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German Wine: History & Different Types

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German wine has become increasingly popular recently, especially the red varieties. Germany is among the world’s leading wine-producing countries, so when you order a wine with German roots, you’re in for a treat!

Do you consider yourself a wine connoisseur but have yet to sample a German wine? If you’re yet to try some of the best German wines, now is definitely the time to start!

Wine drinkers will rejoice with the extensive options of wineries across Germany presenting the most beautiful backdrops for a tasting, two or three (or as many as you want to fit into your visit).

A Glass of German Red and White Wines

When planning your trip to Germany, visit some of the best German wine regions for a truly enriching and delicious vacation. But how much do you know about what your German wine options are? There are some more well-known tipples, like Reisling and Pinot Noir, but many more flavors are waiting to treat your taste buds.

We’ve gathered all the information you need to know about the history of German wine, the different types you must try, and where to go in Germany for the ultimate wine-lover getaway.

A Brief Overview of German Wine

History of Wine in Germany

Rheingau Vineyards in Rudesheim am Rhein
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

While German wines might not be as well-known as those from nearby countries like France or Italy, the Germans have been producing undeniably top-tier wines dating back to Roman times, as early as 70AD.

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

Centuries went by, and the wine just kept getting better! But everything changed in the 16th Century when the German beer purity law was enacted. German beer started being locally brewed and quickly became a more popular beverage.

German wine took a further hit during Germany’s thirty-year war in the first half of the 17th Century. The 30-year war is still considered one of the most destructive wars in European history, and a staggering one-third of German towns were wiped off the map. This had domino damage to Germany’s vineyards and its wine-producing capabilities.

However, while the long history of German wine features some truly turbulent patches, the culture didn’t die completely. Although Germany is no longer among the top three wine producers, it is still a leading producer worldwide.

See Related: Interesting, Weird Laws in Germany

German Wines Today

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

Germany boasts over 250,000 acres of vineyards, most of which are located along the Rhine River, which creates a moist microclimate that contributes to Germany’s wine reputation for acidity.

To work in harmony with Germany’s general climate and environment, most vineyards in the country are planted on steep mountainsides to maximize exposure to the sun and ensure the soil’s retention of warmth.

This makes mechanical grape-picking nearly impossible. For this reason, wine is produced in a highly labor-intensive way. Vineyards tend to be much smaller than in other wine-producing areas worldwide. 

The UK is the largest export customer of German wine, closely followed by the US and then the Netherlands.

See Related: Traditional German Christmas Food

Typical Characteristics of German Wine

If you’re looking to explore the different types of wine in Germany, we hope this guide will be helpful in your endeavors. The typical characteristics that define German wines are:

  • Balance and elegance
  • Finesse and finesse
  • High acidity
  • Dryness (low residual sugar)
  • Medium body (medium-bodied) and low alcohol content.

Different Types of Wine in Germany

Different Types of German Wine

Germany produces around 10 million hectoliters of wine annually. This equals approximately 1.3 billion bottles!

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

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

1. Riesling

Riesling Wine Tasting at Georg Breuer in Rudesheim, Germany
Kyle Kroeger / ViaTravelers

The most popular white wine produced in Germany is Riesling. Germany’s flagship wine, German Riesling, constitutes over 1/5 of all the grapes grown.

Its history dates back to the 15th century, originating in the Rhine Valley region. German Riesling is a semi-sparkling white wine with a nice crispness. It features highly scented aromas with a flowery or fruity taste.

Sugar is added during production to reduce the wine’s acidity levels due to Riesling grape varieties’ retention of acidity levels, even when reaching high ripeness. However, it retains a pleasant fresh acidity for a strong flavor.

This is among the best Riesling wines worldwide for dry wine enthusiasts. It is a very adaptable wine and goes well with various dishes, including spicy Asian dishes, glazed ham, or cheese fondue.

2. Grape Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)

German Man Sampling Red Wine

Pinot Noir is undoubtedly the most popular German red wine variety. It has scooped several Decanter awards over the years.

Since Spätburgunder grows in all of Germany’s 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 typical earthy flavor with a spicy and stylish taste unique to the elegant style of red wines made in Germany.

Ahr is the most notable region for the red grapes of Spätburgunder, where the grape Spätburgunder accounts for around 65% of its production. Other regions still grow the grapes but in lesser amounts.

Unlike the German Riesling variety, this traditional quality wine has low acidity and light color and body. But there’s also another popular full-bodied variety that is dark red, with higher acidity levels.

3. Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris)

Sommelier pours pinot gris wine in glasses for degustation
berezko / Adobe Stock

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

Pinot Gris, known in France, is believed to be a mutation of the Pinot Noir grapes. The wine can range from bone dry to sweet, depending on when the grapes are harvested. Its fresh, fruity, and spicy aroma makes it an excellent wine for various occasions, and it’s perfect for almost any meal.

4. Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)

Vineyard of Weissburgunder grape
Gunter Nuyts / Shutterstock.com

Weissburgunder, or Pinot Blanc, is a white wine grape most commonly associated with Germany. This wine originates in Burgundy, France, reflected in the translation of Weissburgunder to White Burgundian.

However, it’s now a very prominent wine in Germany, with the world’s highest number of planted grapes, accounting for Germany’s 4th most planted variety.

Easily identified by its delicate and soft bouquet, Pinot Blanc is grown across most of Germany’s wine regions but is more commonly grown in the southern regions of Bade, Pfalz, and Rheinhessen.

See Related: Burgundy Wine Tour Itinerary

5. Theodorus Dornfelder

This is an instantly attractive fruity addition to the red varieties of German wine, not too dissimilar to Pinot Noir. It’s rich in autumnal brambly aromas and stylish sensations. Made from Dornfelder grapes, which are cross-breed of two distinct grape varieties, the result is quality and uniqueness.

This 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 undoubtedly among the best brands produced in Germany. With this new hybrid variety, Germany can quickly produce darker, full-bodied, fruity wines that were previously hard to produce.

6. Müller-Thurgau

Closeup of german white wine bottles Müller Thurgau 3 Talente, label shows picture of winemakers (focus on center of bottle right of center)
Ralf Liebhold / Shutterstock.com

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

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

While this wine can come quite dry, it is mainly used to create wonderfully medium-sweet wines. Many wine drinkers enjoy the sweetness, peachy fragrance, and mild acidity.

And with over 42,000 hectares in cultivation globally, Müller-Thurgau wine grapes are some of the most largely produced – especially of the “new breeds.” If you love lusciously sweet wine, you’ll enjoy this important grape in Germany.

7. Pinot Noir Précoce

Two Glasses of 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 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 pour with mild acidity compared to its counterpart. Regarding production, this wine is most common in the Ahr Valley.

8. Eiswein

Ice wine, ripe grapes and dried leaves, vintage wooden bar
5ph / Adobe Stock

Generally, Eiswein is known as ice wine. This is a type of wine produced from naturally frozen grapes in Germany. That’s right! Although it sounds impossible, Eiswein actually comes from grapes grown in freezing temperatures.

These grapes are exceptionally light, sweet, flowery, or fruity. 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. A highly concentrated, sweet wine is derived when frozen grapes are pressed and processed.

9. Silvaner

Inside the wine manufacture shop 'Staatlicher Hofkeller Würzburg'. With white and red wine in traditional bottles.
Moritz Klingenstein / Shutterstock.com

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

Since the 1960s, plantings of the grapes for this wine have lost significant acreage, while other, more popular wines like Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir have taken over the vineyards. But it’s still quite popular in the Franconia region and the Rheinhessen.

This German white wine is humorously called the Dracula Wine due to its aversion to light and is thought to have origins in Transylvania. This tastes best when young, is full-bodied, and has mild acidity.

Germany’s Wine Regions

Wine Grapes on a Vine

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. So, which are they? Let’s break them down.

Mosel

German white wine produced in Mosel wine region
barmalini / Adobe Stock

Mosel is the most famous wine-producing region in East Germany, on the southern edge of the Eifel Mountains. The region stretches from Koblenz down to Trier and is known for its steep vineyards and slate-laden soil, which results in grapes with high sugar levels.

Mosel is also called Mittelmosel and lies in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which borders Luxembourg and France. In addition to Riesling grapes, red wines are produced in the Mosel region. If you’re visiting Germany, add a stop in Mosel to your itinerary to sample some of the region’s delicious wines!

For the ultimately indulgent experience for wine drinkers, book yourself into a stay in a vineyard when visiting Germany. Galerie Riesling is situated in Mosel, right next to the River Moselle.

Here, you can enjoy the wine tavern, where the hotel serves wines from its vineyard. Take the opportunity to attend a German wine-tasting session to sample some of the region’s best wine offerings.

Rheinhessen (Rhenish Hesse)

Rhine Valley Vineyards in Germany

Rheinhessen, one of Germany’s largest wine-producing regions, is in the Rhineland-Palatinate state. Rheinhessen has a well-established history dating back to Roman times when the area was known as “Colonia Julia Ara Agrippinensium.”

Rheinhessen is home to some great varietal wines, mostly white varieties, including Rieslings, Gewürztraminer, and Scheurebe. These can be enjoyed in their pure form or blended with other varieties, such as German Pinot Gris, for more complexity on your palate.

Ahr

Aerial View of Ahr Valley in Germany

The Ahr is a small region in Germany located along the Ahr River, a tributary of the Rhine River. This German wine region is known for red wine production from Spätburgunder grapes.

The Ahr region has a temperate climate, warm summers, and cool to mild winters. The Ahr River provides moderate rainfall, which helps keep the vineyards in the Ahr healthy and productive. Ahr is home to many small, family-run wineries that produce high-quality wines.

Rheingau

Rheingau, Germany Vineyards
Aliaksandr Antanovich / Shutterstock

Rheingau is a small but crucial region for Riesling production located on Germany’s western border with France. The Rheingau-Taunus-Kreis district falls under its jurisdiction, and the wine from this area has a fruity citrus aroma. This is due to rich, granite base alluvial soil and sufficient sunlight.

Although small, the Rheingau region is definitely worth visiting if you’re a fan of German Rieslings or German white wine in general. Undoubtedly, one of the best ways to enjoy the local wines of Germany is to have a local enthusiast guide the way!

Go on an award-winning German wine tour in the Rheingau region to taste some of the finest wines in the area. Learn of its history and ideal food pairings while popping in a castle visit along the way for some extra cultural immersion.

See Related: Best Cities & Places to Visit in Western Germany

Baden

Aerial View of Vineyards at Baden-Württemburg

Baden is Germany’s warmest and sunniest region, making it a popular destination for wine lovers. The region has an extensive history of winemaking and is renowned for its white and pinot red wines. Baden is home to just shy of 40,000 acres of vineyards, and the climate is perfect for growing grapes.

Stuttgart is a great place to visit within the region to take in the amazing wines of Germany popular in the Baden region. The Stuttgart Wine Museum is a great spot to learn about the German wines produced in the region. At the same time, you get to sample local produce and nibble on local cheese varieties as ideal pairings to a great experience.

Württemberg

Aerial view, Neipperg Castle, Brackenheim wine region, Heilbronn district, Baden-Württemberg., Germany
David Brown / Adobe Stock

Württemberg is one of the two wine-growing regions in Baden-Württemberg, and it’s dominated by three grape varieties: Trollinger, Lemberger, and Schwarzriesling. Württemberger wines are typically fruity and easy to drink. If you’re visiting Württemberg, stop by a vineyard or two for a tasting.

Most Württemberg wineries offer tours and tastings, so you can learn more about wine production in this wine region. Württemberg wines make a great souvenir to bring home, or you can enjoy them on your trip.

See Related: Top Foods in Germany to Try

Franconia (Franken)

View from Ehrenbuergstein walberla rock at Kirchehrenbach, county Forchheim, upper franconia, bavaria, germany
rudiernst / Adobe Stock

Franconia, or Franken, is a region located in the northernmost part of Bavaria. Franconia is Germany’s largest and most geographically diverse region for wine. Franconia has a strong tradition of Silvaner, dry, and mineral wines.

The Franconian region is also known for its red wines from the Pinot Noir grape and sparkling wines made in traditional Champagne. Franconia is a beautiful region with rolling hills, medieval castles, and beautifully quaint villages.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in Southern Germany

Hessische Bergstraße

Heppenheim, Hessische Bergstrasse, Germany
Sina Ettmer Photography / Shutterstock

Hessian Mountain Road, or Hessische Bergstraße, is a small wine-growing region in the Hesse state. The region is most famous for its Riesling wines, which are widely considered some of the best in the world. Hessian Mountain Road is located just south of Frankfurt, making it an easy day trip for travelers staying in the city.

If you’re looking to try some of the region’s renowned Riesling wines, be sure to stop by one of the many vineyards that line Hessian Mountain Road. You can also enjoy panoramic views of the surrounding countryside from numerous lookout points along the way.

See Related: Landmarks in Frankfurt

Mittelrhein

Bacharach am Mittelrhein
katjaverhoeven / Adobe Stock

The Mittelrhein region lies between the Bonn and Bingen and extends 100km along the Rhine River. This area is predominately a Riesling region, with white German wines making up over 65% of the total wine production. The Mittelrhein has a significant history of viticulture, with the Romans planting the first vineyards over 2000 years ago.

The Mittelrhein is known for its steep vineyards and slate soil, often planted on terraces carved into the hillsides. These unique growing conditions give the Mittelrhein’s wines their characteristic mineral flavors.

Nahe

Vineyard in the Nahe-Valley in Germany
Harald Lueder / Shutterstock

If you’re a fan of Riesling wines, then you’ll definitely want to check out the Nahe wine region. This picturesque region is situated between the Rhine and the Mosel. The Nahe region gains its name from the River Nahe that flows through its forested valleys.

The region is well known for its varied volcanic soils. The red, clayish slate on the region’s steeper sites of volcanic stone makes for the perfect environment for Riesling wines featuring a light spiciness.

On the other hand, the sandier soils on flatter sites of the region are excellent for Müller-Thurgau wines featuring more flowery notes. Nahe wines are known for their elegance and complexity and are worth seeking out if you’re looking for something unique.

Palatinate (Pfalz)

Aerial view of vineyards Rheingau wine region, Rudesheim am Rhein historical town centre with St. Jakobus church and Rhine river, blue sky background, Rhineland-Palatinate and Hesse states, Germany
Aliaksandr Antanovich / Shutterstock

Once known as Rheinpfalz, Palatinate falls second in Germany’s wine regions and is most known for white and red wines. The wines produced here are some of the most popular white German wines.

They’re made from grapes such as Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, and Kerner. The different grapes from this region can be dry or sweet (or even sparkling).

A top choice for your base in the Rhineland-Palatinate region is Burghotel auf Schönburg, Oberwesel. Previous guests have noted it as a magical experience with mountain views and endless vineyards. The hotel offers guests rides along vineyards and winery tours to sample the best German wine in the region.

Saale-Unstrut

The wine town of Freyburg an der Unstrut
Klaus Heidemann / Adobe Stock

If you’re looking to explore a new region for wine, the wine region of Saale-Unstrut is an excellent option. This region is located along two rivers – the Saale and the Unstrut. Saale-Unstrut is the northernmost spot to visit of all of Germany’s wine regions.

The climate here is cooler than in other German wine regions, which helps to produce fresh, crisp, refreshing wines. The Saale-Unstrut region is also home to some of Germany’s oldest vineyards. Yields here are low, and the wines produced are dry with refreshing acidity.

See Related: Best Places to Visit in Northern Germany

Saxony (Sachsen)

View of Vineyards and the Meissen Castle in Saxony

Saxony is a region in the southernmost part of Germany known for its red wines. This wine region is situated along the Elbe and is considered one of the most beautiful German wine regions to visit. Saxony wines are made from a variety of grapes, including Pinot Noir, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon.

The climate in Saxony is perfect for growing grapes, and the soil is rich in nutrients. Saxony is home to many wonderful wineries, and visitors can enjoy tastings and tours of the vineyards.

For a German wine tour with a twist, opt for a bike wine-tasting tour in Dresden. On a seven-man bicycle, tour the stunning city of Dresden while sampling some of the best German wines along the way!

Moreover, if you want to buy a few bottles as souvenirs to take home from your tour, make sure you’re prepared! Bottle protectors will help ensure your precious German wine makes it home in one piece. They’re an inexpensive precaution to ensure you can enjoy some of the best German wines long after your trip to Germany.

See Related: Things to Do in Lower Saxony

Famous Wine Estates in Germany

If you’re looking for the best wines in Germany, head to the Rhine and Mosel regions. This is where most of the country’s best wines and most famous estates are located. The most famous German wine labels and estates include the following:

  • Künstler (Rheingau) – Riesling and Pinot Noir
  • Weingut Clos St. Hildegard (Rheinhessen) – Riesling, Scheurebe, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon
  • Blancmann-Weine (Baden) – Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Noir
  • Dönnhoff (Nahe) – Riesling
  • Dr. Loosen (Mosel) – Riesling

FAQs

How should I pair German wines with food?

Of course, the best food pairing for your choice of German wine will depend on the wine! Elegant red wines like Pinot Noir will go great with heartier meals. Think pork tenderloin or an indulgent meal with duck at its core. The dry nature of Pinot Noir, alongside its blackberry and cherry aromas, goes very well with such indulgent flavors.

Alternatively, a dry Riesling will go very well with fried foods or dishes of high-acid flavors. Pairing a Reisling with sushi or shrimp tempura is a solid option. Also, something like sweet and sour chicken or a fresh arugula salad would be equally brilliant pairing options.

Where can I buy German Wines online?

If you can’t find the right time, or there are no bargain flights available to Europe to get yourself to Germany personally to sample the local wines, don’t fret! There are many options to buy some of the best German wine online.

Hawesko is a leading online distributor of some brilliant German wine. They ship internationally, but it’s worth checking the delivery information on their website before you get too excited to make sure they deliver to your country of residence.

Other popular options include snooping on wine.com for an impressively extensive collection of German wine. You could even opt for the non-alcoholic varieties offered on Amazon if you like the flavor of wine but not the tipple!

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