When you think of German wines, your mind may quickly turn to Riesling, which is the country’s leading grape variety. However, beyond the noble grape, Germany has a lot more to offer when it comes to viticulture, with a wide variety of grapes and wines produced over 13 different wine regions. And with a 2,000-year winemaking heritage, plus a stringent classification system, German wine is reliably of the highest quality. Did you know that March 13 is Rieslings birthday.
This guide to the wine regions of Germany includes a comprehensive glossary of German wine terms (essential if you want to understand German winemaking practices, as well as a German wine label or which is a suitable wine to select from a menu), followed by an overview of each of the country’s 13 designated wine regions, the wines they are famous for and other important facts.
German Wine Terms
As befitting the country’s reputation for organisation and precision, German wine labels are typically very informative in comparison to other European wines, clearly stating the quality of the wine, the grape, the vineyard, the style and a taste indication. Therefore, it’s good to have a glossary of German wine terms to hand while selecting a bottle off a menu or reading a wine bottle label.
Four Categories of Wine Quality
- Deutscher Wein (German Wine) – made from ripe and under-ripe grapes, mostly for domestic consumption, few restrictions and no official tests.
- Landwein (German Land/Country Wine) – a wine that originates from one of the country’s designated wine districts, containing a minimum of 0.5% alcohol and no more than 18 grams of super per liter.
- Qualitätswein or QbA (Quality Wine) – a wine that originates from one of the country’s designated wine districts from approved grape varieties, with sufficient ripeness. These wines are tested for compliance by an official committee.
- Prädikatswein or Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (Wine with Special Attributes) – naturally produced wines without chaptalization (the process of adding of sugar to grape juice before fermentation to increase alcohol level). Prädikatswein is further divided into six categories denoting ripeness:
- Kabinett – light wines made from fully ripe grapes, typically light in both alcohol and calories, best paired with light food.
- Spätlese (Late Harvest) – wines made from grapes harvested after the normal harvest, which produces a more intense flavor and concentration.
- Auslese (Select Picking) – wines made from a harvest of selected, very ripe grapes. These noble wines are intense in both bouquet and taste.
- Beerenauslese (Berries Select Picking) – wines made from a harvest of individually selected, overripe berries, which produce sweet dessert wines.
- Eiswein (Icewine) – wines made from grapes harvested and pressed while frozen, typically sweet and acidic.
- Trockenbeerenauslese (Dry Berries Select Picking) – wines made from individually selected, overripe berries that have dried up on the vine, like raisins, producing rich, honey-like wines.
Degree of Dryness
- Trocken – a dry wine without residential sweetness, containing less than nine grams of sugar per liter.
- Halbtrocken – a semi-dry wine containing less than 18 grams of sugar per liter, sweetness is barely perceptible.
- Classic – a dry wine made using a traditional grape variety and often, the name of the vineyard is omitted from the label.
- Selection – a dry wine that has originated from an individual vineyard, as indicated on the label, and harvested by hand with a yield lower than that prescribed by law.
- Lieblich – a medium-sweet wine with between 18 and 45 grams of sugar per liter.
- Süss – a sweet wine with more than 45 grams of sugar per liter.
- Feinherb – an off-dry wine (no legal specifications).
The closest village to the vineyard usually ends in the suffix –er while the vineyard ends in –berg (meaning mountain or slope). For example, “Niedermenniger Herrenberg” would mean that the wine comes from the Herren vineyard in the village of Niedermennig.
There are also four levels of classification when it comes to terroir:
- Gutswein – good, entry-level wines that originate from an estate within a designated wine region.
- Ortswein – wines that originates from a village’s best vineyard, made using grapes typical of that particular wine region.
- Erste Lage – wines that originate from first-class vineyards with distinct characteristics.
- Grosse Lage – “top class” wines that originate from the very best vineyards in the country.
In addition, aside from Deutscher Wein, all German wines have an AP or Amtliche Prüfungsnummer (official approval) number, which helps identify a wine. For example, A.P. Nr. 3 525 672 4 16
- 3 refers to the number of the testing center where the wine was approved
- 525 is the village where the wine producer is located
- 672 is the number of the producer
- 4 is the producer’s application number
- 16 is the year in which the producer filed the application
- Erzeugerabfüllung or Gutsabfüllung – estate bottled
- Abfüller – bottler or shipper
Unlike Southern European countries, Germany’s climate can be extremely variable and therefore it should be noted that vintage is more important, as conditions, harvest and product vary from year to year. So, always pay attention to the year printed on the wine label.
13 German Wine Regions
Germany is comprised of 13 Anbaugebiete (major wine regions), which are mostly located in the southwest of the country, with the exception of Saale-Unstut and Sachsen (Saxony). These Anbaugebiete are further divided into Bereich (districts within a wine region), Grosslagen (a collection of vineyards within a district) and Einzellage (individual vineyards).
1. Sachsen (Saxony)
Best known for Müller-Thurgau (Rivaner)
Germany’s easternmost and northernmost wine region, Sachsen is home to three Bereiche: Dresden, Elsteral and Meissen. Winegrowing has been part of the way of life in Sachsen since the 2nd century AD and today production focuses mainly on early-ripening grapes, such as Müller-Thurgau (Rivaner), though the specialty Gewürztraminer is also popular, particularly among locals.
Best known for dry white wines
Saale-Unstrut has two Bereiche, Schlossneuenburg and Thüringen, and is named for the two rivers that line the hillsides here. Viticulture has been present here since the 1st century AD, though the cooler northern climate can lead to more variable weather, which affects winegrowing conditions.
Best known for Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)
Ahr is a small wine region comprised of one Bereich, Walporzheim/Ahrtal, and one Grosslage, Klosterberg. One of the northernmost wine regions in the whole of Europe, Ahr is also one of the smallest of Germany’s Anbaugebiete.
Ahr is best known for its red wines, particularly full-bodied fiery wines made from the Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) grape, which account for around 80% of production. Other varieties of grapes grown in this region include Dornfelder, Portugieser, Riesling and Müller-Thurgau.
Best known for Riesling and Sekt
Mittelrhein is made up of two Bereiche, Loreley and Siebengebirge, and the region is famous for its incredible scenery: medieval castles, the Rhine River and the steep terraces of vineyards. Around 75% of production focuses around Riesling and the grapes grown in the clay-slate soils here are noted for their acidity, a flavor profile that works well for Sekt sparkling wine.
Best known for Reisling
Spread over the valleys and tributaries of the river bearing the same name, Mosel’s six Bereiche are Bernkastel, Burg Cochem, Moseltor, Obermosel, Ruwetal and Saar. This is one of Germany’s most historic wine regions, with a 2,000-year legacy.
Mosel is famous for Riesling wines and the slatey terroir produces wines prized for their delicate, fragrant, acidic, mineral-rich and fruity flavors.
Best known for Riesling
A world-renowned wine region, Rheingau is home to only one Bereich, Johannisberg, which is composed of 10 Grosslagen: Burgweg-Rheingau, Daubhaus, Deutelsberg, Erntebringer, Gottesthal, Heiligenstock, Honigberg, Mehrhölzchen, Steil and Steinmächer.
Riesling grapes have been grown here since at least the 18th century, which today accounts for around 80% of the region’s production, offering elegant, fruity, acidic, rich and sometimes spicy flavor profiles. A further 12% of Rheingau’s production is focused on Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), which produces a velvety texture with aromas and flavors likened to blackberries.
7. Franken (Franconia)
Best known for Silvaner, Rivaner and Bacchus
A hilly territory located east of the city of Frankfurt, Franken is comprised of three Bereiche: Maindreieck, Mainviereck and Steigerwald. Look out for the traditional Bocksbeutel bottle, which is a flat, round-bellied vessel.
Franken is known mainly for its white wines, particularly powerful, earthy wines produced from Silvaner grapes, though Rivaner and Bacchus are popular, followed by Riesling.
Best known for Silvaner
Rheinhessen is the largest wine region in Germany, accounting for around 25% of all German vineyards in terms of area, and has three Bereiche: Bingen, Nierstein and Wonnegau. Varying terroir and climate conditions mean that many different varieties of grape are grown here, from traditional noble grapes to innovative or new types. There are also a lot of young winemakers coming into the viticulture industry in Rheinhessen, so the winegrowing scene is always changing.
Silvaner is the most popular choice for vinters and Rheinhessen boasts the world’s largest area of Silvaner grapes grown.
Best known for Riesling, Rivaner and Silvaner
Named for the Nahe River, Nahe is home to just one Bereich, Nahetal, which is subdivided into seven Grosslagen: Burgweg-Nahe, Kronenberg, Paradiesgarten, Pfarrgarten, Rosengarten, Schlosskapelle and Sonnenborn.
One of the smallest of Germany’s wine regions, Nahe produces a diverse array of wines from a variety of grapes. Nahe Rieslings are noted for their finesses and spice, the Rivaners are floral, while the Silvaners are earthy and full-bodied.
10. Hessische Bergstrasse
Best known for Riesling and Pinots
The country’s smallest wine region, Hessische Bergstrasse is comprised of two Bereiche: Starkenburg and Umstadt. The wines produced here are usually made from Riesling or Pinot grapes and are noted for their full bodies, acidity, fragrance and rich flavors, sharing similar characteristics to the wines of Rheingau.
11. Pfalz (Palatinate)
Best known for Riesling, Pinot Noir, but variety above all
Germany’s second-largest winegrowing region, Pfalz is composed of two Bereiche, Mittelhaardt-Deutsche Weinstrasse and Südliche Weinstrasse, which are home to 25 Grosslagen. The region is also one of the country’s sunniest and driest, which mean ideal conditions for grape harvest.
Around 45 white and 22 red grape varieties are grown here, with production divided roughly into 60% white and 40% red.
The Rieslings are noted for their lower acidity and flavors of peach or apricot, while other mild whites are made from Grauburgunder (Pinot Grigio), Müller-Thurgau (Rivaner), Scheurebe and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) grapes.
In the red corner, Pfalz’s Pinot Noirs are internationally acclaimed, though smooth, fruity Portugiesers and dark, complex Dornfelders are also popular.
Best known for Trollinger, Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier) and Lemberger.
Württemberg has six Bereiche: Bayerischer Bodensee, Kocher-Jagst-Tauber, Oberer Neckar, Remstal-Stuttgart, Württembergisch Bodensee and Württembergisch Unterland.
Red wine is the star here, with key varieties including Trollinger, Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier) and Lemberger. However, white grapes are still grown, with the most popular being Riesling and Kerner.
Best known for Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris
Baden is comprised of nine Bereiche: Badische Bergstraße, Bodensee, Breisgau, Kaiserstuhl, Kraichgau, Markgräflerland, Ortenau, Tauberfranken and Tuniberg.
Germany’s southernmost wine region, Baden is located along the Rhine, stretching from Lake Constance to Heidelberg, encompassing the Black Forest and the volcanic massif of Kaiserstuhl. As it lies so close to the border with Switzerland, it’s unsurprising that Baden wines share a lot of characteristics with their Swiss counterparts.
Both red and white grapes are grown here, usually dry wines made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, which pair well with food. Other typical white grapes grown here include Rivaner, Riesling, Silvaner and Gutedel.
More German Wine Varieties
Did you find this guide to the wine regions of Germany helpful in planning a future trip to Europe? Did the information aid you in selecting some German wines to try, either bought online or at a store near you (after all, while international travel is discouraged, traveling through your taste buds is the best way to go!) Let us know in the comments.
On the other hand, if you’re familiar with German wines and winemaking regions, please comment with your recommendations and suggestions of specific wines to try, wineries or scenic vineyards to visit in the country, or any other tidbits of information that come to mind.