The German wine producing area is divided into 13 wine growing regions.
These regions were designated so due to the commonality of the wines from there. To further clarify the origin of German wines, these regions are sub-divided into Bereiche, or Districts. Each Bereiche is made up of multiple wine-growing villages and is usually named after the most famous one.
In general, wines from the north tend to be lighter, with more fruit, elegance, and acidity, while wines from the south are usually fuller with more fruitiness and flavor (but with a more subtle acidity). Following are the principal western wine regions in Germany, listed from north to south (click on the region below the map for a list of recommended wineries in that region.
Germany's smallest wine region, the Ahr wine region is located on the west bank of the Rhine, south of Bonn where the Ahr flows into the Rhein. Predominantly a red wine region (Spätburgunder and Portugieser), the soil is actually a volcanic slate. The dark soil and reflected heat from the rock formations and the protection from the winds create a microclimate that allows red wines to do very well in this northernmost wine region. Most of the wine produced here is consumed locally or by European tourists (much of the wine has been created to please the tourist palate). One wine to definitely try here is the Weissherbst, a rosé that is lively and refreshing due to the tartaric acid giving the wines a structure that is not unlike what one would find in French wines.
Baden is the southernmost of Germany's wine regions, a long, slim strip that extends from near Heidelberg in the north to Lake Constance (Bodensee) in the south.
This is the famed "Black Forest" area. Germany's third largest wine region, Baden, is also its most diverse.
Baden wine region contains soils that range from gravel, limestone and clay to loess, volcanic stone and shell-lime. Its grapes are also varied, and include the flowery Müller-Thurgau; full-bodied Ruländer (Pinot gris); light, mild Gutedel; spicy Gewürztraminer; and the noble Riesling. About 23% of the vineyards are planted in Spätburgunder (Pinot noir), a red variety, which is full-bodied and fiery when grown in the volcanic soils of the Kaiserstuhl. Spätburgunder Weißherbst, a rosé wine, is a popular wine made here.
Whereas Germany's per capita consumption of wine is 32 bottles per year, each citizen of Baden averages 53 bottles - a tribute to their winemakers. Wines: fresh, fragrant, spicy, aromatic white wines; velvety to fiery reds; fullbodied.
At the popular wine, local and traditional festivals one quickly becomes a friend of the Franconian philosophy of life which is marked by sociability and "joie de vivre". The widely known Franconian Wine is grown by about 6,500 wine growers on about 5,500 hectares of land. The region is divided into three areas, different types of soil are also characteristic of the wines that grow there: Mainviereck (red new sandstone = red wine, mica slate = Riesling), Main-dreieck (Muschelkalk = Silvaner, Scheurebe), Steigerwald (Keuper, gypsum keuper = Müller Thurgau). The most common types of wine are Müller Thurgau (approx. 50%) and Silvaner (approx. 23%), followed a long way behind by Bacchus (approx. 9%), Kerner (approx. 5%) and Scheurebe (approx. 3%). Franconian wine-growers participate in a stringent selfcontrol scheme in order to guarantee the famous quality of Franconian wine. Its hallmark is a wide rounded bottle - the Bocksbeutel.
The Hessische Bergstrasse wine region is located in the German state of Hessen. It lies in an area between the Neckar, Rhine, and Main rivers.
1,126 acres (456 hectares) - Germany's second smallest wine region. 756,879 gallons (28,651 hectoliters) of wine are produced annually in the Hessische Bergstrasse (76% Prädikatswein; 24% Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete). This accounts for only .3% of the volume from Germany's entire wine region.
The Hessische Bergstrasse is known throughout Germany as the "Spring Garden." Spring begins here a little bit sooner than in other regions of Germany. The region is also protected from winds by the hills of the Oden Forest.
Average Temperature: 50 °F (10° C)
Average Hours of Sunshine: 1,600 hours per year
Average Precipitation: (720 mm)
80% of the regions wines are white wines - of these, the Riesling is the most produced. 20% of the regions wines are red wines. The following grape varieties are planted.
Characteristics of Hessische Bergstrasse Wine
The region is known for its Riesling wines - most of them are dry to medium dry. Those wines from vineyards of higher elevations tend to be less acidic than those from the northernly areas. Wines here also tend to be similar to those from the Rheingau region: fragrant, rich, fresh, and full of body.
Grapes were first planted in this region over 2,000 years ago by the Romans. The oldest written record of vineyards in the region dates to the 8th century. At this time the fields were cultivated by monks.
In 1803, the northern part of the region became "hessisch" (belonging to the state of Hessen) and southern part became "badisch" (belonging to the state of Baden). The entire area, although it crossed state lines, was known as the "Bergstrasse." In 1971, the area in Hessen officially became its own stand-alone wine region and was named the Hessische Bergstrasse.
The Mittelrhein wine region starts just below Bonn and follows the River Rhein sixty miles south, sharing space with medieval castles and ruins on both sides of the river all the way down to where the Rhine makes a 90º turn to the east. The large volume of water flowing through the Rhine creates a microclimate that keeps the temperature warm enough during early Spring and late Fall months, creating a long growing season. With Riesling (75% of production) and Kerner being the best producers, the wines get a distinct acidity from the clayish/slate soil. Most of the good wine comes from the stretch of the Rhine to the south of Koblenz, especially around Bacharach and are usually consumed locally.
Mosel Saar Ruwer
Probably the most famous and most important region in today's wine market, the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer valleys starts at the ancient Roman city of Trier and snake through the Rhineland to Koblenz where it empties into the Rhine. The dramatic slate-covered slopes of the valley (especially in the Middle Mosel) are the keys to the region's success. As the valley is at the same northern latitude as Newfoundland, the exposure to the sun is minimal and therefore vineyards need to be on slopes with a dramatic angle. This angle plus the heavy amounts of slate in the soil that store and reflect up the sun's heat, thereby maximizing the impact. Riesling is the most prominent grape grown here, and is found at its best around the towns of Wiltingen and Schwarzhofberg in the Saar-Ruwer district, and around Bernkastel, Piesport, Wehlen, Brauneberg, Graach, Zeltingen, and Erden in the Middle Mosel district. Wines of the Mosel and its tributaries, the Saar and Ruwer, tend to be pale in color and light-bodied with crisp fruity acidity and have the potential to age in complexity. In warm vintages, Auslese and higher wines show the full potential of the region. 100 years ago, a good wine from the Middle Mosel 100 years ago, would have cost more than a premier cru from Médoc. Today, though, even quality Mosel wines are under-priced due to the flood of wines, allowing wine consumers to experience phenomenal wines without spending a lot of money.
The principal vineyards in the Mosel Valley fall into one of three Bereich or districts:
Upper Mosel & Saar-Ruwer
Middle Mosel (Bereich Bernkastel)
Lower Mosel (Bereich Zell)
Located just west of Frankfurt-am-Main, Germany's most prestigious wine region is the natural home for the Riesling (the earliest recorded references of the Riesling date back to 1435). The home of Schloss Johannisberg (where Johannisberg Riesling is from), over 80% of the Rheingau is planted with Riesling, creating wines that are Elegant while young, fruity, and racy with good acidity and has extensive aging potential, achieving intense complexity with a wonderful balance. The vineyards can be found on the north bank of the Rhine River, climbing up the gradual slope up the Taunus Hills (although never getting further than two or three miles from the river). The region is also protected by the wooded uplands on the Taunus Hills, which create a microclimate that enables grapes to be legally harvested later in the season when they are more ripe and developed.
The Nahe Valley
Even among German consumers, the Nahe Valley is probably the least known wine region. An hour to 90 minutes west/southwest of Frankfurt, the Nahe Valley stretches from Bingen (where the Nahe River meets the Rhine) forty miles south to the town of Monzingen. Unlike other regions, Nahe wines tend to have an "identity crisis." The best description is that it is a cross between a Mosel wine (highly aromatic) and a Rheingau (more body). 95%of grapes grown are white, with Riesling and Weissburgunder being the most dominant grapes, almost a quarter of which is produced in a dry style. Due to a lack of major tourist attractions, the Nahe Valley a great destination for the Wine Traveler.
Rheinhessen contains ¼ of all of the German vineyards. Most of this yield, however, is typically used for bulk wines. One zone on the eastern edge of the region (between Mettenheim and Mainz), though, is where some of the most famous wine estates in the region are located. These wines have a quality level that is comparable to those of the Rheingau, but at almost 50% of the cost.
Formerly known as Rheinpfalz (or the Palatinate), Pfalz is merely a topographical extension of Alsace, with the Rhine to the east and forested hills to the west. Like the Nahe, this is a wonderful destination for the Wine Traveler, offering small villages where wine is sold directly to the consumer. With an abundance of new, young producers, the Pfalz is one of the most promising regions in Germany's wine market. Due to the climate and topography, most of the wines here are made into a dry style, utilizing the Weissbugunder, the Grauburgunder, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling. Spätburgunder is also taking advantage of the climate to create very tasty reds.
Sachsen (Saxony) in eastern Germany is one of the world's most northerly wine regions, located at a latitude of 51 degrees north. The roughly 1150 acres (460ha) of vines in the region are planted along a 25 mile (40km) stretch of the Elbe river valley, from Pillnitz near the city of Dresden, in a north-easterly direction to Diesbar-Seusslitz, just downstream of the city of Meissen.
Despite its northerly location, Sachsen has a long history of viticulture, with the earliest documents of wine-growing around Meissen dating to 1161. Since Germany's reunification in 1990, great enthusiasm has gone into building and developing the Sachsen wine industry; there are many part-time growers and an enthusiastic local market. Investment is needed to boost quality however, and with yields roughly half that of other German wine regions, investors' enthusiasm has not matched that of the growers.
The Lingnerschloss and its vineyards, Sachsen
Sachsen's climate is cold-moderate continental with an annual mean temperature of 50F (10C). The average temperature in January is 31F (-0.5C) and in July it is 64F (18C). However, winter temperatures can drop as low as -18F (-28C).
Sachsen's wines are also influenced by the soils and geology of the Elbe Valley. Carboniferous granite, and feldspar with some mica and quartz are found, as is sandstone. This is often is overlayered by loess, clay and sand deposits.
Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Weissburgunder are the main grape varieties grown here, along with Goldriesling (a regional specialty), Grauburgunder, Spatburgunder and Traminer.
Sachsen has three Bereiche – Dresden, Elstertal and Meissen. Only Beriech Meissen has a VDP-classified Erste Lage vineyard site – Schloss Proschwitz in Zadel.
Proschwitz has a relatively gentle 10% slope and the Elbe river makes a particularly positive impact, moderating the frigid winter temperatures experienced in the hinterland of the Elbe. Burgundy varieties especially love the combination of loess soil and granite bedrock. The combination of red granite and a loess clay layer up to 20 feet (6m) deep produces fruity, elegant wines with fine minerality.
Saale-Unstrut is the northernmost of Germany's 13 wine-growing regions. At 51 degrees northern latitude, it is one of the most northerly wine regions in the world. It takes its name from the two rivers on the banks of which the vines of the region grow, and is composed of three non-contiguous parts located mainly in the federal state of Saxony-Anhalt, with a smaller area of 50 acres (20ha) in the state of Thüringen and a block of just 17 acres (7ha) in Brandenburg. The south- and south-west-facing slopes along the narrow river valleys have terraced vineyards with a total vineyard area of 1700 acres (680ha).
Wine has been grown here for more than 1000 years. The Cistercian monks founded the Pforta Abbey in approximately 1100 AD and established the Pfortenser Köppelberg vineyard, which still exists today. The wine industry in this part of Germany had a hard time during the post-war communist era, but since reunification quality has improved, and the area under vine has expanded slightly.
Saale-Unstrut enjoys plenty of sunshine and has one of the lowest rainfalls of any German wine-growing region. Soils are mainly sedimentary with shell, limestone and sandstone predominating. Despite these favorable conditions, the region's northern climate is uncompromising, and even when yields are kept low, Spätlese or Auslese wines can only be produced during the warmest of years.
Müller-Thurgau is the most widely planted variety, accounting for around 20% of the total vineyard area. A range of other varieties are grown, both white and red, with Pinot Blanc, Silvaner and Riesling being the most significant, after Müller-Thurgau.
With 28,500 acres (11,500ha) of vineyards, Wurttemberg is the fourth-largest wine region in Germany. Moreover, it is the only German region to produce more red than white wine. Almost 70% of modern Wurttemberg wines are red, predominantly made from Trollinger, Schwarzriesling and Lemberger. These are not produced to be weighty, powerful cuvees but lighter, fruiter wines. The cool temperatures in this part of the world dictate this style as much as the local consumers, who are accustomed to – and proud of – the idiosyncratic nature of their red wines. That said, more and more winemakers are beginning to make higher-alcohol, more heavily extracted cuvees.
The coat of arms of Wurttemberg
While Riesling represents nearly two-thirds of the white wines produced in Wurttemberg, Muller-Thurgau and Kerner are also traditionally grown here. Riesling from the village of Flein (which means 'hard pebble', a reflection of the terroir) is particularly well regarded throughout the region, although it has yet to make a name for itself on an international scale. As in Switzerland, the market for Wurttemberg's wines is predominantly local (the region has the highest wine consumption in all of Germany), meaning that very little wine ever makes it on to international or even national markets.
The main viticultural areas of Wurttemberg line the Neckar river valley, and spread up into its tributary valleys including the Rems, Enz, Kocher, Jagst and Tauber. There is also an isolated outcrop of vineyards around Friedrichshafen, on the shores of Bodensee (Lake Constance). The lake is the second largest in Europe, and is located at an altitude of 1295ft (395m) above sea level.
In the north of the region, steep riverside slopes provide the dramatic, if labor-intensive, landscape on which most Wurttemberg vines are grown, making use of sunny, south-facing aspects wherever possible. They are not on the scale of those found in the Mosel, but nevertheless provide a sufficiently impressive landscape to give Wurttemberg a growing wine tourism industry.
With more than 15,000 family-run vineyards contributing to the region's annual crush, co-operatives are responsible for a considerable proportion of the wine produced here.
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