Wine Regions of Germany
German wine is primarily produced in the west of Germany, along the river Rhine and its tributaries, with the oldest plantations going back to the Roman era. Approximately 60 percent of the German wine production is situated in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where 6 of the 13 regions (Anbaugebiete) for quality wine are situated. Germany has about 102,000 hectares (252,000 acres or 1,020 square kilometers) of vineyard, which is around one tenth of the vineyard surface in Spain, France or Italy. The total wine production is usually around 9 million hectoliters annually, corresponding to 1.2 billion bottles, which places Germany as the eighth largest wine-producing country in the world. White wine accounts for almost two thirds of the total production.
Among enthusiasts, Germany's reputation is primarily based on wines made from the Riesling grape variety, which at its best is used for aromatic, fruity and elegant white wines that range from very crisp and dry to well-balanced, sweet and of enormous aromatic concentration. While primarily a white wine country, red wine production surged in the 1990s and early 2000s, primarily fuelled by domestic demand, and the proportion of the German vineyards devoted to the cultivation of dark-skinned grape varieties has now stabilized at slightly more than a third of the total surface. For the red wines, Spätburgunder, the domestic name for Pinot noir, is in the lead.
Quick History of Wine in Germany
Viticulture in present-day Germany dates back to Ancient Roman times, to sometime from 70 to 270 CE/AD. In those days, the western parts of today's Germany made up the outpost of the Roman empire against the Germanic tribes on the other side of Rhine. What is generally considered Germany's oldest city, Trier, was founded as a Roman garrison and is situated directly on the river Mosel in the eponymous wine region. The oldest archeological finds that may indicate early German viticulture are curved pruning knives found in the vicinity of Roman garrisons, dating from the 1st century AD. However, it is not absolutely certain that these knives were used for viticultural purposes. Emperor Probus, whose reign can be dated two centuries later than these knives, is generally considered the founder of German viticulture, but for solid documentation of winemaking on German soil, we must go to around 370 AD, when Ausonius of Bordeaux wrote Mosella, where he in enthusiastic terms described the steep vineyards on river Moselle.
Before the era of Charlemagne, Germanic viticulture was practiced primarily, although not exclusively, on the western side of Rhine. Charlemagne is supposed to have brought viticulture to Rheingau. The eastward spread of viticulture coincided with the spread of Christianity, which was supported by Charlemagne. Thus, in Medieval Germany, churches and monasteries played the most important role in viticulture, and especially in the production of quality wine. Two Rheingau examples illustrate this: archbishop Ruthard of Mainz (reigning 1089-1109) founded a Benedictine abbey on slopes above Geisenheim, the ground of which later became Schloss Johannisberg. His successor Adalbert of Mainz donated land above Hattenheim in 1135 to Cistercians, sent out from Clairvaux in Champagne, who founded Kloster Eberbach.
Many grape varieties commonly associated with German wines have been documented back to the 14th or 15th century. Riesling has been documented from 1435 (close to Rheingau), and Pinot noir from 1318 on Lake Constance under the name Klebroth, from 1335 in Affenthal in Baden and from 1470 in Rheingau, where the monks kept a Clebroit-Wyngart in Hattenheim. The most grown variety in medieval Germany was however Elbling, Silvaner Muscat, Räuschling and Traminer.
GEOGRAPHY AND CLIMATE
The German wine regions are some of the most northerly in the world. The main wine-producing climate lies below the 50th parallel, which runs through the regions Rheingau and Mosel. Above this line the climate becomes less conducive to wine production, but there are still some vineyards above this line.
The wine regions in Germany usually referred to are the 13 defined regions for quality wine. The German wine industry has organised itself around these regions and their division into districts. However, there are also a number of regions for the seldom-exported table wine (Tafelwein) and country wine (Landwein) categories. Those regions with a few exceptions overlap with the quality wine regions. To make a clear distinction between the quality levels, the regions and subregions for different quality level have different names on purpose, even when they are allowed to be produced in the same geographical area.
The 13 German Wine Regions
These 13 regions (Anbaugebiete) are broken down into 39 districts (Bereiche), which are further broken down into collective vineyard sites (Großlagen) of which there are 167. The individual vineyard sites (Einzellagen) number 2,658.
Ahr -a small region along the river Ahr, a tributary of Rhine, which despite its northerly location primarily produces red wine from Spätburgunder.
Baden - Germany's southernmost, warmest and sunniest wine-growing region, in Germany's southwestern corner, across river Rhine from Alsace, and the only German wine region situated in European Union wine growing zone B rather than A, which results in higher minimum required maturity of grapes and less chaptalisation allowed. Noted for its pinot wines - both red and white. The Kaiserstuhl region in the wine-growing region of Baden is Germany's warmest location. One of two wine regions in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg.
Franconia - around portions of Main River, and the only wine region situated in Bavaria. Noted for growing many varieties on chalky soil and for producing powerful dry Silvaner wines. In Germany, only Franconia and certain small parts of the Baden region are allowed to use the distinctive flattened Bocksbeutel bottle shape.
Hessische Bergstraße (Hessian Mountain Road) - a small region in the federal state Hesse dominated by Riesling.
Mittelrhein - along the middle portions of river Rhine, primarily between the regions Rheingau and Mosel, and dominated by Riesling.
Mosel - along the river Moselle (Mosel) and its tributaries, the rivers Saar and Ruwer, and was previously known as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. The Mosel region is dominated by Riesling grapes and slate soils, and the best wines are grown in dramatic-looking steep vineyards directly overlooking the rivers. This region produces wine that is light in body, crisp, of high acidity and with pronounced mineral character. The only region to stick to Riesling wine with noticeable residual sweetness as the "standard" style, although dry wines are also produced.
Nahe - around the river Nahe where volcanic origins give very varied soils. Mixed grape varieties but the best known producers primarily grow Riesling, and some of them have achieved world reputation in recent years.
Pfalz - the second largest producing region in Germany, with production of very varied styles of wine (especially in the southern half), where red wine has been on the increase. The northern half of the region is home to many well-known Riesling producers with a long history, which specialize in powerful Riesling wines in a dry style. Until 1995, it was known in German as Rheinpfalz
Rheingau - a small region at a bend in the Rhine that provide excellent conditions for wine growing. The oldest documented references to Riesling come from the Rheingau region and it is the region where many German wine making practices have originated, such as the use of Prädikat designations, and where many high-profile producers are situated. Dominated by Riesling with some Spätburgunder. The Rheingau Riesling style is in-between Mosel and the Palatinate and other southern regions, and at its finest combines the best aspects of both.
Rheinhessen - the largest production area in Germany. Once known as Liebfraumilch land, but a quality revolution has taken place since the 1990s. Mixed wine styles and both red and white wines. The best Riesling wines are similar to Palatinate Riesling - dry and powerful. Despite its name, it lies in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, not in Hesse.
Saale-Unstrut - one of two regions in former East Germany along the rivers Saale and Unstrut, and Germany's northernmost wine growing region.
Sachsen - one of two regions in former East Germany, in the southeastern corner of the country, along the river Elbe in the federal state of Saxony.
Württemberg - a traditional red wine region, where grape varieties Trollinger (the region's signature variety), Schwarzriesling and Lemberger outnumber the varieties that dominate elsewhere. One of two wine regions in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg.