German Wine Guide

If you love a glass of Riesling, then you should definitely open your eyes to more  German wine. As the fourth-largest wine producer in Europe, Germany may have a different worldwide recognition than France and Italy, but their domestic wine market is thriving. 

Keep reading for the ultimate guide to German wine and why you should give these wines a try. 

History of German Wine

Before we explore Germany’s iconic wine regions and top varietals, we need to take a brief look at its winemaking history. 

Grapes have been growing wildly along the Rhine River since prehistoric times. However, the Romans formally introduced winemaking to Germany around the 5th century. Until the 8th century, vineyards were kept west of the Rhine River, but as winemaking spread, viticulture peaked around 1500. 

Unfortunately, the Thirty Years War caused German winemaking to decline rapidly. Quality control measures were implemented in the 19th and 20th centuries as the wine industry was slowly rebuilt. By 1971, all wines were required to be classified according to the weight of the must (grape juice) or grape ripeness when harvested. Riesling’s reputation as an expressive varietal rose in popularity during this time. The wine has been prized worldwide, most famous for its expressive terroir (soil).

Germany’s most renowned wines don’t stop as Riesling. Let’s dive into the vast array of wines this country offers. 

German Wine Guide Infographic

German Wine Regions

Germany has thirteen major wine regions, each with its own specialty. Here are the most notable wines you must sip if you visit.

1. Rheinhessen

Guten Tag from Germany’s largest wine region, located west of the Rhine River. With rolling hills, fertile soil, and a temperate climate, one-third of the country’s Riesling production happens here! This is still the most widespread grape variety in Germany today. 

2. Pfalz

Located in southern Germany on the west bank of the Rhine River near the French border and Alsace wine region, vineyards scale the eastern slopes of Haardt Mountain. This mountainous region is an expert in Chardonnay wine production, Sauvignon Blanc, and mostly dry sparkling wines.

3. Baden

Across the Rhine from Alsace is Germany’s southernmost region, Baden. Stretching from the Swiss border with views that will make you feel like you’re in The Sound of Music, all the way to the Franken wine region, Baden is the longest of all the other regions. This region is most notable for its red wine production.

4. Mosel

With warm, slate soils that produce high-quality sweet Riesling wines, Mosel sits along the Mosel River near the Ruwer and Saar valleys. 

5. Württemberg

East of the Rhine River and north of Baden, this region is known for its dry red wines, with 21 percent of its production going to Trollinger. This dry to semi-dry red wine is fruity with bright acidity and brambleberry notes. 

6. Franken

In central Germany, Franken is known for the Silvaner grape, which produces wines boasting peachy-fruit flavors and an herbal essence. This lovely white wine is often compared to Pinot Gris and is sold locally in flat bottles called Bocksbeutels.

7. Nahe

With viticulture that includes steep slopes and jagged rocks, Nahe is located just west of Rheinhessen and is famous for its Riesling.

8. Rheingau

A tiny region just north of Nahe and Rheinhessen, most of Rheingau's vineyards rest along the Rhine River’s right bank. The two main grape varieties are Riesling and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), with the nineteenth-century dry Rieslings having been some of the most expensive and famous wines ever. 

9. Mittelrhein

Further north of Rheingau is the even smaller region of Mitterlthein. With vineyard areas resting on dramatic cliffs overlooking the Rhine, 67% of grapes planted here are Riesling. 

10. Saale-Unstrut

Named for its location at the Saale and Unstrut rivers intersection, this region's calcareous soils and chilly climate produce full-bodied, dry white wines. 

11. Ahr

In the northernmost region of those located along the Rhine, Spätburgunder dominates, with well half of Ahr’s wine production dedicated to this varietal.

12. Hessische Bergstrasse

On the western slope of the Odenwald mountain range, Riesling accounts for more than half of the wine varieties here. 

13. Sachsen

The smallest wine region with viticulture dating back to as early as the 12th century, Sachsen is located on the Elbe River near Dresden and produces fine, dry white wines that are mostly consumed locally.

Glass of red German wine

German Wine Classification

Developed in 1971, there are three broad levels of German wine classification:

1. Deutscher Wein

Translated to “German Table Wine,” this is the lowest wine status and comprises less than five percent of German wines produced. These are typically blended wines.

2. Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete

While not an indicator of quality, this title requires that wines with this label come from one of the thirteen major wine regions.

3. Prädikatswein

The highest quality wines are comprised of six categories from lowest to highest. These are classified by must weight (weight of the grape juice) and grape ripeness.

  1. Kabinett: the lightest wines, typically dry and fruity.
  2. Spatlese: wine produced from late-harvest grapes ranging from dry to sweet.
  3. Auslese: rich, sweet wines from late-harvest grapes.
  4. Beerenauslese: sweet wines made from select berries affected by noble rot, allowing for higher residual sugar content.
  5. Trockenbeerenauslese: made from select dry berries, these are strong sweet wines.
  6. Eisewein: very sweet wine made from grapes frozen on the vine.

Glasses of German wine

German Wines to Try

1. Riesling

Responsible for over 40% of the world’s Riesling production, Germany has been growing the grape varietal since 1435! This renowned German white wine is heavily influenced by terroir (soil). It can be produced as a sweet wine, dry wine, sparkling wine (sekt), or ice wine (eiswein), which involves grapes frozen on the vine and exposed to Noble Rot, dramatically increasing their residual sugar. 

Riesling boasts bright pear, honey-crisp, apple, citrus, pineapple, and apricot notes, making it a tropical sipping delight.

2. German Mulled Wine

Famous at German Christmas markets, mulled wine or glühwein is a warm red wine drink decorated with cinnamon sticks and orange slices. A common glühwein recipe involves Cabernet Sauvignon or Chianti. This dry red wine recipe is perfect for warming up during the holidays!

3. Spätburgunder 

Also known as Pinot Noir, this wine is lighter than other Pinot Noir produced in warmer climates, boasting bright cherry and raspberry notes. This grape was spread throughout Germany in the 12th century by French monks.

4. Müller-Thurgau

Planted in over 12% of German vineyards, this white wine grape is second in popularity only to Riesling. This wine is light and flowery, with grapes that ripen early. It was first developed from Riesling and a table grape in 1882, so it shares similar characteristics as its notable predecessor. 

5. Gewürztraminer

Crafted in almost every German wine-growing region, this white wine comes from a pink-skinned grape and has been enjoyed since the Middle Ages. This aromatic dry white wine boasts refreshing lychee, rose, grapefruit, tangerine, and ginger notes.

or less than one percent of plantings. This grape is often hailed for having excellent aging potential and boasts aromatic passion fruit notes like Sauvignon Blanc.

Wine field in Germany

A Taste of German Wine

Before we say auf wiedersehen to the best wines Germany has to offer, be sure to check out our selection of German wines like Riesling over at Macy’s Wine Shop.

For more wine deep dives from all over the world, visit The Wine Blog.

Let Macy’s be your one-stop shop for all things wine!