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German Wines
Growing vines in Germany dates back to Roman times starting most probably from about around 70 BC. Romans soldiers were stationed on the western side of the Rhine river which was the border of the Roman empire. Trier, Germany's oldest city (on the Mosel river which is also a famous wine growing region) was founded by the Romans around 20 BC. Vine growing and wine production were based on Roman techniques. The "Kammerbau" trellising system consisting of poles and cross bars developed by the Romans continued to be used in parts of Germany until the 18th century. Until the time of Charles the Great (742-814) vine growing in Germany was confined to the western side of the Rhine. It is said he initiated growing vines on the eastern side (the now famous Rheingau region).
From this time on and until the end of the Middle Ages the vine growing areas expanded. By around 1500 the size of land covered by vineyards was more than four times as big as the size used today even though the vine growing regions remained essentially the same. The Church owned many of the biggest and best vineyards, developed many of the best sites and produced most of the high quality wines. The secularization of the land owned by the Church under Napoleon around 1800 resulted in the creation of the privately owned estates many of which are still famous today.
Due to the northern climate German wines derive almost entirely from grapes grown on the steep slopes of river valleys. Here they are fully exposed to the sun and protected from cold winds. Many of the grape varieties used today were already common during the Middle Ages such as Riesling, Sylvaner, Elbling and Traminer for white wines and the Pinot Noir for red wines. Until not so long ago German wines were almost all white wines with less than 15% being red wines. But today many more red wines are produced than before and which now make up about one third of the total production. Germany grows vines on about 100,000 hectares which amounts to about 10% of the surface of the vineyards in France, Italy or Spain. About 1-1,3 billion bottles of wine are produced annually which puts Germany in the 8th place worldwide. Contrary to the French AOC system which is based on the idea that terroir is the main element in producing quality wines the German AP approval system is based on the idea that each finished wine has first to comply with the regional regulations, then must pass an analytical test and thereafter must pass sensory and gustatory tests before the approval for the wine and the grade is granted (or not) in the form of an AP (Official approval) number.
German white wines and here especially Riesling wines are famous and best known for their unique taste and style which can vary from elegant, crisp and dry wines to well-balanced off-dry style wines and even aromatic and concentrated luscious wines. German Riesling wines account for almost two-thirds of the worldwide Riesling production. Although most German wines are consumed young upper level quality wines such as Spaetlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein can be kept for many years. Some are said to have passed the 100 year mark. German red wines are less well known but the best Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) wines compare favourably with the top wines from Burgundy. Estates in Germany are mostly small, 10 hectares are considered already a well sized property. One estate may own several sites in different locations and thus may offer a wide range of wines. Most local sites are parceled among estates. The result is that German wines are very individualistic with the quality depending very much on the resources and passion of the owner.
The most common way to name wines in Germany is either using the name of the single site (if applicable) or using the name of a Grosslage (collective site) which permits vintners to blend the area's wines. In both cases a village name must precede the site's name. Naming a wine after the village only is permitted and exists but is not common in Germany. Using regional or area denominations is also permitted but not being popular is almost never used. German wines are graded and can be Table wine or Country wine (very few of both are made) or Qualitaetswein (Quality wine) the majority, or Praedikatswein (Wine of distinction). The latter grade has several levels starting with Kabinett, followed by Spaetlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. The latter three are rare and expensive wines, the first three are produced regularly but quantities available depend upon the vintage.
Wines in Germany are produced in 13 designated regions. The wines of the regions differ in style and character because of different soils, microclimatic conditions and regional grape growing traditions. See below for more detailed regional information.


Ahr - Baden - Franken - Mosel - Nahe - Pfalz - Rheingau - Rheinhessen

Ahr back to list

The Ahr is the world's most northern red wine growing region. Warm growing conditions are needed to grow red quality grapes. Despite its northern location the steep valley slopes provide the vineyards with a perfect "Mediterranean microclimate."
The majority of vineyards are located on terraced slopes. Most of them are southwest or southeast oriented and protected from cold winds by the Eifel mountain range. The very small region is only about 25 km long before the Ahr river flows into the Rhine. Soil formations vary between slate, basalt, clay and volcanic. The Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) grape variety accounts for about 2/3 of all grapes grown.
Contrary to other regions white wines make up only about 15% of the production. Ahr red wines are recognized for their excellent quality and are in high demand in Germany. Few of them are ever exported. The prevalent style are dry, tannic and full bodied wines with many of them having been aged in oak-barrels.

Baden back to list

Baden is Germany third biggest wine region. While not the biggest it is 200km long and can easily claim to be Germany's longest region. From north to south it stretches from near by Heidelberg to Lake Constance, with Alsace on the opposite side of the Rhine. The vineyards, located in the so called "Rhine rift valley", are protected by the Black Forest and Vosges mountain ranges.
The climate in Baden is warmer than in most other parts of Germany. As a result it is classified in the growing zone "B" in Europe (together with Austria, Alsace, Champagne, Loire, Slovenia and Romania) while the other German regions belong to the "cold zone" A region. Due to its length considerable differences in soil composition exist and the region is divided into the rather large number of nine sub-regions. The "Tauberfranken" wines in the most northern area are very similar to the neighbouring wines from Franconia and as such are sold in identical Bocksbeutel flasks.
To the south the "Kaiserstuhl" area (near Freiburg and on volcanic soil) produces many of Baden's most famous and most powerful wines. About 45% of the wines produced are red and 55 % are white wines. Three Burgundy grape varieties Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) for red wines and Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) and Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder) for white wines account for nearly 55% of the grapes grown.

Franken back to list

Franken is one of the smaller vine growing region in Germany. Essentially the vineyards are located along the Main river. The city of Wuerzburg is its capital. Depending upon the area the composition of the soil is red sand stone, shell-limestone or gypsum. The climate is referred to as continental with Mediterranean influences, meaning that it can be very cold in the winter but that summers are warm and dry.
A large variety of grape varieties is grown in the region and although the Sylvaner is the variety upon which Franconia's world wide reputation is based it is not the main variety. Franconian Sylvaner wines are reputed for being well structured, dry, crisp and with pronounced mineral undertones. It is the only region in Germany where the Sylvaner produces better wines than the Riesling grape. Franconian wines are sold in Bocksbeutel flasks.
Only the wines from the region are allowed to use them. Fruity and sweet style wines exist but the vast majority are dry wines. Some top grade premium wines such as Trockenbeerenauslesen and Eiswines exist but are rather rare.

Mosel back to list

"Mosel wines are Riesling wines", that saying may not be entirely true as "only" 60% of the grapes grown in the region are Riesling grapes. But, what is true is that the Mosel region is the world's largest and most important Riesling growing area in the world. The Mosel is known for producing many of the finest Riesling wines in the world, that too is true. While it produces only the third largest volume of wines in Germany it certainly is the best known German wine region in the world. Previously the region was called "Mosel-Saar-Ruwer" (the Saar and Ruwer river are tributaries to the Mosel river). The designation was changed to Mosel to coincide with what the region is commonly called.
The continental climate means seasonal variations are clearly marked such as cold winters and warm to hot summers. Three sub-regions exist, the Upper-, Middle- and Lower Mosel. The Middle-Mosel is the main vine growing area. Steep slate slopes are the hallmark of the Mosel region. The steepest vine growing slope of the world, with 65%, is located there. Fortunately not all slopes are as steep as this but such steep slopes are very labour intensive. It is said that growers spend up to seven times more time to work such vineyards than in flat areas. But vintners who persevere are rewarded with wines of outstanding quality.
The slopes protect the vineyards against cold winds and expose the grapes to the maximum of sunlight reinforced by reflection from the water of the river. The soil along the steep slopes of the three rivers is almost entirely made up of porous slate. Some vineyards have almost no top soil, just broken pieces of slate. Slate reflects the sunlight during the day and retains the warmth during a good part of the night. Good Mosel wines are not cheap yet much sought after. Their taste is multidimensional and express clearly the nuances of each site and vintage. Riesling wines from the Mosel vary in colour from pale to light golden, they are lively, dry or fruity and possess a good dose of acidity which enables them to age well. They can taste flinty or earthy or they can be noble, rich, concentrated and aromatic sweet wines. One thing is certain, they are never one dimensional.

Nahe back to list

Although wines have been produced in the Nahe region for centuries it became a distinct region only in 1971 when the region was officially established. Prior to that Nahe wines were sold as Rhine wines. That is surprising because the region's varying soil compositions are indeed very different from its famous neighbours Rheingau and Mosel.
On the upper Nahe porphyry, melaphyry and sandstone dominate while on the lower Nahe river, clay, quartzite and slate enable growers to produce excellent Riesling wines. The climate is temperate. The region is known to posses a large number of different microclimates. With nearly 30% the Riesling is the main grape grown. Pinot varieties such as Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder) and Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder) produce excellent wines on the lower Nahe as does Pinot Noir (Spaetburgunder) the growing area of which has increased in recent years. Together they make up more than 15% of the grapes grown. Nahe wines are said to be complex combining the elegance of the Rheingau, the refinement of the Mosel and the power of Pfalz wines.

Pfalz back to list

The Pfalz (Palatinate) is Germany's second biggest wine region. The region is a long and narrow stretch of fertile land along the Rhine river. It is in fact a continuation of the Alsace Vosges mountain range. The region is sheltered in the west by the Palatinate "Huegelland" (range of hills). The climate is much the same as in the (French) Alsace region namely sunny and dry during the summer and temperate during the winter. Most wines are grown on a mixture of sandstone and volcanic soil, in some areas slate prevails.
A large variety of different grapes are grown. The Riesling is the main variety, it accounts for about ¼ of all grapes grown, followed by the German red grape variety Dornfelder (about 14%), Mueller-Thurgau (white), Portugieser and Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) both red and the white wine varieties of Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and more than 20 other varieties. It is said that Pfalz wines are big, have power and are rather full bodied. The majority of wines are dry. Many red wines undergo malolactic-fermentation with the better ones often having been aged in oak barrels.

Rheingau back to list

The Rheingau is considered to be Germany's best vine growing region. It is a small area making up only about 3% of all growing regions. But its history of producing great wines is long and it has been the initiator of many innovations in the field of growing and producing wines. The region is situated along the famous stretch of hills where the Rhine turns to the west for a short while before returning to its usual northward direction. As a result most vineyards face south with growing conditions further enhanced by favourable microclimates.
Soil compositions in the Rheingau region vary and consists essentially of shale, quartzite, phyllite and loess sediments. Depending upon the sites wines can have mineral overtones from gray shale or produce elegant and delicate Pinot Noir Spaetburgunder) wines from red shale, robust wines from quartzite, powerful wines from marl or mild and fruity wines from loess. Almost 80% are Riesling wines and close to 15% are Spaetburgunder (Pinot Noir) wines. Due to its almost perfect exposition the growing season is long which means that vines can be harvested late for extra ripeness. Some of Germany's greatest estates are located in the Rheingau and it is here that the first late harvest and noble rot wines were discovered and produced.


Rheinhessen back to list

Rheinhessen is Germany biggest wine region. For a long time many vine growers in the region preferred to produce wines for the mass market, easy drinking, fruity and sweet wines made from grape varieties which produced large volumes. The (now) infamous "Liebfraumilch", a simple wine made in huge volumes, named after the Liefrauenkirche (Church of our Lady) in Worms set the example and was (for a while) a worldwide hit. Eventually people got tired of these simple wines. As a consequence the reputation of all German wines suffered heavily.
It took some time to recover, but since a number of years and especially with the arrival of a new generation of highly educated vintners a turnaround has been achieved. Excellent quality wines are again produced in this region. Rheinhessen is divided into three sub-regions, Bingen, Rheinterrasse and Wonnegau. The sub-region "Rheinterrasse" is so called because the area between Oppenheim and Nackenheim is made up of steep slopes which are composed of red lime- and sandstone and terraced vineyards overlooking the Rhine.
The red lime- and sandstone and the southeast exposition of the vineyards together provide ideal grape growing conditions to produce great dry or off-dry Riesling wines which are racy, elegant and possess a well integrated acidity.

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