When people mention German wine, perhaps you immediately think of Riesling. Germany’s vineyards grow nearly a hundred types of grapes, where white wine variants like the famous Riesling and Müller-Thurgau contribute over two-thirds of all cultivation.
But Germany is no one-hit-wonder, and the northerly wine-producing country’s other offerings have started to grab the spotlight. A few years ago, at the G20 summit in Hamburg, international guests were served a selection of fine pinot noirs. Of the eight platinum award-winning German wines at the 17th Decanter World Wine Awards last year, three were reds that won top honours.
The country’s booming wine culture is a blend of tradition and innovation, but stereotypes still abound among fine wine enthusiasts. If you are intrigued by the excellent aromas, ageability and sophistication of German wines, here are eight things to know about the country’s viticultural bounty:
- Germany’s Winemaking History Spans Two Millennia
Germany has been producing wine for about two thousand years. In the Sachsen region, for example, the oldest records of winemaking date all the way back to 1161. The traditional wine-growing region in the north, Saale-Unstrut, has been growing vines since 998 A.D.
According to historians, Romans here were producing wine as early as 330 AD, and incredibly, an ancient cellar found in Mosel dates back to the same time. Emperor Charlemagne is credited with having spread viticulture throughout the Holy Roman Empire, including Germany. He brought winemaking to the Rheingau around 800 A.D.
- Germany’s white wines go beyond the Riesling
Germany is synonymous with the world’s greatest Riesling from the Rhine region, but the country offers this popular floral white wine in a number of variants – from the light and sparkling Rieslingsekt to the sweet dessert wine Trockenbeerenauslese. A very dry Riesling can be identified by the label ‘trocken’, while a semi-dry one is ‘Halbtrocken’.
White wines account for nearly two-thirds of Germany’s total wine production, but not all of it is Riesling. Germany’s other white grapes like Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner, Grauburgunder, Weissburgunder, and Scheurebe cover more than 43% of the country’s wine regions. On the other end of the spectrum, we have the rare Gewürztraminers vines that cover less than 1% of Germany’s vineyard areas.
- Sekt is Germany’s most popular domestic wine
The German word for sparkling is ‘sekt’. Most of the country’s popular wine grapes can be made into sparkling wine. For example, according to the German Wine Institute, about 50% of the country’s premium sparkling wine comes from Riesling, and 30% from Pinot varieties.
Germans are responsible for the highest per capita consumption of sparkling wine in the world, which is why these locally produced wines tend to stay in the country.
Germany is the world’s top producer of Pinot Blanc or Weissburgunder and the third-largest producer of Pinot Gris or Grauburgunder.
- Germany produces some versatile red wines
Germany’s white wine production outweighs its red wine yield by far, but it is worth noting that domestic demand and production of red wine has been growing since the 1990-2000s. The country’s most popular red wine variety is the fruity Pinot Noir or Spätburgunder. In fact, after France and the US, Germany is the third largest pinot noir producer in the world. The red grape accounts for more than 60% of the vineyards in the Ahr hillsides, known as the country’s ‘red wine paradise’.
The smoky strawberry flavoured Trollinger is a lighter red wine, while the floral berry flavoured Dornfelder is a heavier velvety option.
- Germany has its own Wine Queen
This is a pageant with a difference. Every year, the German Wine Institute (DWI) chooses a Wine Queen and Wine Princesses as ambassadors of German wine. Following a live TV show covering the event, an extensive jury comprised of industry experts, media personnel, and political figures elects the Wine Majesties from a pool of candidates hailing from across the country’s winemaking regions. Since 1949, the German Wine Queen has been elected annually and tasked with the work of promoting Germany’s wine culture to the global public.
The current and 71st German Wine Queen is Angelina Vogt from the Nahe region. Wine Princesses Julia Sophie Böcklen from Württemberg and Carolin Hillenbrand from Hessian Bergstraße complete the troika.
- Germany’s Wine Topography is Varied and Steep
Among the wine regions of Germany, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer with its slate soils and steep slopes is arguably the most famous. But the country has twelve other official winemaking regions worthy of attention – including Baden, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, and Ahr. These regions vary considerably in their microclimates and soil type, which lends a charming variety to the country’s wine production. For example, Baden in the south is the country’s sunniest wine-producing region and categorized as E.U. zone B. At about 400 kilometres, it is also the country’s longest wine region.
- Germany’s Wine Road is one the oldest in the world
Wine tourism in Germany harks back to the inauguration of the 85 km long Wine Road or Weinstrasse in 1935, the oldest of such wine trails in the world. Stretching between Schweigen on the French border in the south and the municipality of Bockenheim in the north, the hilly road is easy to follow, thanks to the signs of stylized wine grapes placed along the route. The landscape is almost Mediterranean, with its cascade of fig, lemon, and kiwi trees and almond blossoms in spring.
The last Sunday in August is celebrated here as German Wine Route Day, when the road is closed to car traffic and the wineries and taverns attract thousands of hikers, skaters, and bicyclists.
- Summers in Germany are all about wine festivals
Wine tourism in Germany doesn’t end with tourist trails. The country also hosts several wine festivals. The Bremer Weinfest is held annually during August-September in Bremen and hosts vintners from across the country’s wine regions. The world’s biggest wine festival – the Dürkheimer Wurstmarkt – is also held in the month of September each year. The festival has been celebrated for the past 600 years and attracts over half a million visitors annually. The Stuttgarter Weindorf is another summer wine festival that is celebrated for 12 days with a focus on regional wines and Swabian food.
The next best alternative to attending these festivals? Try one of these lesser-known German wines that are ideal for the summer.