Viticulture in Germany started with the Romans. The earliest vineyards existed at the left bank of the Rhine, and plantings spread to the Mosel around the 3rd century. Wine-making techniques were elaborated upon by the monks of the monasteries during the Middle Ages, especially by Benedictine and Cistercian monks. The planting of vines peaked in the 15th century, when the area under vine was several times larger larger than it is today.
Today, most of Germany’s vineyards can be found on the sunny riverbanks of the Rhine and the Moselle in the southwestern part of the country. Predominantly white dry wines are produced here. The most common grape is the “Riesling”, a classic German grape which produces wine of fresh, fruity acidity and transparent clear taste. The “Müller-Thurgau” is another famous grape, a compromise of the Riesling and the robust Silvaner.
German red wines are less known. Many Germans prefer French or Italian – and nowadays also South African – red wines, which are cheaper as well. However, there are a few remarkable German reds: “Spätburgunder” (Pinot Noir) is the best red wine grape in Germany, especially in Baden and Württemberg. The quality is generally improving but often still pallid and underflavoured. “Trollinger” is a common pale red grape of Württemberg, which is locally very popular. “Portugieser” is the second most popular red grape and often used for “Weissherbst”, a rosé wine mainly produced in the regions Ahr, Baden, Franken, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Rheinpfalz and Württemberg.
German Wine Labels
German wine labels are very informative and state the year the grapes were harvested, the wine growing region, the grape, the vineyard, level of dryness and the quality level of the wine or ripeness. The ripeness categories are “Tafelwein”, “Qualitätswein” and “Qualitätswein mit Prädikat”. The latter is further divided into the ripeness levels “Kabinett”, “Spätlese”, “Auslese”, “Beerenauslese” and “Eiswein”. Whether a wine is dry or sweet can be indicated on the label. “Trocken” indicates dry wine without perceptible sweetness. “Halbtrocken” wines are semi-dry and may have not more than 18 grams of residual sugar per liter.
Sekt is the traditional name for sparkling wine in Germany. The CO2 has to be achieved with natural fermentation and there is just as much art, craft, and tradition behind it as its French cousin, Champagne. The most famous German sparkling wines are called Deinhard, Henkell, Söhnlein or Fürst-von-Metternich. Rotkäppchen is a former GDR (East Germany) brand and quite popular now as well.