Germany is best known for its white wines, which to those who have not delved deeply into the region, are known for their sweetness. True lovers of German wines, and the locals, know better. Their are plenty of dry whites, and more than a smattering of red wines as well.
In the Reds it is Pinot Noir that is king, here called Spatburgunder. In the whites Riesling rules, and while other grapes often try to emulate the noble Riesling, none quite come close.
Ahr (ahr) - A tiny wine region in Germany. Unusually for Germany, most of the wine made is red. The main grape is Pinot Noir which is known locally as Spatburgunder.
Mittelrhein (mit' l-rine) - A tiny and very picturesque wine region in Germany along the Rhine River. Most of the wine is white and made from the Riesling grape. It is rarely exported.
Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (mo'z'l sahr roo'-ver) - One of the highest quality wine regions in Germany. The region includes the two tributaries to the Moselle River (Moselle is the English spelling). The finest vineyards are found on steeply terraced hills, overlooking the river. The best wines are made from Riesling, but increasing amounts of Muller-Thurgau, Elbling and Kerner are being planted. Some of the best known wine growing regions in Germany can be found here: Zeller Schwarze Katz, Piesporter and the exceptional Bernkasteler vineyards. The Bernkasteler Doctor vineyard in particular is heralded by many as their favorite German wine.
Rheingau (rine'-gao) - Historically one of the highest quality German wine producing regions. The Rhine River flows primarily northwest through Germany, except for here, where it takes a southwest course for about 20 miles. It is the direction of the river that allows the vineyards to have a south facing view, critical for ripening the grapes in this cold growing region. Here you will find Johannisberg, a region that for the US is literally synonymous with Riesling. The influx of faster maturing and easier to grow grapes has not reached this part of Germany, as it has in so much of the country. Instead, Riesling continues to be the primary grape of the region, which in no small way helps to define the quality of the wines.
Critics charge that the wines of the region have been declining in quality as producers rush to meet the demand for their wines. In 2000 the German government made a stab at correcting the problem by assigning a new vineyard classification system, not unlike that used in the Burgundy region of France. Critics now point out that the system is less then effective as it gave 33% of the vineyards the superior rating (as compared to Burgundy where 3% of the vineyards are Grand Cru and 11% Premiers Cru).
Nahe (nah'-huh) - One of the major wine growing areas of Germany and for many, as high a quality as the Mosel, and the Rheingau. A visit to Bad Kreuznach, the wine capital of the region, will not only yield exceptional Rieslings, but you may also soak in the therapeutic baths and gamble your nights away in the casino.
Rheinhessen (rine-hess'-en) - The largest of Germany's wine regions. You will find very little Riesling here, with the wines being made primarily of Muller-Thurgau and or Sylvaner. As with so many large growing regions around the world, the emphasis here is on quantity over quality.
Pfalz (fahl'tz) - One of the Anbaugebiete (specified wine regions) of Germany, and the most up and coming. Also referred to as the Rheinpfalz, and sometimes known in English speaking circles as the "Palatinate." Stretching for 50 miles, just north of Alsace from the French and German border, the Pfalz produces red and white wines of distinction. Pinot Noir, known as Spatburgunder in German, is the red wine grape of the region, where it produces a very light styled wine. Riesling is king here, but Muller-Thurgau is a close second, with a variety of other grapes constituting 60% of the vineyards. While the second largest German region by size, it may be the largest by volume of wine produced.
The words Pfalz and Palatinate both derive from the Latin "palatium", meaning palace. The Roman emperors constructed their imperial residences on a hill in the region 2000 years ago, and the name still sticks.
Baden (bah-d'n) - One of the larger German wine regions. It is bordered by France on the West, and and Switzerland in the South. The grapes tend to be planted along the foothills of the Black Forest. This is where you can find most of the German plantings of the red wine grape Pinot Noir which is known locally as Spatburgunder. Muller-Thurgau and Rulander (Pinot Gris) are the main white wine grapes.
Franken (frahn'-ken) - A large German wine region that specializes in dry white wines made from the grape Sylvaner. While many German wine regions produce flowery and somewhat sweet wines, the wines of Franken tend to be clean and crisp. This has earned them a following, especially among those who are looking for dry German wines to drink with food. The region is sometimes known as Franconia, in English language texts.
Wurttemberg (vur'-tem-bairg) - A good sized German wine region. It is situated around the well known German city of Stuttgart, home of the German automobile industry. The red wines made in the region are of the greatest interest. Besides the usual red wine grape Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) here you will also find local varieties such as Trollinger, Lemberger and Schwarzriesling (which is not a black riesling at all, rather it is the Pinot Meunier grape which is also found in the Champagne region of France).
Hessische Bergstrasse (heh-see-shuh bairg-strah-suh) - A tiny German region that primarily produces white wines from the Riesling grape. Most of the wine is consumed locally.
Sachsen (zahkh'-zuhn) - The smallest of the German wine regions. It is centered around the city of Dresden in what was once East Germany. The region produces dry white wines.
Saale-Unstrut (zahl' oon-shtrut) - A tiny, and northerly German wine region. In what was once considered East Germany, this region produces dry white wines near the city of Leipzig.
Terms found on the Label
Auslese (ouse'-lay-zuh) - A German term for "Select Harvest". Wines with this designation are slightly sweet and lucious. Don't be afraid of these wines, they are often great with food, and rarely expensive.
Beerenauslese (bear'-en-ouse'-lay-zuh) - Literally "Select Berry Picking" in German. The English term is "Individual Berry Select". Tiny scissors are used to cut just the most perfectly ripe berries (grapes) from the cluster. The grapes must have no less than 125 degrees Oeschsle (about 30% ) sugar. The resulting wine usually is somewhat sweet (average of about 6% residual sugar) with great flavors and amazing complexity. This is one of the world's finest styles of wine. It is a great match for spicy foods of all sort.
Bereich (beh-rye'sh) - The German term for a wine producing subregion as defined by the 1971 German wine laws. A bereich contains many villages and vineyards in its scope.
Bernkastel (bairn'-cast'l) - One of the world's greatest "cute little wine towns." This one is situated on the Mosel River in Germany. The most famous wines of Germany, Bernkastler Doctor, are grown on the steep hillsides overlooking the river. The Doctor vineyard has a perfect southern exposure important in these chilly northern vineyards.
Doctor (dock'-tohr) - One of the most famous vineyards in Germany. Located in the village of Berkastel on the Mosel river. Bernkastler Doctor, as it is usually referred to, is planted entirely with Riesling.
Domane (doe-may'-nuh) - A rarely used German term for "Estate." Mostly reserved for state-owned vineyards.
Edelfaule (eh-dell-foy-luh) - Literally "noble rot" in German. This term refers to the mold Botrytis Cinera. The French also call it noble rot (pourriture noble). This mold is responsible for reducing the water ratio in grapes, making them very sweet and useful as dessert wines.
Einzellage (ay'n-t sel-lah-guh) - The German term for a single vineyard worthy of being mentioned on a label. Any German wine that carries a vineyard name may be considered a wine of quality. The name of the town usually comes first on the label as in the case of Piesporter Goldtropfchen.
Eiswein (ice-vine) - The German word for "ice wine." This is an intense desert wine that has been made from very ripe grapes (without Botrytis) that were frozen on the vine. The frozen water is removed during pressing, leaving a very sweet must.
Erzeugerabfullung (air'-t zoo-gher-ahb'-foo-lung) - This rather imposing German word is found on labels of wines that have been Estate Bottled.
Grosslage (gross'-lah-guh) - German for "large vineyard." In German wine law it is a collection of individual vineyards (Einzellagen) that share common traits. This allows the wines to be marketed under either their vineyard name, or the often better known Grosslage name.
Halbtrocken (hahlb-trock-en) - German for "half-dry." Wines with this designation may contain no more than 1.8% residual sugar.
Hock - A British term for the German wines of the Rhine. Derived from the wine town Hochheim.
Kabinett (kah-bee-net') - The entry level designation for quality German wines (QmP). Drier than other wines of the class, a Kabinett must be made from grapes with at least 16 percent sugar at harvest. The result is a drier (although not not necessarily dry), lighter styled wine that is low in alcohol. The term comes from the practice of the wine producers reserving some wine for their own use, by locking it away in a cabinet.
Keller (kel-ler) - The German word for "cellar."
Lage (lah'-guh) - The German term for vineyard. Hence "einzellage" and "grosslage."
Liebfraumilch (leeb-frao-milsh) - One of the best known German wines. The name means "Blessed Mother's Milk." Prior to the enactment of the German wine laws in 1971 the term was used to mean almost any German wine from the Rhine region. Since the laws have gone into force, along with an update in 1983, the term now is used to designate wine made from a strictly delimited area of one of four regions. The region's name must also appear on the label. While the great grape of Germany, Riesling, can be used, it is rarely found in Liebfraumilch. In order to keep the costs down, and production up, most Liebfraumilch is made from Muller-Thurga, Sylvaner and Kerner. Liebfraumilch tends to be lightly sweet, simple, and very inexpensive.
May Wine - A relatively rare German white wine that has had the herb woodruff added to it, and then sweetened.
Muller-Thurgau (mew'-lair toor'-gau) - The most planted grape in Germany. A cross of Riesling and Sylvaner. The wines it makes tend to be low in acid, and somewhat dull, compared to Riesling. Widely planted in New Zealand as well.
Nierstein (neer'-sh'tine) - The leading wine village in the Rheinhessen region of Germany.
Oechsle (uh'k-sleh) - The German scale of measuring the sugar content of must (in the US we use the Brix Scale). The aim of such scales is to determine the potential alcohol content of the finished wine. This is a critical measure of when to harvest.
Originalabfullung (o-reeg'-ee-nahl-ahh'-foo-lung) - The older German term for "Estate Bottled." It was largely replaced in 1971 when the German wine laws went into effect, by the term "Erzeugurabfullung."
Piesport (peez-port) - A tiny, but very famous German wine making town. With steep, rocky vineyards that overlook the Moselle River, the Rieslings produced here are among the world's best. The renown Groldtropfchen vineyard is located in this village.
QbA - The complete phrase is "Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete" which is almost always abbreviated to QbA in the US and on the wine label. It means "quality wine from a specified region." It is a legal designation under the 1971 German wine laws.
A QbA wine must have a minimum sugar level at harvest, but may be chaptalized (have sugar added). It must come from one of the 11 specific growing regions of Germany, and the name of the region must be on the label.
QmP - "Qualitatswein mit Pradikat" which translates from German to "quality wine with distinction." Almost always abbreviated in the US, and on the wine label.
A legal designation under the German wine laws of 1971. As well as this phrase the label must identify the wine as belonging to one of these six classes from driest to sweetest: Kabinett , Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein or Trokenbeeranauslese (see each listed individually).
The rules for QmP are similar to those of QbA, except that the wine may not be chaptalized (have sugar added). These are the highest quality wines made in Germany.
Rebe (reh'-buh) - The German word for "vine." Hence the name of the grape Sheurebe which was created by a man named Sheu.
Rotwein (rot-vine) - The German term for red wine.
Rudesheim (roo-dess-heim) - A small wine producing town in the Rheingau region of Germany. The Rieslings from the area are popular with tourists who flock to the picturesque town which goes out of its way to accommodate the throngs.
Scheurebe (shoy'-reh-buh) - A German wine grape made by crossing Sylvaner and Riesling in 1916 by George Scheu (rebe means "vine" in German). The grape is lower in acid than the traditional German wine grape Riesling, but it more susceptible to botrytis (the special mold that concentrates the sugar in the grape). This allows for dessert style wines that are easier and more profitable to make, but without the longevity of a wine made from Riesling.
Schloss (sh'loss) - The German word for "castle." Often used in the same way the French use "chateau," to mean the vineyard, the wine and the property.
Schloss Johannisberg (sh'loss yo-hah'-niss bairg) - The most famous vineyard in Germany, and one of the few that does not need to have its village name appear on the label along with the name of the vineyard. Situated in the Rheingau region this may be the oldest Riesling vineyard in the area.
Schloss Vollrads (sh'loss vuhl-rahd'z) - The largest vineyard in the Rheingau region of Germany. This is one of the few vineyards that does not need to list the name of the adjoining village on the label. Famous for its drier styled wines, critics charge that this vineyard has not been living up to its potential of late.
Sekt (zekt) - The German term for sparkling wine. About 25 million cases of Sekt are produced in Germany each year.
Spatburgunder (sh'pat'-boor-gun-der) - The German name for the Pinot Noir grape. While Germany produces mostly white wine, the red it does make comes mostly from the Pinot Noir grape.
Spatlese (sh'pay't-lay-zuh) - The German term for "late picked." It is a QmP (quality wine without sugar added) designation. Most wines of this level are only slightly sweet.
Sylvaner / Silvaner (sil-vay'-ner) -Historically one of the major white wine grape varieties of Germany. Not as long lived or as intense as the Riesling grape, Sylvaner is still popular in parts of Germany. The Muller-Thurgau grape has taken Sylvaner's place in much of the rest of Germany. Silvaner is the German spelling.
Tafelwein (tah'-fel-vine) - German for "Table Wine."
Troken (traw'-ken) - The German word for "dry." Legally it means a wine that has less than 1% residual sugar. The Germans have been experimenting more with drier wines, to give them more universal appeal, and to match more cuisines. Halbtroken, meaning "half-dry" has also become popular.
Trokenbeeranauslese (Traw'-ken-bear'-en-ouse'-lay-zuh) - The top German wine. Sweeter and more expensive than any other of the QmP class. The English language term would be "Individual Berry Special Select Late Harvest." The grapes must not only be late harvested, but they must be dried (troken) to an almost raisin state before picking. This intense dessert wine, which is usually abbreviated to TBA, is only made in very special vintages, often less than once a decade. It ages unbelievably well. I have tasted 40 year old examples that still seemed to be quite young.
Wein (vine) - The German word for "wine."
Weingut (vine'-goot) - The German term for a vineyard estate. If it appears on a bottle the grapes must come entirely from vineyards the producer owns.
Weinkellerei (vine-kel'-er-rye) - The German term for a wine cellar. If you see this on the label, it may be an off hand way of telling you that the grapes for this wine do not come from the producers own vineyards.
Weissburgunder (vice'-boor-gun-der) - The German name for the Pinot Blanc grape.
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