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 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 6, March 2003   
GermanyGermany  Contents 
Issue 5, February 2003 Follow DiWineTaste on Follow DiWineTaste on TwitterIssue 7, April 2003


In the country of beer are produced great white wines, often considered as true reference models of worldwide enology

 When a beverage is to be associated to Germany, it is almost impossible not to think about beer, anyway this country is to be considered, undoubtedly, among great and superior quality white wine producers. German white wines, thanks to their acidity, as well as to the high quantity of sugar, are among the few wines belonging to this category which are suited for a long and surprising aging in bottle. Talking about vine cultivation in Germany it would almost seem a paradox; a cold climate, apparently hostile to vine, here vineyards are usually located in an area between the 49th and the 51st parallel, an area located to the limit of vine's surviving, it would make think about a wine produced in critical conditions and with lower quality materials, however the best wines produced with Riesling of the world are made in this country and there also are good surprises among the wide selection of sweet wines.

 In conditions like those it is necessary to get out the most from both soil conditions and climate conditions; to benefit the most from sun, for example, it is an advantage no German viticulturist would dare to ignore. For this reason, vineyards are usually located in hills or slopes facing towards south, preferably near rivers and water flows in order to benefit from milder conditions and from sun rays reflected by water. Little sun means, first of all, to produce wines with less alcohol, German wines usually have an alcohol by volume between 7% and 11%, while having a good and pleasing crispness, a factor which allows German white wines to be among the more longeval ones of the world.


 However, wines from Germany, as opposed to the ones produced in other areas of the world, are delicate, refined and elegant, factors which undoubtedly make this country as one of the best quality white wines producers of the world. Germany does not just mean dry wines, delicate and transparent, here there also is a vast selection of sweet wines, syrupy, thick, rich of charming aromas and intense flavors, produced in a pretty unusual way, by leaving the bunches on the vine and harvesting them in winter time when vineyards are covered by snow and ice.

 Viticulture in Germany was introduced by Romans about the first century B.C. and since then the cultivation was mainly done in the left side of Rhine river and along the course of Mosel river. According to some chronicler of that time, it seems that red wines were pretty common in Germany during Roman times; a rather interesting fact according to the current production of the country which is practically and completely devoted to white wines. Until the times of Charles the Great, the cultivation of vine was mainly concentrated in the western side of the Rhine river, from Alsace to the area where it is currently located the city of Koblenz.

 The spreading of enological traditions was continued by Christian monks and it was pretty certain that in 750 a.D. the viticulture in the Mosel area was done by monastic foundations which followed Roman traditions. Monks also introduced viticulture in the areas of Franconia and Bavaria where this activity was very common during the middle age as well. During the time of Carolingian empire, Charles the Great worked hardly in order to spread and regulate viticulture, mainly in favor of the spreading of Christian religion and, as well as in other European countries of that time, the main cultivators and producers of wine were monasteries and churches. It was in this period that were planted the most famous vineyards of Germany, mainly in the area of Rheingau, and they are still productive and renowned. Viticulture in Germany developed rapidly from 1000 a.D. to the sixteenth century, the production of wine was an activity done both in monasteries and in churches, as well as in nobles' properties and by simple bourgeois. The most cultivated grapes species at those times which were pretty common include Elbling, Räuschling, Silvaner, Muscat and Traminer. The first written information about the cultivation of Riesling, certainly the most famous grape of Germany, are dated about 1435, particularly in the Rheingau area.


 From 1550 on, viticulture and production of wine in Germany began to decline, particularly because of the “thirty years war” in the beginning of the seventeenth century, which had devastating effects on vineyards. Viticulture recovered slowly and in many areas the recover lasted until the beginning of the 1700. During these years were promulgated many laws in favor of the production of quality wines imposing on viticulturists the cultivation of specific grape species and in specific areas were in force particular laws that forced viticulturists to uproot their vineyards and to replace them with Riesling grape. In 1800's the concept of quality production was one of the main goals of German producers. During this time they started to pay attention to the level of ripeness of grapes and to their contents in sugar, a factor that still today greatly influences the quality system of Germany, which forces producers to harvest grapes in different times and according to the level of ripeness. In the middle of the 1800's, viticulture was considered as an important activity and many enology schools were established in many German cities, during this period were also founded many producers associations with the explicit goal of promoting quality production. This favorable time of German enology was stopped, just like in any other European country, by the appearing of phylloxera which officially appeared in Germany in the Ahr valley in 1881 and subsequently spread all over the country.

 The first half of the twentieth century was a period of serious crisis for German enology, mainly because of the two world wars which imposed rigid restrictions to the economy of the country. Between 1950 and 1990, German viticulture underwent a considerable development, mainly working on the spreading and selection of vineyards as well as promulgating laws in favor of quality production.


German quality system

 German quality system is particular in many aspects, having laws and norms which are hardly found in disciplinary of other wine countries. Because of its geographical position, to the north and to the limit of surviving of vine, one of the main problems for the production of wine in Germany is climate and this, of course, directly influences on the level of ripeness of grapes and therefore on the quantity of sugar. Alcohol, as it is known, it is produced by the fermentation of sugar, therefore, the more the sugar, the more the alcohol. A grape having a low level of ripeness will produce a wine having little alcohol, that is also why German wines are among the least alcoholic ones of the world. According to this, the German system for the production of quality wines is highly focused on the concept of “level of ripeness of grapes”, a characteristic which makes this system pretty unique.

 The German quality system is regulated by a specific law of the 1971, modified in 1994 in order to make it more adequate according to the European Union's directives, defines specific categories and precisely: table wines, divided in tafelwein (table wines) and landwein (regional wines), and quality wines divided in Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (quality wines from a specified region), abbreviated as QbA, and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (quality wine with distinction), abbreviated as QmP.

 In Germany harvests are usually done in different times in order to allow grapes to reach different levels of ripeness according to the kind of wine to be made. A viticulturist could harvest certain bunches of grape, in order to make a specific kind of wine, while leaving the other bunches on the vine in order to allow them to ripe further and therefore harvested for the production of other styles of wine. Grapes which are not perfectly ripe usually make lighter wines with little alcohol, whereas the ones which reached a full maturation make full bodied wines having more alcohol, because of the higher quantity of sugar. The quality system of Germany recognizes six different levels of ripeness for grapes and every one corresponds to the same number of styles of wine. A producer can, by harvesting grapes of the same vineyard in different periods, make wines belonging to all of the six categories.

 Levels of ripeness are allowed for quality wines only, however it should be noticed that levels of ripeness, and therefore the quantity of sugar, does not have any connection with wine's sweetness; this means that a wine, belonging to one of the six categories of level of ripeness, can also be dry or semi-dry, according to the production method used. Dry wines always have the indication trocken written in the label, whereas semi-dry ones always have halbtrocken written in the label. The level of ripeness is measured according to the Oechsle method, invented in 1830 by German scientist Ferdinand Oechsle. The method consists in measuring the specific gravity of the must before being fermented. Specific gravity indicates the ratio of any given substance's density, such as grape must, to water's density measured by a special instrument called hydrometer. A liquid having water's density is said to have a value of 1, in case it is more dense it will have values greater than one, in case it is less dense it will have values ranging from 0 to 0.999. A similar method is used in France (Baumé) and in the United States of America (Brix).

 The majority of wine produced in Germany, about 95%, belongs to quality categories (QbA and QmP) whereas the rest is destined to wine table. Wines belonging to the categories Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete, or QbA, and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, or QmP, must come from one of the 13 German areas of denomination. QbA wines can be corrected by means of chaptalization, that is by adding sugar to the non fermented must in order to increase the production of alcohol, a process that, it should be observed, has no connection with wine's sweetness as it just depends on the production method used to make a wine. Wine belonging to the category Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, or QmP, represents the higher quality level of German production and chaptalization is not allowed. QmP wines can belong to one of the following categories, from the lowest level of ripeness to the higher:


  • Kabinett - wines produced with grapes harvested during the normal harvesting period. These wines are usually light, have little alcohol and are dry. Kabinett wines are usually consumed during meals
  • Spätlese - (literally late harvest) wines produced with late harvests and are usually more intense and structured than Kabinett. These wines can be both dry and semi-dry. These wines usually have a pretty high quantity of acid, therefore any possible sweetness is usually covered because of the effect of acid
  • Auslese - (literally selected harvest) wines produced with very mature grapes and bunches are manually selected in the vineyard before being harvested. Auslesen wines are usually produced in the best years which had particular and favorable climate conditions and warm temperatures
  • Beerenauslese - (literally harvest of selected berries) wines produced with bunches which have been accurately and manually selected. Grapes used for the production of wines belonging to this category, abbreviated as BA, are affected by noble mold (Botrytis Cinerea), a characteristic which give them richness in aromas and structure
  • Eiswein - (literally ice wine) particular wines produced with frozen grapes. Grapes are left on the vine in order to overripe and are harvested in winter time, when grapes are frozen because of the low temperature which cannot be, at the time of harvesting, higher that -7° C (19.4° F). Grapes are pressed soon after harvesting and the result is a very concentrated must, rich in acid and sugar, by separating it from ice, and therefore water, contained in the berries. The resulting wine has a very high quantity of acid and sugar, however it is very balanced
  • Trockenbeerenauslese - (literally harvest of selected dried berries) wines belonging to this category certainly are the most rich, sweet and expensive among German wines. These wines, abbreviated as TBA, are produced only in the best years and with dried grapes affected by noble mold (Botrytis Cinerea). The must produced by these grapes is so rich in sugar which sometimes makes the fermentation process difficult and the alcohol by volume for these wines is usually of 6%.

 In the less favorable years, with little sun and not particularly warm, the high acidity of grapes cultivated in Germany can represent a serious problem. As it is commonly known, one of the fundamental factors which defines quality in a wine is balance. A wine having to much acid, that is having too little alcohol and sugar, would be pretty unpleasing to taste because of this unbalance, and the high acidity would not be properly balanced by those elements which can equalize its effect. For this reason German producers are allowed to make proper corrections to the final product, in order to make it balanced and to diminish the effects of acid, by adding little quantities of the so called süssreserve, that is grape juice produced from the same harvest, properly clarified, preserved and unfermented in order to keep its natural sweetness. Süssreserve is not being used to make a wine sweet, it is simply used in order to balance a wine and to mitigate acidity; the added quantity does not affect wine's dry taste. However, it should be noticed that süssreserve is added to wine in particular and unfavorable years only; in the best years, when the wine already has a natural balance and does not need any correction, süssreserve is not used at all.

 Moreover, German quality system allows the use of special terms in the labels in order to state specific characteristics of the wines. The following list contains the most common terms which can appear on labels:


  • Trocken - dry wine having a content of residual sugars less than 9 grams per liter
  • Halbtrocken - semi-dry wine having a content of residual sugars less than 18 grams per liter. It should be noticed that because of the high acidity of German wines, halbtrocken wines practically have a dry taste
  • Sekt - quality sparkling wine produced with grapes not particularly mature, typically produced in the northern areas of Germany. Sekt wines can be produced both in tanks (Charmat method) and by refermentation in bottle (classic method) and can also be produced with grapes coming from any region


Production Areas

 Despite the fact Germany is considered as a little producer, the area cultivated with vine is about the 8% of the one of France, and despite the fact the geographical position, near the 51st parallel, to the limit of vine's surviving and adaptability, in this country are produced among the best white wines of the world, characterized by finesse and elegance, and this is the land where the Riesling grape, particularly esteemed, gives the best of itself.

 Vine cultivation is mainly done in Germany along the course of Rhine river, from the area south from Bonn to the French border down to the Swiss border near Basel. Other cultivation areas are located along the course of the Mosel river, west from Koblenz, in the area east from Frankfurt, near Stuttgart and, lastly, little production areas are located near the cities of Dresden and Leipzig, east from the main area.

 Grapes cultivated in Germany are mainly white, red grapes are seen as an exception mainly because of the climate conditions which does not allow grapes to reach full maturation. White grapes mainly cultivated in Germany are Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Silvaner. Other white berried grapes include Bacchus (crossing between Silvaner and Riesling), Ehrenfelser (crossing between Riesling and Silvaner), Elbling, Faber (crossing between Pinot Blanc and Müller-Thurgau), Gewürztraminer, Gutedel (name with which Chasselas is known in Germany), Huxelrebe (crossing between Gutedel e Courtillier Musqué), Kerner (hybrid produced from Trollinger and Riesling), Morio-Muskat (crossing between Silvaner and Pinot Blanc), Optima (crossing between Silvaner and Riesling with Müller-Thurgau), Ortega (crossing between Müller-Thurgau and Siegerrebe), Rieslaner (crossing between Silvaner and Riesling), Rülander (Pinot Gris), Scheurebe (crossing between Silvaner and Riesling) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc). The main red berried grapes are Portugieser, Spätburgunder (name with which Pinot Noir is known in Germany) and Trollinger (name with which Schiava is known in Germany).

 German wine production is mainly oriented to white wines, however there are modest productions of rose wines and red wines, and lastly, sparkling wines, the so called sekt, usually produced with the Charmat method. Germany recognizes 13 quality wine production regions (anbaugebiete) as follows: Ahr, Baden, Franken, Hessische-Bergstrasse, Mittelrhein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Württemberg, Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen.



 This typical production area is located east from Frankfurt, bordering the northern area of Bavaria, and the cultivation of vine is mainly done along the coasts of Main river. The most cultivated grape in this area is Silvaner which here is capable of giving the best examples of wines of Germany produced with this grape. Even Riesling is cultivated in Franconia, however there are few areas of this region, because of the difficulty for grapes to reach full maturation, capable of producing excellent wines from this grape. A typical white berried grape of this region is Rieslaner which is used for the production of interesting wines having good aromas and usually resemble Riesling. In Franconia are also produced red wines with Spätburgunder and Portugieser grapes.

 A distinctive mark of the wines produced in this region is the typical bocksbeutel bottle which must be used by law for the bottling of wines produced in this region.



 This region, certainly among the most renowned ones of Germany for the elegance and finesse of its wines produced with Riesling grapes, is located along the course of Mosel river, from the French border to the point where the Mosel river joins Rhine river. The region also includes areas around the two tributaries of Mosel: Saar and Ruwer. The grape which is mainly cultivated in this region is Riesling, which represents alone more than 50% of the area dedicated to the cultivation of vine, followed by Müller-Thurgau and Elbling.

 Cultivation of vine in this region is rather difficult and here are found the most sloped vineyard of the world, steep slopes with inclination of even 70%. Vineyards are usually planted in slopes facing towards south in order to completely benefit from the effects of sun and therefore allowing grapes to reach full maturation. Despite the fact cultivation and harvesting of grapes is rather difficult, Riesling wines from Mosel are characterized by an excellent balance, an evident and however balanced acidity, a factor which allows these wines to be aged in bottle for many years and by getting surprising results in the complexity of aromas and flavors. A characteristic of Mosel wines is the kind of bottle used, the so called flute or Rhine bottle, having a green colored glass, whereas in the other areas of Germany bottle's glass is brown.



 The region of Pfalz goes along the western side of Rhine river up to the border of Alsace, south from Frankfurt. The region is not affected by the influence of Rhine river, as opposed to other areas, as vineyards are usually located at about a distance of 5 kilometers from the river's bank. Because of its geographic and climate position, grape usually reach full maturation easily with no particular problems, something which is pretty uncommon in other German areas. As a result, wines from this area have lower acidity and riper grape allows the production of auslese, beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese, here produced in considerable quantities.

 The most cultivated grape of this region is Riesling and in this area is capable of giving wines with fruit aromas and sometimes with hints of spices. In Pfalz region are cultivated many species of white berried grapes, a characteristic that differentiate this region from the other German regions which are usually specialized to few varieties. In this area are cultivated Gewürztraminer, Weissburgunder, Rülander, Spätburgunder, Müller-Thurgau, Kerner, Morio-Muskat and Scheurebe, the latter to be considered among the best grapes of Pfalz capable of producing interesting wines.



 This region is considered as the best area of the world for the production of wines made of Riesling and here represent more than 80% of the cultivated grapes. This tiny area is located west from Frankfurt and goes along the northern and southern banks of Rhine river. Riesling wines produced in this region are different from the ones produced in Mosel of Pfalz: they are very aromatic, usually of fruit and flowers, more round and structured, rich and well balanced, with a more mitigated acidity. The secret of “success” for Rheingau, often considered as the key reference by every Riesling producer of the world, consists of its favorable climatic and geographical conditions, as well as the providential effects of Rhine river capable of reflecting the light and the warm of sun, ensuring a higher reliability and constance for the maturation of grapes. These favorable conditions for grape's maturation allow the production of extraordinary auslese, beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese wines.

 The most important grape of this region, besides Riesling, is Spätburgunder used to make good red wines having aromas which resemble spices and bitter almond.



 The Rheinhessen is the larger wine region of Germany and is located south from Rheingau, going along the course of Rhine river. The production of this region is generally oriented to ordinary wines, usually not much expensive, mainly produced by cooperatives with Müller-Thurgau grape or other German crossings, such as Bacchus, Kerner, Morio-Muskat and Huxelrebe. However in the region are also produced excellent examples of wines made from Riesling grapes, even though in modest quantities.


Other Production Areas

 Among quality regions of Germany, besides the ones already cited, there also are other that, even though they are not very famous, often are capable of surprising with their wines. The Ahr region, among the most northern wine regions of Germany, mainly produces good wines with Spätburgunder grapes. The Baden region, divided in two parts, one located in the central area of Germany, east from Alsace, and the other in the vicinity of lake of Constance, near the Swiss border, benefits of a warmer climate and produces wines rich in alcohol and poor in acid, very different from the ones produced in Mosel. The most cultivated grapes of this region are Müller-Thurgau, Rülander, Gutedel, Silvaner, Weissburgunder, Gewürztraminer, Spätburgunder and Riesling.

 Another interesting area is Mittelrhein which is located to the north, near the city of Bonn, and its best production is made near the city of Koblenz. The region produces ordinary wines with Müller-Thurgau grape, however there also are good examples of wines produced with Riesling as well as sekt sparkling wines. Lastly, it should be also mentioned the Nahe region, which goes along the course of the river having the same name, south from Mosel, which is often considered as the join of wines from Mosel and wines from Rheingau. The grapes which are mainly cultivated in Nahe are Riesling, Silvaner and Müller-Thurgau, and the best wines are the ones produced with Riesling.


 Editorial  Share this article     Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 6, March 2003   
GermanyGermany  Contents 
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