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German winegrowing regions

Germany used to be known only for its excellent white wines, but those days are long gone. For some time now, young, innovative winemakers have been causing a furore with their Pinot noir wines (also called "Blauburgunder" and "Spätburgunder” in Germany), which compete successfully with their archetypes in Burgundy. Thirteen different regions in Germany produce a wide variety of wines that stand comparison with the best in the world.

The history of viticulture in Germany

The first winegrowing regions in Germany were probably established at the end of the second century AD on the left bank of the Rhine and in the Moselle valley, where the first vines from which wine was made were cultivated. The Roman Emperor, Probus (232-282 AD), is regarded as a particular promoter of vine cultivation in this area, and since his reign viticulture in Germany has flourished more and more. Documentary evidence exists for the period from the 6th century onwards. As Christianity spread, monasteries became centres of viticulture and the winegrowing craft – and at the same time they acted as teachers and promoters of quality viticulture.
Viticulture is documented in the Rheingau and in Franconia from the 8th century, and in Saxony from the end of the 9th century. Various factors, such as the Thirty Years' War in the 17th century, triggered declines in the area under vines that at times exceeded 300,000 hectares. In the 19th century, phylloxera infestation destroyed large areas of Germany's wine regions, some of which were never replanted with vines. The two world wars caused further losses, and it was not until the 1950s that a strong upswing set in, with a significant expansion of vineyards in Germany.

Geography: where are Germany's winegrowing regions?

Die vielfältige Welt deutscher Weine.
Germany's viticulture is concentrated on the slopes leading down to the Rhine valley from the Rhine bend near Weil in the south to the Siebengebirge mountains outside Bonn. The banks of Rhine tributaries Neckar, Main, Moselle, Ahr and Nahe are included, together with their own tributaries, and so are the shores of Lake Constance and certain areas in the east, in the Elbe valley near Meissen and on the Saale and Unstrut rivers. Viticulture in Germany is accordingly practised on very different soils and in different climatic conditions, which accounts for the diversity of German wines.

Growing areas: how is the German wine region structured?

There are thirteen different winegrowing regions in Germany. Eleven of them are located on the Rhine and its tributaries – in the Rheingau, Rheinhessen, the Palatinate, the Hessische Bergstrasse, Franconia, Württemberg and Baden – and German reunification added two more: the area around the Saale and Unstrut rivers in southern Saxony-Anhalt, and certain parts of Saxony. These winegrowing regions are in turn divided into about forty areas, which according to wine law are supposed to be "an aggregation of several vineyards from whose yields wines of similar taste are produced" – which is not always true, given the character of individual wines.
A higher hierarchical level of the German winegrowing regions is represented by the 168 Grosslagen (collective vineyard sites), which group together some 2,680 Einzellagen (single vineyard sites). A single vineyard site can have more than one owner. Stargarder Land was officially approved as a winegrowing area in 2005, but it is only allowed to produce table wines.

Wines: what are German wines like?

Germany's winegrowing regions produce wines of a special quality. This is due to the longer ripening period made possible by the comparatively mild climate. The grapes hang longer on the vine, enabling them to develop a rich variety of flavours and aromas.
Up to 65% of the wines produced in the German wine regions are white, of various degrees of sweetness. More than half are vinified dry or medium dry. Particularly noteworthy is Riesling with its aromas of citrus fruits, apples and apricots, as well as notes of almond, caramel and honey. This light, lively white wine has earned a good reputation worldwide. But red wines – produced in the Ahr, Franconia, Rheinhessen, Baden and Württemberg, for example – are also increasingly in vogue in all of Germany's winegrowing regions. The most popular German red wine is Pinot noir, full-bodied and smooth, with an impressive fruity aroma and almond nuances.
The most important grape varieties in Germany’s wine regions are Riesling (21%) and Müller-Thurgau (19%), followed by Pinot noir, Silvaner, Kerner, Dornfelder, Blauer Portugieser, Bacchus, Pinot gris (Ruländer), Pinot blanc , Scheurebe, Trollinger and Pinot Meunier.

Vineyard area and production volume

About 102,000 hectares, 9.3 million hectolitres per year.

Wines from Germany

Germany's wine regions in overview

Moselle

History

Wine was grown here as long ago as the Roman occupation period. At the end of the 18th century Clemens Wenceslaus, the Elector of Trier, decreed that no grape variety other than Riesling could be grown on the Moselle. The almost total restriction to this grape variety, which produces unique, inimitable wines in this growing region, is what gave it an almost legendary reputation extending into the middle of the last century.

Geography

This winegrowing region extends over 238 kilometres of river, on both sides of the Moselle and on the banks of its two tributaries, the Saar and the Ruwer. It is divided into six areas: Bernkastel (formerly Lower Moselle), Ruwer Valley and Saar (formerly Saar-Ruwer), Cochem Castle (formerly Zell), Moseltor (in the Saarland) and Upper Moselle.

Climate

The Moselle reflects sunlight, while the slate on the steep slopes retains warmth until late at night.

Soil

Meagre slate soils on very steep slopes

Wines

Almost exclusively white wine (about 91%): fruity, acidic Riesling, delicately perfumed. Excellent high-quality wines in good years, mostly with a delicate sweetness.

Grape varieties

58% Riesling, 15% Müller-Thurgau, 6% Elbling, 5% Kerner, Pinot gris (Ruländer) and other varieties. Reds: Pinot noir and others.

Producers

About 5,000 winegrowing enterprises, mainly fairly small family businesses. Some deliver their grapes to large central wineries.

Vineyard area and production volume

About 9,000 hectares, some 1.3 million hectolitres per year.
Rheingau

History

The winegrowing region in the Rheingau corresponded to the area still planted with vines today as long ago as 1226. Riesling has been the main variety cultivated here for 500 years. The "Cabinetkeller", where the best wines were stored, was the godfather of today's "cabinet wine".

Geography

The centre of this winegrowing region, which stretches from Wicker on the lower reaches of the Main to Lorchhausen, lies between Wiesbaden and Rüdesheim.

Climate

Long, warm summers, short, mild winters, low precipitation. The Rhine reflects the sun and gives off heat at night. The Taunus mountains provide protection from north winds.

Wines

Fine-fruited, elegant Riesling, rich in extract, often with a delicate sweetness, storable for long periods. Formerly light, Pinot noir wines have more and more power today.

Grape varieties

79% Riesling, 13% Pinot noir, 2% Müller-Thurgau.

Producers

About 770 wineries.

Vineyard area and production volume

About 3,100 hectares, some 204,000 hectolitres per year.
Nahe

History

The first documentary evidence of viticulture on the Nahe dates back to the 8th century. It is mainly found in the archives of the Lorsch monastery.

Geography

The Nahe flows for 120 kilometres from west to east. On its lower 60 kilometres the viticulture areas cover steep slopes on both sides of the river and its lateral valleys.

Climate

Protected from north winds by the Soonwald and Hunsrück.

Wines

Almost exclusively whites. Fragrant, aromatic, robust and acidic wines in the middle and upper Nahe. The wines in the lower reaches of the river are delicately fruity, reminiscent of those of the Moselle.

Grape varieties

26% Riesling, 14% Müller-Thurgau, 11% Dornfelder.

Vineyard area and production volume

4,100 hectares, about 260,000 hectolitres per year.
Rheinhessen

History

Charlemagne is known to have greatly prized the wines of the area around his imperial palace in Ingelheim in the 9th century.

Geography

The towns of Bingen, Nierstein and Worms form the apexes of a large triangle bordered by the Rhine to the north and east. The region is divided into the three areas of Bingen, Nierstein and Wonnegau. It has 24 collective vineyards and 442 single vineyards.

Climate

A mild, temperate climate. Rheinhessen is protected from the wind by the Taunus mountains and the Odenwald. In the most favourable locations (the Rhine Terrace and Bingen/Ingelheim) the Rhine alleviates extremes of temperature, with positive effects on the climate.

Wines

Mainly whites, often fairly sweet – though the proportion of dry wines is increasing. Liebfraumilch has its origins in Rheinhessen. This wine may only be produced from grapes from the four districts of Rheinhessen, the Palatinate, Nahe and Rheingau.

Grape varieties

16% Müller-Thurgau, 13% Dornfelder, 12% Riesling, 10% Silvaner, Portugieser, Kerner, Pinot noir, Scheurebe, Pinot gris.

Vineyard area and production volume

26,300 hectares, about 2.6 million hectolitres per year.
Palatinate

History

Vineyards here were most extensive in the late Middle Ages, but viticulture declined sharply after the Thirty Years' War. Today the Palatinate is once again one of the most important wine regions in Germany.

Geography

The vineyards are contiguous, extending 80 kilometres along the eastern slopes of the Haardt and Wasgau mountains. The landscape is partly flat, partly slightly hilly. The Rhine lies to the east, but the vineyards do not quite reach it. Neustadt is situated between the Mittelhaardt area (on the German Wine Route) to the north and the Southern Wine Route to the south.

Climate

The wind-protected location east of the Haardt and Wasgau mountains features a very mild climate.

Wines

White wines predominate, with a 60% share – but given the size of the region, a large proportion of German reds is also produced here. The white wines differ greatly in quality and character. First-class Rieslings are produced here, both dry and sweet, together with large quantities of Liebfraumilch and other simpler mass-produced wines. The warm climate gives the wines a full-bodied character and softly rounded acidity.

Grape varieties

22% Riesling, 14% Dornfelder, 10% Müller-Thurgau, 10% Portugieser, Pinot noir, Kerner, Pinot gris, Silvaner.

Vineyard area and production volume

23,400 hectares, 1.7 million hectolitres per year.
Middle Rhine

History

The Middle Rhine's most important wine market was in Bacharach, from where wine was shipped as far away as England and Scandinavia.

Geography

The growing region consists of "wine islands" on steep southern slopes. The Middle Rhine growing region includes the Siebengebirge area, home to the northernmost vineyards in western Germany. The two more southerly areas combine to form the Loreley area.

Wines

Mainly Riesling: grainy, sometimes steely, in good years delicately floral and elegant. Quaffable Müller-Thurgaus.

Production volume

About 460 hectares, some 29,000 hectolitres per year.
Hessische Bergstrasse

History

The first written records of viticulture in Bensheim are found in the Lorsch Codex of 765. The vines were almost wiped out by disease at the beginning of the 20th century. The region is divided into the two areas of Starkenburg and Gross-Umstadt, also called the "Odenwald Wine Island".

Climate

Most vineyards are on slopes. Good conditions: quite a sunny climate, with adequate rainfall.

Wines

Whites dominate. More than half are dry and medium dry. 49% Riesling, 10% Pinot noir, 8% Müller-Thurgau.

Production volumes

435 hectares, 27,000 hectolitres per year.
Württemberg

History

Württemberg has vineyards that date back to Roman times.

Geography

Cultivated areas extend from the valleys of the river Tauber in the north to Lake Constance in the south. The main areas are around Stuttgart and Heilbronn.

Climate

Mild climate in the Rhine valley, continental climate in the east.

Wines

Robust, powerful wines with mild acidity. 71% reds.

Grape varieties

Riesling and Pinot Meunier.

Vineyard area and production volume

11,500 hectares, about 1.1 million hectolitres per year.
Baden

History

At the beginning of the 19th century Baden was Germany's largest winegrowing region, stretching for 400 kilometres from Lake Constance in the south, along the Rhine and through the Black Forest, past Heidelberg to Franconia in the north.

Wines

Its different grape varieties are vinified in a wide variety of styles. The wines are predominantly robust, full-bodied and mildly acidic. 54% are white, although the area has the largest Pinot noir acreage in Germany.

Production volumes

18% Müller-Thurgau
37% Pinot noir
10% Pinot gris
Total: about 16,000 hectares, 1.1 million hectolitres.
Ahr

History

The Ahr is a left tributary of the Rhine. Reds dominate, with 88% of production. Velvety Pinot noir, mild Portugieser.

Production volume

About 548 hectares.
Saale-Unstrut

History

The vineyards in Germany's northernmost winegrowing area are found in valleys and along the rivers Saale and Unstrut. Mostly light to medium-bodied dry wines, mildly acidic.

Production volume

About 663 hectares.
Saxony

History

Germany's easternmost winegrowing area lies on the steep banks of the Elbe. Predominantly dry wines with a fruity character.

Production volume

About 416 hectares.