German wine

German wine
Steep vineyards on Rüdesheimer Berg overlooking river Rhine. These vineyards are located in the southwestern part of the region Rheingau at a bend in the river. These vineyards are planted with Riesling grapes, with some Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), and produce some of the finest wines in Germany.
Steep vineyards along river Mosel, close to the village Ürzig.

German wine is primarily produced in the west of Germany, along the river Rhine and its tributaries, with the oldest plantations going back to the Roman era. Approximately 60 percent of the German wine production is situated in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, where 6 of the 13 regions (Anbaugebiete) for quality wine are situated. Germany has about 102,000 hectares (252,000 acres or 1,020 square kilometers) of vineyard, which is around one tenth of the vineyard surface in Spain, France or Italy. The total wine production is usually around 9 million hectoliters annually, corresponding to 1.2 billion bottles, which places Germany as the eighth largest wine-producing country in the world.[1] White wine accounts for almost two thirds of the total production.

As a wine country, Germany has a mixed reputation internationally, with some consumers on the export markets associating Germany with the world's most elegant and aromatically pure white wines while other see the country mainly as the source of cheap, mass-market semi-sweet wines such as Liebfraumilch. Among enthusiasts, Germany's reputation is primarily based on wines made from the Riesling grape variety, which at its best is used for aromatic, fruity and elegant white wines that range from very crisp and dry to well-balanced, sweet and of enormous aromatic concentration. While primarily a white wine country, red wine production surged in the 1990s and early 2000s, primarily fuelled by domestic demand, and the proportion of the German vineyards devoted to the cultivation of dark-skinned grape varieties has now stabilized at slightly more than a third of the total surface. For the red wines, Spätburgunder, the domestic name for Pinot Noir, is in the lead.


Wine styles

Germany produces wines in many styles: dry, semi-sweet and sweet white wines, rosé wines, red wines and sparkling wines, called Sekt. (The only wine style not commonly produced is fortified wine.) Due to the northerly location of the German vineyards, the country has produced wines quite unlike any others in Europe, many of outstanding quality. Despite this it is still better known abroad for cheap, sweet or semi-sweet, low-quality mass-produced wines such as Liebfraumilch.

The wines have historically been predominantly white, and the finest made from Riesling. Many wines have been sweet and low in alcohol, light and unoaked. Historically many of the wines (other than late harvest wines) were probably dry (trocken), as techniques to stop fermentation did not exist. Recently much more German white wine is being made in the dry style again. Much of the wine sold in Germany is dry, especially in restaurants. However most exports are still of sweet wines, particularly to the traditional export markets such as Great Britain, which is the leading export market both in terms of volume and value. The United States (second in value, third in volume) and the Netherlands (second in volume, third in value) are two other important export markets for German wine.

Red wine has always been hard to produce in the German climate, and in the past was usually light coloured, closer to rosé or the red wines of Alsace. However recently there has been greatly increased demand and darker, richer red wines (often barrique aged) are produced from grapes such as Dornfelder and Spätburgunder, the German name for Pinot Noir.[2]

Perhaps the most distinctive characteristic of German wines is the high level of acidity in them, caused both by the lesser ripeness in a northerly climate and by the selection of grapes such as Riesling which retain acidity even at high ripeness levels.


Vine trellising according to the Pfälzer Kammerbau system traditional to the Palatinate, where it was widely used until the 18th century. In an all-wooden version (without the steel wires), this system is supposed to date back to Roman times.

Early history

Viticulture in present-day Germany dates back to Ancient Roman times, to sometime from 70 to 270 CE/AD ( Agri Decumates ). In those days, the western parts of today's Germany made up the outpost of the Roman empire against the Germanic tribes on the other side of Rhine. What is generally considered to be Germany's oldest city, Trier, was founded as a Roman garrison and is situated directly on the river Moselle (Mosel) in the eponymous wine region. The oldest archeological finds that may indicate early German viticulture are curved pruning knives found in the vicinity of Roman garrisons, dating from the 1st century AD.[3] However, it is not absolutely certain that these knives were used for viticultural purposes. Emperor Probus, whose reign can be dated two centuries later than these knives, is generally considered the founder of German viticulture, but for solid documentation of winemaking on German soil, we must go to around 370 AD, when Ausonius of Bordeaux wrote Mosella, where he in enthusiastic terms described the steep vineyards on river Moselle.[3]

The wild vine, the forerunner of the cultivated Vitis vinifera is known to have grown on upper Rhine back to historic time, and it is possible (but not documented) that Roman-era German viticulture was started using local varieties. Many viticultural practices were however taken from other parts of the Roman empire, as evidenced by Roman-style trellising systems surviving into the 18th century in some parts of Germany, such as the Kammerbau in the Palatinate.[3]

Almost nothing is known of the style or quality of "German" wines that were produced in the Roman era, with the exception of the fact that the poet Venantius Fortunatus mentions red German wine around AD 570.

From Medieval times to today

Before the era of Charlemagne, Germanic viticulture was practiced primarily, although not exclusively, on the western side of Rhine. Charlemagne is supposed to have brought viticulture to Rheingau. The eastward spread of viticulture coincided with the spread of Christianity, which was supported by Charlemagne. Thus, in Medieval Germany, churches and monasteries played the most important role in viticulture, and especially in the production of quality wine. Two Rheingau examples illustrate this: archbishop Ruthard of Mainz (reigning 1089-1109) founded a Benedictine abbey on slopes above Geisenheim, the ground of which later became Schloss Johannisberg. His successor Adalbert of Mainz donated land above Hattenheim in 1135 to Cistercians, sent out from Clairvaux in Champagne, who founded Kloster Eberbach.[3]

Many grape varieties commonly associated with German wines have been documented back to the 14th or 15th century. Riesling has been documented from 1435 (close to Rheingau), and Pinot Noir from 1318 on Lake Constance under the name Klebroth, from 1335 in Affenthal in Baden and from 1470 in Rheingau, where the monks kept a Clebroit-Wyngart in Hattenheim.[4][5] The most grown variety in medieval Germany was however Elbling, with Silvaner also being common, and Muscat, Räuschling and Traminer also being recorded.[3]

For several centuries of the Medieval era, the vineyards of Germany (including Alsace) expanded, and is believed to have reached their greatest extent sometime around 1500, when perhaps as much as four times the present vineyard surface was planted. Basically, the wine regions were located in the same places as today, but more lands around the rivers, and land further upstream Rhine's tributaries, was cultivated. The subsequent decline can be attributed to locally produced beer becoming the everyday beverage in northern Germany in the 16th century, leading to a partial loss of market for wine, and to the Thirty Years' War ravaging Germany in the 17th century.[3]

At one point the Church controlled most of the major vineyards in Germany. Quality instead of quantity become important and spread quickly down the river Rhine. In the 1800s, Napoleon took control of all the vineyards from the Church, including the best, and divided and secularized them. Since then the Napoleonic inheritance laws in Germany broke up the parcels of vineyards further, leading to the establishment of many cooperatives. However, there are many notable and world-famous wineries in Germany which have managed to acquire or hold enough land to produce wine not only for domestic consumption, but also for export.

German wine from Franken in the characteristic round bottles (Bocksbeutel)

An important event took place in 1775 at Schloss Johannisberg in Rheingau, when the courier delivering the harvest permission was delayed for two weeks, with the result that most of the grapes in Johannisberg's Riesling-only vineyard had been affected by noble rot before the harvest began. Unexpectedly, these "rotten grapes" gave a very good sweet wine, which was termed Spätlese, meaning late harvest. From this time, late harvest wines from grapes affected by noble rot have been produced intentionally. The subsequent differentiation of wines based on harvested ripeness, starting with Auslese in 1787, laid the ground for the Prädikat system, laws introduced in 1971 which defined the various designations still in use today.

Geography and climate

The German wine regions are some of the most northerly in the world.[6] The main wine-producing climate lies below the 50th parallel, which runs through the regions Rheingau and Mosel. Above this line the climate becomes less conducive to wine production, but there are still some vineyards above this line.

Because of the northerly climate, there has been a search for suitable grape varieties (particularly frost resistant and early harvesting ones), and many crosses have been developed, such as Müller-Thurgau in the Geisenheim Grape Breeding Institute. Recently there has been an increase in plantings of Riesling as local and international demand has been demanding high quality wines.

The wines are all produced around rivers, mainly the Rhine and its tributaries, often sheltered by mountains. The rivers have significant microclimate effects to moderate the temperature. The soil is slate in the steep valleys, to absorb the sun's heat and retain it overnight. On the rolling hills the soil is lime and clay dominated. The great sites are often extremely steep so they catch the most sunlight, but they are difficult to harvest mechanically. The slopes are also positioned facing the south or south-west to angle towards the sun.

The vineyards are extremely small compared to new world vineyards. This makes the lists of wines produced long and complex, and many wines hard to obtain as production is so limited.


The wine regions in Germany usually referred to are the 13 defined regions for quality wine. The German wine industry has organised itself around these regions and their division into districts. However, there are also a number of regions for the seldom-exported table wine (Tafelwein) and country wine (Landwein) categories. Those regions with a few exceptions overlap with the quality wine regions. In order to make a clear distinction between the quality levels, the regions and subregions for different quality level have different names on purpose, even when they are allowed to be produced in the same geographical area.

German wine regions

There are 13 defined regions ("Anbaugebiete") in Germany[2][7]:

1. Ahr - a small region along the river Ahr, a tributary of Rhine, that despite its northernly location primarily produces red wine from Spätburgunder.
2. Baden - in Germany's southwestern corner, across river Rhine from Alsace, and the only German wine region situated in European Union wine growing zone B rather than A, which results in higher minimum required maturity of grapes and less chaptalisation allowed.[8] Noted for its pinot wines - both red and white. Although the Kaiserstuhl region in the wine growing region of Baden is Germany's warmest location, the average temperature in the whole wine region is a little bit lower than in Palatinate (zone A). One of two wine regions in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg.
3. Franconia or Franken - around portions of Main river, and the only wine region situated in Bavaria. Noted for growing many varieties on chalky soil and for producing powerful dry Silvaner wines.
4. Hessische Bergstraße (Hessian Mountain Road) - a small region in the federal state Hesse dominated by Riesling.
5. Mittelrhein - along the middle portions of river Rhine, primarily between the regions Rheingau and Mosel, and dominated by Riesling.
6. Mosel - along the river Moselle (Mosel) and its tributaries, the rivers Saar and Ruwer, and was previously known as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. The Mosel region is dominated by Riesling grapes and slate soils, and the best wines are grown in dramatic-looking steep vineyards directly overlooking the rivers. This region produces wine that is light in body, crisp, of high acidity and with pronounced mineral character. The only region to stick to Riesling wine with noticeable residual sweetness as the "standard" style, although dry wines are also produced.
7. Nahe - around the river Nahe where volcanic origins give very varied soils. Mixed grape varieties but the best known producers primarily grow Riesling, and some of them have achieved world reputation in recent years.
8. Palatinate or Pfalz - the second largest producing region in Germany, with production of very varied styles of wine (especially in the southern half), where red wine has been on the increase. The northern half of the region is home to many well known Riesling producers with a long history, which specialize in powerful Riesling wines in a dry style. Warmer than all other German wine regions. Until 1995, it was known in German as Rheinpfalz.[9]
9. Rheingau - a small region situated at a bend in river Rhine which give excellent conditions for wine growing. The oldest documented references to Riesling come from the Rheingau region[10] and it is the region where many German wine making practices have originated, such as the use of Prädikat designations, and where many high-profile producers are situated. Dominated by Riesling with some Spätburgunder. The Rheingau Riesling style is in-between Mosel and the Palatinate and other southern regions, and at its finest combines the best aspects of both.
10. Rheinhessen or Rhenish Hesse - the largest production area in Germany. Once known as Liebfraumilch land, but a quality revolution has taken place since the 1990s. Mixed wine styles and both red and white wines. The best Riesling wines are similar to Palatinate Riesling - dry and powerful. Despite its name, it lies in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, not in Hesse.
11. Saale-Unstrut - one of two regions in former East Germany, situated along the rivers Saale and Unstrut, and Germany's northernmost wine growing region.
12. Saxony or Sachsen - one of two regions in former East Germany, in the southeastern corner of the country, along the river Elbe in the federal state of Saxony.
13. Württemberg - a traditional red wine region, where grape varieties Trollinger (the region's signature variety), Schwarzriesling and Lemberger outnumber the varieties that dominate elsewhere. One of two wine regions in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg.

These 13 regions (Anbaugebiete) are broken down into 39 districts (Bereiche) which are further broken down into collective vineyard sites (Großlagen) of which there are 167. The individual vineyard sites (Einzellagen) number 2,658.[11]

German wine-growing regions sorted by size (2008 situation)[11][12]
Region Number on map Vineyard area (ha) Proportion white:red (%) Districts Collective sites Individual sites Most grown varieties
Rheinhessen 10 26 444 69:31 3 24 442 Müller-Thurgau (16.3%), Riesling (14.3%), Dornfelder (13.0%), Silvaner (9.3%), Portugieser (6.3%), Kerner (4.6%), Spätburgunder (5.1%), Grauburgunder (4.4%), Scheurebe (3.5%)
Palatinate 8 23 461 61:39 2 25 330 Riesling (23.3%), Dornfelder (13.5%), Müller-Thurgau (9.3%), Portugieser (9.3%), Spätburgunder (6.8%), Kerner (4.8%), Grauburgunder (4.5%), Weißburgunder (3.7%)
Baden 2 15 906 56:44 9 15 315 Spätburgunder (36.8%), Müller-Thurgau (17.2%), Grauburgunder (10.5%), Riesling (7.3%), Weißburgunder (7.3%), Gutedel (6.9%)
Württemberg 13 11 511 29:71 6 20 207 Trollinger (21.2%), Riesling (18.1%), Schwarzriesling (15.1%), Lemberger (13.9%), Spätburgunder (11.1%), Kerner (3.0%)
Mosel 6 9 034 91:9 6 20 507 Riesling (59.7%), Müller-Thurgau (14.0%), Elbling (6.3%), Kerner (4.0%)
Franconia 3 6 063 80:20 3 22 211 Müller-Thurgau (30.3%), Silvaner (21.0%), Bacchus (12.2%)
Nahe 7 4 155 75:25 1 7 312 Riesling (27.2%), Müller-Thurgau (13.3%), Dornfelder (11.0%)
Rheingau 9 3 125 85:15 1 11 120 Riesling (78.8%), Spätburgunder (12.2%), Müller-Thurgau (1.6%)
Saale-Unstrut 11 685 74:26 2 4 20 Müller-Thurgau (18.4%), Weißburgunder (12.1%), Silvaner (8.3%)
Ahr 1 558 14:86 1 1 43 Spätburgunder (61.3%), Riesling (7.7%), Portugieser (7.7%)
Saxony 12 462 81:19 2 4 16 Müller-Thurgau (18.4%), Riesling (14.5%), Weißburgunder (11.9%)
Mittelrhein 5 461 85:15 2 11 111 Riesling (67.0%), Spätburgunder (8.7%), Müller-Thurgau (6.3%)
Hessische Bergstraße 4 439 79:21 2 3 24 Riesling (48.1%), Spätburgunder (10.3%), Grauburgunder (8.7%)

Tafelwein and Landwein regions

There are seven regions for Tafelwein (Weinbaugebiete für Tafelwein), three of which are divided into two or three subregions (Untergebiete) each, and 21 regions for Landwein (Landweingebiete).[13] These regions have the following relationship to each other, and to the quality wine regions:[14]

Tafelwein region Tafelwein subregion Landwein region Corresponding quality wine region Number on map
Rhein-Mosel Rhein Ahrtaler Landwein Ahr 1
Rheinburgen-Landwein Mittelrhein 5
Rheingauer Landwein Rheingau 9
Nahegauer Landwein Nahe 7
Rheinischer Landwein Rheinhessen 10
Pfälzer Landwein Palatinate 8
Starkenburger Landwein Hessische Bergstraße 4
Moseltal Landwein der Mosel Mosel 6
Landwein der Saar
Saarländischer Landwein
Landwein der Ruwer
Bayern Main Landwein Main Franconia 3
Donau Regensburger Landwein
Lindau Bayerischer Bodensee-Landwein Württemberg 13
Neckar - Schwäbischer Landwein
Oberrhein Römertor Badischer Landwein Baden 2
Burgengau Taubertäler Landwein
Albrechtsburg - Sächsischer Landwein Saxony 12
 ? Mitteldeutscher Landwein Saale-Unstrut 11
Niederlausitz - Brandenburger Landwein In the federal state of Brandenburg, outside the quality wine regions
Stargarder Land - Mecklenburger Landwein In the federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, outside the quality wine regions

Grape varieties

Overall nearly 135 grape varieties may be cultivated in Germany - 100 are released for white wine production and 35 for red wine production. According to the international image, Germany is still regarded to be a region for white wine production. Since the 1980s the demand for German red wine has constantly increased and this has resulted in a doubling of the vineyards assigned for the production of red wine. Nowadays over 35% of the vineyards are cultivated with red grapes. Some of the red grapes are also used to produce Rosé.

Out of all the grape varieties listed below, only 20 have a significant market share.

Common grape varieties in Germany (2008 situation, all varieties >250 ha)[12]
Variety Colour Synonym(s) Area (%) Area (hectares) Trend Major regions (with large plantations or high proportion)
1. Riesling white 21.9 22 434 increasing Mosel, Palatinate, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Nahe, Mittelrhein, Hessische Bergstraße
2. Müller-Thurgau white Rivaner 13.4 13 721 decreasing Rheinhessen, Baden, Franconia, Mosel, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen
3. Spätburgunder red Pinot Noir 11.5 11 800 constant Baden, Palatinate, Rheinhessen, Württemberg, Rheingau, Ahr
4. Dornfelder red 7.9 8 101 decreasing Rheinhessen, Palatinate, Nahe
5. Silvaner white Grüner Silvaner 5.1 5 236 decreasing Rheinhessen, Franconia, Saale-Unstrut, Ahr
6. Grauburgunder white Pinot Gris, Grauer Burgunder Ruländer 4.4 4 481 increasing Rheinhessen, Palatinate, Mosel
7. Blauer Portugieser red 4.3 4 354 decreasing Palatinate, Rheinhessen, Ahr
8. Weißburgunder white Pinot Blanc, Weißer Burgunder, Klevner 3.6 3 731 increasing Baden, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen
9. Kerner white 3.6 3 712 decreasing Rheinhessen, Palatinate, Mosel, Württemberg
10. Trollinger red 2.4 2 472 constant Württemberg
11. Schwarzriesling red Müllerrebe, Pinot Meunier 2.3 2 361 decreasing Württemberg
12. Regent red 2.1 2 161 constant
13. Bacchus white 2.0 2 015 decreasing Franconia
14. Lemberger red Blaufränkisch 1.7 1 729 increasing Württemberg
15. Scheurebe white 1.6 1 672 decreasing Rheinhessen
16. Chardonnay white 1.1 1 171 increasing
17. Gutedel white Chasselas 1.1 1 136 constant Baden
18. Traminer white Gewürztraminer 0.8 835 constant
19. St. Laurent red 0.7 669 constant
20. Huxelrebe white 0.6 635 decreasing
21. Ortega white 0.6 634 decreasing
22. Faberrebe white 0.6 587 decreasing
23. Elbling white 0.6 578 constant Mosel
24. Morio-Muskat white 0.5 502 decreasing
25. Acolon red 0.5 478 increasing
26. Merlot red 0.4 450 increasing
27. Sauvignon Blanc white 0.4 434 increasing
28. Domina red 0.4 404 increasing
29. Dunkelfelder red 0.4 352 decreasing
30. Cabernet Mitos red 0.3 320 constant
31. Cabernet Sauvignon red 0.3 288 increasing
32. Frühburgunder red Pinot Précocé Noir 0.2 252 increasing Ahr
All white varieties 63.6 65 114 increasing
All red varieties 36.4 37 227 decreasing
Grand total 100.0 102 341 constant

Grape variety trends over time

Per cent share of common grape varieties in Germany 1964-2007. Data taken from German Wine Statistics.[1][15][16][17]

During the last century several changes have taken place with respect to the most planted varieties. Until the early 20th century, Elbling was Germany's most planted variety, after which it was eclipsed by Silvaner during the middle of the 20th century.[18] After a few decades in the top spot, in the late 1960s Silvaner was overtaken by the high-yielding Müller-Thurgau, which in turn started to lose ground in the 1980s. From the mid-1990s, Riesling became the most planted variety, a position which it probably had never enjoyed before on a national level. Red grapes in Germany have experienced several ups and downs. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, there was a downward trend, which was reversed around 1980. From mid-1990s and during the next decade, there was an almost explosive growth of plantation of red varieties. Plantings was shared between traditional Spätburgunder and a number of new crossings, led by Dornfelder, while other traditional German red varieties such as Portugieser only held their ground. From around 2005, the proportion of red varieties has stabilized around 37%, about three times the 1980 level.

Common white wine grapes

White grape varieties account for 63% of the area planted in Germany. Principal varieties are listed below; there are larger numbers of less important varieties too.

  • Riesling is the benchmark grape in Germany and cover the most area in the German vineyard. It is an aromatic variety with a high level of acidity that can be used for dry, semi-sweet, sweet and sparkling wines. The drawback to Riesling is that it takes 130 days to ripen and, in marginal years, the Riesling crop tends to be poor.
  • Müller-Thurgau is an alternative grape to Riesling that growers have been using, and which is one of the so-called "new crossings". Unlike the long ripening time of Riesling, this grape variety only requires 100 days to ripen, can be planted on more sites, and is higher yielding. However, this grape has a more neutral flavour than Riesling, and as the main ingredient of Liebfraumilch its reputation has taken a beating together with that wine variety. Germany's most planted variety from the 1970s to the mid-1990s, it has been losing ground for a number of years. Dry Müller-Thurgau is usually labeled Rivaner.
  • Silvaner is another fairly neutral, but quite old grape variety that was Germany's most planted until the 1960s and after that has continued to lose ground. It has however remained popular in Franconia and Rheinhessen, where it is grown on chalky soils to produce powerful dry wines with a slightly earthy and rustic but also food-friendly character.
  • Kerner
  • Bacchus
  • Scheurebe
  • Gewürztraminer
  • Grauer Burgunder or Ruländer (Pinot Gris)
  • Weisser Burgunder (Pinot Blanc)

Common red wine grapes

Red wine varieties account for 37% of the plantations in Germany but has increased in recent years.

  • Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) - a much-appreciated grape variety that demands good sites to produce good wines and therefore competes with Riesling. It is considered to give the most elegant red wines of Germany.
  • Dornfelder - a "new crossing" that has become much appreciated in Germany since it is easy to grow and gives dark-coloured, full-bodied, fruity and tannic wines of a style which used to be hard to produce in Germany.
  • Portugieser
  • Trollinger
  • Schwarzriesling (Pinot Meunier)
  • Lemberger

Permitted varieties

According to the German wine law, the federal governments are responsible for drawing up lists of grape varieties allowed in wine production. The varieties listed below are officially permitted for commercial cultivation.[19] The lists include varieties permitted only for selected experimental cultivation.

White Wine Glas.jpg permitted white grapes White Wine Glas.jpg
  • Goldriesling
  • Grauburgunder
  • Gutedel
  • Hibernal
  • Hölder
  • Huxelrebe
  • Irsay Oliver
  • Johanniter
  • Juwel
  • Kanzler
  • Kerner
  • Kernling
  • Mariensteiner
  • Merzling
  • Morio-Muskat
  • Müller-Thurgau (Rivaner)
  • Muskat-Ottonel
Red Wine Glas.jpg permitted red grapes Red Wine Glas.jpg

See Also: List of grape varieties

Viticultural practices

In the Mosel region, such as here close to the village of Zell, vines are often trained on individual wooden stakes, so-called Einzelpfahlerziehung.

Many of the best vineyards in Germany are steep vineyards overlooking rivers, where mechanisation is impossible and a lot of manual labour is needed to produce the wine.

Since it can be difficult to get ripe grapes in such a northernly location as Germany, the sugar maturity of grapes (must weight) as measured by the Oechsle scale have played a great role in Germany.

German vintners on average crop their vineyards quite high, with yields averaging around 90-100 hl/ha,[12] a high figure in international comparison. "New" crossings used for low-quality white wine commonly yield 150-200 hl/ha, while quality-conscious producers who strive to produce well-balanced wines of concentrated flavours will rarely exceed 50 hl/ha.

Many wines in Germany are produced using organic farming or biodynamic methods.

Winemaking practices

Chaptalization is allowed only up to the QbA level, not for Prädikatswein and all wines must be fermented dry if chaptalised. In order to balance the wine, unfermented grape juice, called Süssreserve, may be added after fermentation.


A German wine bottle

German wine classification is sometimes the source of confusion. However, to those familiar with the terms used, a German wine label reveals much information about the wine's origin, minimum ripeness of the grapes used for the wine as well as the dryness/sweetness of the wine.

Ripeness Classifications of German wines (any grape varietal): In general, the ripeness classifications of German wines reflect minimum sugar content in the grape (also known as "potential alcohol" = the amount of alcohol resulting from fermenting all sugar in the juice) at the point of harvest of the grape. They have nothing to do with the sweetness of the wine after fermentation, which is one of the most common mis-perceptions about German wines.

  • Deutscher Tafelwein (German table wine) is mostly consumed in the country and not exported. Generally used for blended wines that can not be Qualitätswein.
  • Deutscher Landwein (German country wine) comes from a larger designation and again doesn't play an important role in the export market.
  • Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) wines from a defined appellation with the exception of Liebfraumilch, which can be blended from several regions and still be classified as Qualitätswein.
  • Prädikatswein, recently (August 1, 2007) renamed from Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) wines made from grapes of higher ripeness. As ripeness increases, the fruit characteristics and price increase. Categories within Prädikatswein are Kabinett , Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. Wines of these categories can not be chaptalized. All these categories within Prädikatswein are solely linked to minimum requirements of potential alcohol. While these may correlate with harvest time, there are no legally defined harvest time restrictions anymore.
    • Kabinett wines are made from grapes that have achieved minimum defined potential alcohol levels. Those minimum requirements differ by region and grape varietal. Essentially, Kabinett is the first level of reserve grape selection.
    • Spätlese wines ("late harvest") are made from grapes that have achieved minimum defined potential alcohol levels. Those minimum requirements differ by region and grape varietal. Essentially, Spatlese is the second level of reserve grape selection.
    • Auslese wines ("select harvest") are made from grapes that have achieved minimum defined potential alcohol levels. Those minimum requirements differ by region and grape varietal. Essentially, Auslese is the third level of reserve grape selection.
    • Beerenauslese wines ("berry selection") are made from grapes that have . The concentration of the grape juice may have been facilitated by a fungus Botrytis, which perforates the skin of the grape forcing water to drip out and all remaining elements to concentrate. Due to the high potential alcohol level required for this category of ripeness, these wines are generally made into sweet wines and can make good dessert wines.
    • Eiswein (ice wine) wine is made grapes that freeze naturally on the vine and have to reach the same potential alcohol level as Beerenauslese. The grapes are harvested and pressed in the frozen state. The ice stays in the press during pressing and hence a concentrated juice flows off the press leading to higher potential alcohol levels which in turn generally result in sweet wines due to the high potential alcohol.
    • Trockenbeerenauslese wines ("dry berries selection") are made from grapes of an even higher potential alcohol level. The grapes used for Trockenbeerenauslese have reached an even more raisin-like state than those used for Beerenauslese. Due to the high concentration of sugar in the raisin-like grape, these wines can only be made in a sweet style and make extremely sweet, concentrated and usually quite expensive wines.

On wine labels, German wine may be classified according to the residual sugar of the wine. Trocken refers to dry wine. These wines have less than 9 grams/liter of residual sugar. Halbtrocken wines are off-dry and have 9-18 grams/liter of residual sugar. Due to the high acidity ("crispness") of many German wines, the taste profile of many halbtrocken wines fall within the "internationally dry" spectrum rather than being appreciably sweet. "Feinherb" wine are slightly more sweet than halbtrocken wines.

In recent years, the Verband Deutscher Prädikatswein (VDP), which is a private marketing club founded in 1910 (see, has lobbied for the recognition of a vineyard classification, but their effort have not yet changed national law.

There are also several terms to identify the grower and producers of the wine.

  • Weingut refers to a wine producing estate.
  • Weinkellerei refers to a bottling facility, a bottler or shipper.
  • Winzergenossenschaft refers to a winegrowers' co-operative wine.
  • Gutsabfüllung refers to a grower/producer wine that is estate bottled.
  • Abfüller refers to a bottler or shipper.

Industry structure

The German wine industry consists of many small vineyard owners. The 1999 viticultural survey counted 68 598 vineyard owners, down from 76 683 in Western Germany in 1989/90, for an average size of 1.5 ha. Most of the 40 625 operators of less than 0.5 ha should likely be classified as hobby winemakers.[15] Many smaller vineyard owners do not pursue viticulture as a full-time occupation, but rather as a supplement to other agriculture or to hospitality. It is not uncommon for a visitor to a German wine region to find that a small family-owned Gasthaus has its own wine. Smaller grape-growers who do not wish or are able to commercialise their own wine have several options available: sell the grapes (either on the market each harvest year, or on long-term contract with larger wineries looking to supplement their own production), deliver the grapes to a wine-making cooperative (called Winzergenossenschaft in Germany), or sell the wine in bulk to winemaking firms which use them in "bulk brands" or as a base wine for Sekt. Those who own vineyards in truly good locations also have the option of renting them out to larger producers who will handle the entire operation of the vineyard.

5 892 vineyard owners owned more than 5 ha each in 1999, accounting for 57% of Germany's total vineyard surface, and it is in this category that the full-time vintners and commercial operations are primarily found.[15] However, truly large wineries, in terms of their own vineyard holdings, are rare in Germany. Hardly any German wineries reach the size of New World winemaking companies, and only a few are of the same size as a typical Bordeaux Grand Cru Classé château. Of the ten wineries considered as Germany's best by Gault Millau Weinguide in 2007,[20] nine had 10,2 — 19 ha of vineyards, and one (Weingut Robert Weil, owned by Suntory) had 70 ha. This means that most of the high-ranking German wineries each only produces around 100,000 bottles of wine per year. That production is often distributed over, say, 10-25 different wines from different vineyards, of different Prädikat, sweetness and so on. The largest vineyard owner is the Hessian State Wineries (Hessische Staatsweingüter), owned by the federal state of Hesse, with 200 ha vineyards, the produce of which is vinified in three separate wineries.[21] The largest privately held winery is Dr. Bürklin-Wolf in the Palatinate with 85,5 ha.[22]

The ten biggest Individual German wine growers / producers [23]

  • Juliusspital, Würzburg (Franken) 170 ha
  • Weingut Heinz Pfaffmann, Walsheim (Palatinate) 150 ha
  • Hessische Staatsweingüter Eltville (Rheingau) 140 ha
  • Markgraf von Baden Salem (Baden) 140 ha
  • Bischöfliche Weingüter Trier (Mosel) 130 ha
  • Staatlicher Hofkeller Würzburg (Franconia) 120 ha
  • Weingut Anselmann Edesheim (Palatinate) 115 ha
  • Bürgerspital zum Heiligen Geist Würzburg (Franconia) 110 ha
  • Weingut Lergenmüller Hainfeld (Palatinate) 110 ha
  • Weingut Friedrich Kiefer Eichstetten am Kaiserstuhl (Baden) 110 ha

See also


  • Brook, Stephen (2003) The Wines of Germany. ISBN 1-84000-791-5.
  • Langenbach, Alfred (1962) German Wines and Vines. Vista Books 1962.
  • Hallgarten, S.F. (1981) German Wines. ISBN 0-9507410-0-0.
  • Barr, Andrew (1988) Wine Snobbery: An Insiders Guide to the Booze Business. ISBN 0-571-15060-8. Chapter 8 on history of sweetness in German wines.
  1. ^ a b German Wine Institute: German Wine Statistics 2007-2008
  2. ^ a b The wine regions of Germany
  3. ^ a b c d e f Entry on "German History" in J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition, p. 304-308, Oxford University Press 2006, ISBN 0-19-860990-6
  4. ^ Wein-Plus Glossar: Pinot Noir', accessed on February 17, 2008
  5. ^ Wein-Plus Glossar: Kloster Eberbach, accessed on February 17, 2008
  6. ^ German Wine Institute: Wine growing regions, accessed on February 17, 2008
  7. ^ (German Agricultural Society): 13 winegrowing areas in Germany
  8. ^ Entry on "Baden" in J. Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third Edition, p. 59, Oxford University Press 2006 ISBN 0-19-860990-6
  9. ^ Wein-Plus Glossar: Pfalz, accessed on December 16, 2007
  10. ^ All about The History of the County of Katzenelnbogen and the First Riesling of the World
  11. ^ a b German Wine Institute: Soil & Sites, read on January 2, 2008
  12. ^ a b c German Wine Institute: German Wine Statistics 2009-2010
  13. ^ Weinverordnung (WeinV 1995), updated until Art. 1 V v. 11.3.2008 I 383, § 1 for Tafelwein and § 2 for Landwein
  14. ^ Bird, Owen (2005). Rheingold - The German wine renaissance. Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk: Arima publishing. pp. 259–260. ISBN 1-84549-079-7. 
  15. ^ a b c German Wine Institute: German Wine Statistics 2004-2005
  16. ^ German Wine Institute: German Wine Statistics 2005-2006
  17. ^ German Wine Institute: German Wine Statistics 2006-2007
  18. ^ Entry on "Silvaner" in J. Robinson (ed), "The Oxford Companion to Wine", Third Edition, p. 630-631, Oxford University Press 2006, ISBN 0-19-860990-6
  19. ^ Walter Hillebrand, Heinz Lott & Franz Pfaff: "Taschenbuch der Rebsorten", 13. edition 2003, Fachverlag Dr. Fraund GmbH, ISBN 392115653X
  20. ^ Unsere Besten, accessed on December 16, 2007
  21. ^ Wein-Plus Glossar: Hessische Staatsweingüter, accessed on December 16, 2007
  22. ^ Wein-Plus Glossar: Bürklin-Wolf, accessed on December 16, 2007
  23. ^ biggest German producers compiled by Mario Scheuermann

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