An Introduction to Germany's Top Five Wines

When you think of Germany, you think of what? Beer, yes. Pretzels, sure. Lederhosen, definitely… I mean, it’s everywhere… I’m pretty sure even I have a dirndl somewhere in my armoire now. I also own some fabulous bottles of German wine. While wine is probably not something most people associate with Germany, I’ve come to find that this beautiful region produces some truly delicious varieties. Simply within Germany’s five most popular varietals, you can find a wine that will step up to the plate for whatever your needs may be.

Whether you’re looking for an acidic wine to cut through your succulent roast or something full and fruity to balance out a savory platter, you can find what you’re looking for in the German section of your local wine shop. If you’re not sure where to start, this article breaks Germany’s top five varietals down for you.

 

 
Riesling One of Germany's Top Five Wines | Rießling an Introduction | Observations from a Broad | copyright 2018 OFAB  (photo Matthieu Joannon)

Riesling

{ Rießling }

 

Riesling | Rießling

The quintessential German wine, Riesling grapes make up one fifth of all the wine grapes planted in Germany. Born in the Rhine, this wine has worked its way up into the top three white wines internationally, sharing its place in the sun with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. 

Although Riesling is traditionally a sweet wine, the Riesling we see today has become drier as international tastes develop. This particular varietal is wonderfully aromatic and fruity. Citrus and stone fruit mingle with floral notes of Jasmine & honeysuckle. A combination that might sound a bit sweet, and indeed it is, yet Riesling’s characteristically high acidity allows these flavors to mingle without a sickeningly saccharine taste. If the grapes remain on the vine long enough to accrue a "noble rot" (botrytis for the enthusiasts out there), a Riesling can also take on the taste of ginger and honey.

Riesling’s impressive clarity allows the type of land it was grown on to express itself well as you taste, making it a "terroir-expressive" variety. Grapes grown on red or blue slate are particularly expressive of their mineral quality. Riesling is rarely aged in oak barrels to avoid adding "oaky" notes of vanilla and clove.

For clues to how your Riesling will taste, examine its color. Rieslings hues vary from pale straw to deep yellow. Lighter hues denote that the grapes were less ripe when harvested, and often express more citrus flavors like lime and Meyer lemon. As you head towards deeper yellows, the flavors express pineapple, tart apple such as Honey-crisp, and eventually stone fruits such as nectarine and apricot. Once again, a Riesling’s acidity is normally pretty high, cutting right through any threat of syrupy taste.

Known for aging well, a bottle of Riesling can taste even better after ten to thirty years… if you can wait that long. In some cases, an aged Riesling can give off a petrol or kerosene smell when first poured. Some connoisseurs appreciate this as a sign of a well-aged Riesling, though many find it off-putting and consider it a defect.

If you’re not a fan of decanting wine, Riesling is right up your alley. Riesling is best served “Fridge Cold” (6 °C / 43 °F) straight out of the chilled bottle. An off-dry Riesling is a great wine to have around for a spicy dinner... think Indian or Thai. The subtle sweetness will balance out the spices, while the cool temperature will calm your palate. The crisp sweetness also makes it a great pairing for fatty foods. The trifecta of acidity, sweetness, and richness is delightful. Roasted vegetables are a great match too!

And finally, if you’re in the mood for German bubbly, Riesling is also the preferred grape used to produce “Sekt,” Germany's sparkling wine.



Best Regions to find a good Riesling:

-  Mosel (South facing hills produce the best!)

- Rheingau

- Pfalz (Palatinate)

 

 
 
Müller Thurgau One of Germany's Top Five Wines | Rivaner an Introduction | Observations from a Broad | copyright 2018 OFAB  (photo Thomas Martinsen)

Müller Thurgau

{ Rivaner }

 
 

Müller Thurgau | Rivaner

A controversial wine, Müller Thurgau is the second most popular wine in Germany yet suffers from a bad reputation. It is considered Germany's "everyday wine" though its popularity and production are steadily decreasing. This aromatic white wine is a cross between Riesling and Madeleine Royale. The variety is considered a "new breed" of grape that got its start in the late 19th century when a certain Dr. Müller of the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute attempted to combine the early ripening qualities of the Silvaner grape with the intricate personality of the Riesling grape. Unfortunately, the resulting Müller Thurgau grape possessed neither of those two qualities, which is what makes finding a good bottle of this particular wine so difficult today, despite the wide availability.

Still there are good bottles to be had! If you’re interested in trying a decent example of Müller Thurgau, we suggest choosing one from one of the more serious wineries, where they are more likely to offer only high quality bottles.

More full-bodied than Riesling, a Müller Thurgau expresses peach, rhubarb, and citrus flavors topped off with floral aromatics. This strong floral quality often causes the wine to be sweet even when it's labeled "dry," or "trocknen" in German. There is medium-low acidity with little to no tannins to speak of, so the wine is best consumed "young." The maximum ageability of a Müller Thurgau is 1 - 3 years.

Serve it ice cold ( 3 - 7°C or 38 - 45 °F) accompanied by savory, earthy, and fatty dishes such as roasted poultry, pork, and mushroom risotto. Don’t bother to decant a Müller Thurgau. Just like a Riesling, it’s perfect straight out of the cold bottle.

 

Best Regions to find a good Müller-Thurgau:

- Rheinhessen

- Baden

- Pfalz (Palatinate)

 

 
 
Spätburgunder One of Germany's Top Five Wines | Pinot Noir an Introduction | Observations from a Broad | copyright 2018 OFAB  (photo Kym Ellis)

Spätburgunder

{ Pinot Noir }

 
 

Spätburgunder | Pinot Noir

Spätburgunder is Germany's Pinot Noir. For anyone in the Berlin area enjoying  midnight snacks from their neighborhood "späti" (convenience stores that stay open late), you'll recognize the linguistic connection. Spätburgunder literally means "Late Burgundy" after the home region of the much beloved pinot noir grape. 

Thanks to the unique growing climate of German vineyards, Spätburgunder leans towards flavors of strawberry and sweet red cherry with soft earthy undertones of tobacco, wet leaves, and potting soil. (Much more enjoyable than it sounds!) Spätburgunder responds well to oak barrel aging and often provides a fuller-bodied result than Pinot Noir grown in other regions. The oak-barrel aging combined with the soils specific to Spätburgunder cultivating regions (slate, limestone clay, basalt, and granite) work together to lend an Autumn-spice kick to the wine. Think cinnamon, clove, and allspice.

Spätburgunder has a medium high acidity. Its balance of lightness and complexity means that it pairs well with a wide array of dishes from river fish (such as trout or salmon) to richer meats (think roasted duck). Vegetarians and meat-lovers alike will appreciate this wine's ability to cut through fatty dishes and compliment a host of fresh herbs and cheeses.

Spätburgunders age well between 2 - 18 years and should be served "Cool to the Touch" (17 °C / 63 °F)


Best Regions to find a good Spätburgunder:

- Ahr

- Baden

- Pfalz (Palatinate)

 

 
 
Dornfelder One of Germany's Top Five Wines an Introduction | Observations from a Broad | copyright 2018 OFAB

Dornfelder

 
 

Dornfelder

A versatile and rather new red wine, Dornfelder is known for its intense color and easy adaptability to different producing techniques. This highly pigmented grape was created by August Herold at the grape breeding Institute in Weinsberg (Würtenburg region) in 1955. It wasn’t released for cultivation until nearly a quarter century later in 1979 when Germany was just beginning to redefine its taste in wine. It is the second most produced red wine after Spätburgunder and has found particular success in the Rheinhessen and Pfalz (Palatinate) regions of Germany.

Dornfelder’s depth of color and balanced acidity was no mistake. It was originally meant to be added to other light-colored German red wines to lend them a deeper color and character, but thanks to Dornfelder’s impressive versatility it often stands on its own two feet these days. Depending on the desired outcome, wineries can produce a Dornfelder that is anything from light and fruity, to full-bodied and oaky.

A top-shelf Dornfelder is velvety in texture, expressing flavors of blackberry, plum, and cherry with gentle floral aromatics and usually undergoes barrique aging for that gorgeous oaky flavor. People seem to enjoy the soft rich texture in the "mouthfeel." Dornfelder aged in a barrel typically has an oaky quality with hints of baking spices and a full-body, while a young Dornfelder can be quite fruity and fresh. Most Dornfelders are fermented dry, though some wineries produce off-dry examples exhibiting hints of sour cherry and blackberry. 

The balanced acidity of this wine makes it a great pairing for salty and fatty dishes, especially meats. Roast pork, toasted cheese, meatballs, and poulet rôti… basically any dish you want to take a nap after.

Best Regions to find a good Dornfelder:

- Rheinhessen

- Pfalz (Palatinate)

- Nahe

 

 

 
 
Grauburgunder One of Germany's Top Five Wines | Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio an Introduction | Observations from a Broad | copyright 2018 OFAB  (photo Scott Warman)

Grauburgunder

{ Pinot Gris et Pinot Grigio }

 

Grauburgunder | Pinot Gris | Pinot Grigio

 

As with the French and Italian moniker for this particular grape (Pinot Gris and Pinot Grigio respectively) the “grau” in Grauburgunder denotes the unusual grayish-red skin of the grape. This German grape, however, differs pleasantly from its southern namesake neighbor in terms of taste and feel. Where the Italian Pino Grigio is more acidic, highly structured, and complex, the Grauburgunder revolves instead around its pure fruity & floral flavors. And although you will taste a lot of similarity between the German Pinot and the French Pinot growing just over the border in Alsace, German pinot is far less famous than its adorable French neighbor, meaning similar taste at much lower pricing.

Despite Grauburgunder being a German white wine, the stone-fruit flavor and gentle acidity contrast drastically with the more acidic German Riesling. Peach and citrus zest feature largely in a good Grau along with the typical German notes of honey and baking spices. Although you can find some wineries that produce a Grauburgunder with a lightly sweet quality to them, the majority of Grauburgunders will be quite dry.

Good Grau pairs well with white and red meats, pasta and dumplings, creamy dishes, and bright vegetables. Serve Grauburgunder just as you would serve Riesling, "Fridge Cold" or 6 °C / 43 °F. Once again, no need to decant!

Grauburgunder and other pinot varietals love the sun. If you’re headed to some of the warmer wine growing regions of Germany, you will probably come across more than a few Grauburgunder vineyards.


Best Regions to find a good Grauburgunder:

  • Baden

  • Rheinhessen

  • Pfalz (Palatinate)

 

Germany’s Top Five Wines

an Introduction

 

L.D. has spent the past two years traveling, writing, and encouraging readers to look at the world with fresh eyes. For anyone who feels like their life has lost its vibrancy, she offers some advice, “Open new doors, challenge yourself, and fall in love with other people's stories.”

For advice and encouragement, her articles are there for you...