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German Wine: History & Different Types

German Wine: History & Different Types

Wine in Germany has a long and rich history that dates back to the Roman Empire. For centuries, Germany was known for its white wines, but in recent years they have become increasingly popular for their red wines as well. There are many different types of German wine, each with its own unique flavor.

Germany is a great place to visit for wine lovers – there are plenty of wineries to explore, and the scenery is beautiful. If you’re planning a trip to Germany, be sure to sample some of the local wine! You won’t be disappointed.

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

While German spiced wine is the country’s heritage wine, the focus of late has been on quality bone dry wines. The drier style of wine was first introduced in the early 1970s and has since become very popular.

Riesling is the most planted grape variety in Germany and is responsible for some of the country’s most well-known wines. Other popular German grapes include Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Noir, and Spätburgunder (German for Pinot Noir).

But how much do you know about German white wine and red wine? For wine lovers, this means that this country has even more to offer. The extensive vineyards add to the beauty, charm, and uniqueness of the German culture.

If you love enjoying a glass or two of German’s finest, here is everything you need to know.

A Glass of German Red and White Wines

Overview of Wine in Germany

You may be a wine lover, but have you ever considered German wine? If not, now is the time to start. Yes, Germany has a long history of producing and consuming wine—in fact, it’s one of the largest producers in the world!

Germany is well-known for its Riesling wines, but there are actually many different styles and varieties of wine to choose from. The different types of wines in Germany include Riesling, Pinot Noir, Gewürztraminer, Muller Thurgau, Sylvaner, Blauer Portugieser and Spätburgunder (Pinot Gris).

The main varieties of grapes used in wine production in Germany include Riesling (früh), Sauvignon Blanc (Weissherbst), Weissburgunder (retro) & Rotweinrotpfirsich. Some popular regions for growing grapes include the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Pfalz/Nahe Valley.

And while German wines may not be as well-known as French or Italian wines abroad (they are much more popular at home), there are many reasons why they should be at least on your radar if you love drinking wine.

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 a 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 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 Germany’s wine 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, 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.

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.

See Related: Best Wine Regions in Italy

Different Types of Wine in Germany

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

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

Riesling

German white wine

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

German 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 German Riesling grapes retain high acidity even when ripe. However, sugar is added during production to lower the wine’s acidity.

For dry wine enthusiasts, this is among the best Riesling wines in the world. It goes well with various dishes, including fish and pork, or even a spicy Asian cuisine.

Grape Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)

German Man Sampling Red Wine

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 of the wine regions in Germany, 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 wines from Germany.

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

Unlike the German Riesling variety, traditional this quality wine 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.

Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris)

While the grapes making this wine are reddish-grey, the wine is generally in the white 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 wine from Germany can be produced in various flavors, resonant almonds, pears, pineapple, and nuts.

Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)

Weissburgunder, also known as Pinot Blanc, is a white wine grape that is most commonly associated with Germany. However, Weissburgunder originating from Italy is also not an uncommon sight. The main difference between the Weissburgunder from Germany and Italy is the taste.

German Pinot Blanc tastes more floral and fruity compared to its Italian counterpart which often tastes like Pinot Grigio or Pinot Bianco. This could be because German winemakers have been focusing on pure fruits for centuries, while Italians love structure.

Another difference between the two varieties of Weissburgunder is that the German Weissburgunder often lacks complication when compared to the German Pinot Gris. All things considered, both Weissburgunder wines have softer acidity and more stonefruit flavor.

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 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.

Müller-Thurgau

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.

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 wine grapes 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.

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 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 pour with mild acidity compared to its counterpart. And, when it comes to production, this wine is most common in the Ahr Valley.

Eiswein

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 very cold temperatures.

These grapes are particularly light, with sweet, flowery, or fruity flavor.

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.

Silvaner

Silvaner is one of the great 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. This tastes best when young, is full-bodied, and its acidity levels are mild.

See Related: 14 Traditional German Christmas Food

Wine Regions in Germany

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

Mosel is the most famous wine-producing region in Germany and is located southeast of the country 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 referred to as Mittelmosel and lies in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate, which borders Luxembourg and France.

In addition to white wines made from Riesling grapes, there are also red wines produced in Mosel. If you’re visiting Germany, be sure to add a stop in Mosel to your itinerary to sample some of the region’s delicious wines!

Rheinhessen (Rhenish Hesse)

Rhine Valley Vineyards in Germany

Rheinhessen, one of Germany’s largest wine-producing regions, is located in the Rhineland-Palatinate state. Rheinhessen has a long history dating back to Roman times when the area was known as “Colonia Julia Ara Agrippinensium.” Rheinhessen is home to some great varietal wines 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, which is 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, with warm summers and cool winters. The Ahr River provides a moderate amount of rainfall, which helps to 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 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 the presence of rich, granite base alluvial soil and sufficient sunlight.

Although small, Rheingau is definitely worth visiting if you’re a fan of German Rieslings or German white wine in general.

Baden

Aerial View of Vineyards at Baden-Württemburg

Baden is the warmest and sunniest region in Germany, making it a popular destination for wine lovers. The region is renowned for its pinot red and white wines. Baden is home to more than 50,000 acres of vineyards, and the climate is perfect for growing grapes.

The region has a long history of winemaking, dating back to the Romans. Baden is also home to some of Germany’s most famous producers, including Ernst Loosen and Egon Muller.

Franconia

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 wines, which are dry and minerally.

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

Hessische Bergstraße

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

Mittelrhein

The Mittelrhein region lies between the Mosel and Rheingau regions, on the midsection of the Rhine river.

The Mittelrhein is predominately a Riesling region, with white wines making up around 90% of the total wine production. The Mittelrhein has a long history of viticulture, with the first vineyards being planted by the Romans over 2000 years ago.

The Mittelrhein is known for its steep vineyards, which are often planted on terraces carved into the hillsides. These unique growing conditions give the Mittelrhein finest wines their characteristic mineral flavors.

Nahe

If you’re a fan of Riesling wines, then you’ll definitely want to check out the Nahe region in Germany. This picturesque region is situated along the river Nahe and is known for its varied volcanic soils. The result is that a wide variety of grapes can be grown here, although Riesling is definitely the most prevalent.

Nahe wines are known for their elegance and complexity and are definitely worth seeking out if you’re looking for something special.

Palatinate or Pfalz

Palatinate falls second in the list of the largest wine regions in Germany. It is known for both reds and whites. Until 1995, the place was known as Rheinpfalz in Germany. This region is located in southwest Germany.

The wines produced here are some of the most popular German white wines. They’re made from grapes such as Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner and Kerner. The different grapes that come out of this region can be dry or sweet (or even sparkling).

Saale-Unstrut

If you’re looking to explore a new region for wine, Saale-Unstrut in Germany is a great option. This region is located along two rivers – the Saale and the Unstrut. And, it’s the northernmost wine-producing region in Germany.

The climate here is cooler than in other regions in Germany, which helps to produce crisp, refreshing wines. The Saale-Unstrut region is also home to some of Germany’s oldest vineyards. So, if you’re looking for a unique tasting experience, this is the place to go.

Saxony or Sachsen

View of Vineyards and the Meissen Castle in Saxony

Saxony is a region in the southernmost part of Germany that’s known for its red wines. This region is situated along the river Elbe and is considered one of the most beautiful regions in Saxony. 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.

Württemberg

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, be sure to stop by a vineyard or two for a tasting.

Most Württemberg wineries offer tours and tastings, so you can learn about the grapes and how they’re grown in the region. Württemberg wines make for a great souvenir to bring home, or you can enjoy them on your trip.

See Related: Best Wineries in Temecula, California

Famous Wine Estates in Germany

If you’re looking for the best wines in Germany, head to the Rhine region and Mosel region. This is where most of Germany’s most famous estates are located.

The most famous German wine labels and estates include:

  • 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

What are some popular German wines?

There are several popular wines in Germany, but some of the most well-known include Riesling, Spätburgunder (Pinot noir), Silvaner, and Eiswein.

What wine is Germany known for?

Germany is primarily known for its white wines, which are often fruity, acidic, and light. Rieslings are the most famous type of wine in Germany.

Which is the popular white grape variety in Germany?

Riesling is the most popular white grape variety in Germany.

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