgunder, neutral enough to accompany many foods. Spicy Gewürztraminer and noble Riesling are specialties of the Ortenau district near Baden-Baden, where they are known as Clevner and Klingelberger, respectively. Light, mild Gutedel is a specialty of the Markgräflerland district between Freiburg and the Swiss border.
The Ahr is one of Germany’s northernmost wine regions. It is also one of the smallest, with vineyards extending only 24 km along the Ahr River as it flows toward the Rhine just south of Bonn. From Altenahr, in the west, to the spa Bad Neuenahr, the vines are perched on steep, terraced cliffs of volcanic slate. In the broad eastern end of the valley, the slopes are gentler and the soils are rich in loess. Four out of five bottles of Ahr wine are red velvety to fiery Spätburgunder and light, charming Portugieser predominate. Lively, fresh Riesling and Frühburgunder are the white wines which are produced here.
The Mittelrhein, known as “the Rhine Gorge”, is a winegrowing area located between Bonn and Bingen, which extends about 100km south along the banks of the Rhine. It is a beautiful region of steep, terraced vineyards and some of the wine world’s most splendid scenery medieval castles and ruins clinging to rocky peaks, sites of ancient legends where Siegfried, Hagen and the Loreley seem to spring to life. Nearly three-quarters of the vineyards are planted with the noble Riesling grape. The clayish slate soil yields lively wines with pronounced acidity. When there are years, in which the wines are particularly austere, they are sold to the producers of “Sekt”, Germany’s sparkling wine, where high acidity is an asset.
The tiny region Hessische Bergstraße takes its name from an old Roman trade route known as the strata Montana, or mountain road. It is a pretty landscape of vines and orchards scattered on hilly slopes famous for its colorful and fragrant springtime blossoms, the earliest in Germany. Riesling and Grauburgunder are the vines which are grown most here. The wines tend to be fragrant and rich, with more body and acidity and finesse similar to those of the Rheingau.
Sachsen is Germany’s easternmost and one of the smallest wine-growing regions. Its recorded viticultural history dates from 1161 show parallel with other wine regions, where the Church and the aristocracy were the primary medieval property owners and responsible for the development of the vineyards. In addition to viticulture, their legacy includes a wealth of art and architectural gems throughout the region. Most of the vineyards are located between Dresden and Diesbar-Seusslitz, the northern end of the Saxon Wine Road. A few vineyards are being restored on the southern outskirts of Dresden and further south, in Pillnitz and Pirna, the gateway to Saxon’s Switzerland. Many of the small parcels are planted on steep, labor-intensive stone terraces. The proximity of the Elbe River helps to temper the climate, but given this northerly location and growing conditions similar to those of Saale-Unstrut, it is not surprising that the early-ripening Müller-Thurgau predominates. In Sachen, the wines are marketed as varietals and nearly always vinified dry.
The Rheingau is one of the most distinguished wine regions of the world. Moving from east to west, the fairly flat, dimpled landscape evolves into progressively steep slopes. It is a quietly beautiful region, rich in tradition. Early on, its medieval ecclesiastical and aristocratic wine-growers were associated with the noble Riesling grape and, in the 18th century, were credited for recognizing of the value of harvesting the crop at various stages of ripeness from which the Prädikate, or special attributes that denote wines of superior quality, evolved. Queen Victoria’s enthusiasm for Hochheim’s wines contributed to their popularity in England, where they, and ultimately, Rhine wines in general, were referred to as Hock. The world-renowned oenological research and teaching institutes in Geisenheim have contributed significantly to the extraordinarily high level of technical competence in the German wine industry today. Two grape varieties predominate the Riesling and the Spätburgunder. The former yields elegant wines with a refined and sometimes spicy fragrance; a fruity, pronounced acidity; and a rich flavor. The Spätburgunder wines are velvety and medium- to full-bodied, with a bouquet and taste often compared with blackberries.
German Wine: Grape Varieties
German Wines are made using a vast variety of different grapes which it what gives each type it’s signature taste and flavor profile. Below, you’re going to find a complete list of all the various German wine grape varieties that are used in the production of German wines of all kinds. Each grape variety listed below will give your selected bottle of wine a distinctive taste and flavor profile that you won’t find anywhere else.
Like many other ancient grape varieties, Chardonnay stems from the Middle East.
As viticulture spread, the variety found a new home in France, particularly in Burgundy. Chardonnay is one of the most popular grape varieties in the world. The cultivation of Chardonnay has been officially permitted in Germany since 1991. In the meantime, more than 600 ha (ca. 1,500 acres) have been planted and it accounts for 0.6% of Germany`s total vineyard area.
A wide range of aromas is typical for Chardonnay, e.g. melons, exotic fruits, overripe gooseberries or slightly underripe apples. Higher qualities are usually rich in alcohol and extract. They are wines of substance, with a long finish, and often vinified in barrique casks.
This ancient white variety (origin unknown) is an early-ripening, very prolific producer that makes light, piquant wines that often are used for sparkling wine, thanks to their high acidity.
From the Middle Ages until the 19th century, it was widely planted in central and eastern Europe. German plantings today are centered in the Obermosel district, that portion of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer that is adjacent to Luxembourg.
The prolific Rheinhessen grape breeder Georg Scheu crossed Weissburgunder with Müller-Thurgau in 1929 to produce this early-ripening white variety. With sufficient ripeness, the Faberrebe can produce elegant, refreshing wines with a light Muscat tone and, usually, more acidity than Müller-Thurgau or Silvaner. The majority of plantings are in the Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Nahe regions.
Roter Traminer, and its better-known synonym, Gewürztraminer, or “spicy (aromatic) Traminer,” is an old, traditional variety prized for the high quality of its wine. From the Middle Ages until the 19th century, it was widely planted in central and eastern Europe. German plantings today are centered in the Obermosel district, that portion of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer that is adjacent to Luxembourg. While it is frost-resistant, it does need warm vineyard sites and soil with good drainage. It begins to ripen about the end of September. Yields are quite variable (due to weather conditions) and as such, it is cultivated as a specialty rather than for its profitability. Gewürztraminer wines have a distinctive, pronounced bouquet and flavor, often compared with lychees or roses. Even when vinified dry, German Gewürztraminer is usually less austere than its Alsatian counterpart. Sweeter versions have a loyal following here, too. It is a traditional grape of the Pfalz but is also grown in Baden, where it is known as Clevner, and in Rheinhessen.
Lemberger thrives in a warm climate and wind-protected sites, not least because bud-burst is early and it ripens late. In very good sites, this Württemberg specialty brings forth excellent quality. It does well in various soil types, especially fertile, deep, loess-loam soils. Yields are average in size. During the past decades, there has been a steady increase in the vineyard area planted with Lemberger. In the 80s it comprised some 400 to 500 ha (988 to 1,235 acres); in 1998, it surpassed 1,000 ha (ca. 2,500 acres); and today there are nearly 1,200 ha (ca. 3,000 acres). It is almost exclusively cultivated in Württemberg, where it accounts for about 10% of the total vineyard area (in Germany overall, 1%).
A promising, and relatively new, red wine grape, Domina is a crossing of Portugieser and Spätburgunder that was bred at the Institute for Vine Breeding in Siebeldingen in the Pfalz.
Like the Portugieser, it is a fairly prolific variety and does not require a particular type of soil or site. Domina ripens later than Portugieser but earlier than Spätburgunder. In 2001, there were 228 hectares (563 acres) of Domina under vine – more than double the area a decade ago (89 ha/220 acres) – most of which are planted in Franken. Although they seldom show the finesse of Spätburgunder, Domina wines are pleasant, full-bodied and deep in color.
Portugieser is a very old variety that probably originated in the Danube Valley (not Portugal).
This prolific, early-ripening grape yields mild, light, easy-to-enjoy wines. A good portion of the annual crop is vinified as Weissherbst (rosé), yet even the red wines are fairly pale in color.
While the Pfalz by far has the largest number of plantings, there is a considerable amount of Portugieser grown in Rheinhessen and it is the second most important variety in the Ahr.
In Germany, the Spätburgunder is to red wine what the Riesling is to white wine: the cream of the crop. In fact, Germany is the world’s third largest producer of Pinot Noir. The German name for the grape is Spätburgunder – late (spät) ripening pinot (burgundy). Sensitive to climate and soil, it needs warmth (but not intense heat) to thrive and does well in chalky soils. As the name implies, it ripens late (spät) and it was brought to Germany from Burgundy, where it has probably been cultivated since at least the 4th century (first documented, however, in the 14th century). Called Pinot Noir in France, this grape produces elegant, velvety wines with a distinctive bouquet reminiscent of bitter almonds or blackberries. The traditional style of German Spätburgunder is lighter in color, body and tannic acidity than its counterparts from warmer climates. Many contemporary winemakers, however, are producing wines that are more international in style, ie fuller-bodied, deep red wines with higher tannin levels. Often the wines take on more depth and complexity (and a light vanilla tone) if they are aged in small (225-liter) oak casks. Just over 11,5% of Germany’s vineyard area is devoted to Spätburgunder, primarily in the Ortenau and Kaiserstuhl districts of Baden; it accounts for over half the plantings in the Ahr.
Top German Wine Recommendations
In the following section, you’re going to find a selection of our top recommended German wine varieties that you can go out and buy today. All of the German wine recommendations listed below vary in terms of the grape used in its production and the region in which it was produced.
#1 Theodorus Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir)
Matured for 12 months in oak barrels. A really inviting bouquet offering a potpourri of damson plum, dark cherry, and black raspberry fruit. A savory, autumnal earthy note adds intrigue and an almost Burgundian twist to this seductive, modern Pinot Noir. Fine balance thanks to a perfect marriage of fruit and ripe, gentle tannins. Fresh and precise on the finish. Best with white meat dishes, cold cuts, and medium cheeses.
#2 Theodorus Dornfelder
An immediately attractive fruit focused German red wine that delivers an abundance of autumnal brambly, plummy sensations. Savory and characterful with a lively freshness its open structure ensures that the palate remains refreshed and awake. Crunchy dark fruit and lithe tannins make for an interesting and rewarding red wine. The Dornfelder grape resulted from crossing two different varieties – the end result being of good quality and of individuality.
#3 Peter & Ulrich Griebeler Dry Riesling 2017
From the Mosel, Germany’s third largest wine region in terms of production comes this dry and appealing riesling made by winemaking brothers Peter and Ulrich Griebeler. Oodles of apple-like freshness and hints of citrus and passion fruit allied to a zesty minerality make it a great partner for seafood, salads or a lightly spiced curry.
#4 Villa Wolf Gewurztraminer 2016
One of the world’s most distinctive wines, the German version of this aromatic classic is drier and perhaps a little less flamboyant than the Gewurztraminers from France’s Alsace region. From an estate founded in 1756 which saw its fortunes rise in the late 20th century, this is an off-dry, bright and ripe wine with full fruit flavors that can be enjoyed with spicy foods or strong cheeses.
All of the information and tips included in this article will help you navigate throughout the world of exotic German wine varieties with confidence. Before selecting a particular German wine variety to indulge in, consider the type of foods that you will be eating alongside your glass in order to ensure that it accents well with your given food selections. There are a lot of premium German wine options out there for you to choose from and hopefully, after reading this article, you have a better understanding about how the region and grape type affect the overall end product of any given wine in terms of taste and flavor profile. As long as you use this guide as a way to assist you in remembering what to look for when you begin searching for the perfect German wine, you should have no problem choosing the right wine every time.
German wine varieties are just another addition to the already huge list of options that are out there when it comes to exotic wine selections from across the world. Consider sampling a few German wine varieties that spark your interest before deciding on a final purchase decision to ensure that you’ll enjoy the glass of wine that you’re drinking. Now that you know more about exquisite German wines, you can expand your go-to options when it comes to finding the right glass to compliment dinner or any other event you may be engaging in. Always remember to consume whatever German wine variety you choose responsibly and enjoy picking.