Germany’s largest wine region, Rheinhessen, lies in a valley of gentle rolling hills. Grapevines are one of many crops that share the fertile soils of this region’s vast farmlands. Varied soils and the favorable climate make it possible to grow many grape varieties, old and new. In fact, many of Germany’s aromatic, early-ripening new crossings were bred in Rheinhessen by Professor Georg Scheu (pronounced “shoy”), after whom the Scheurebe grape is named. Rheinhessen wines are often characterized as being soft, fragrant, medium-bodied and mild in acidity – pleasant, easy-to-drink wines. There are also wines of great class and elegance, with a depth and complexity second to none.
Major Town: Mainz, Worms, Alzey, Bingen
Collective Sites: 23
Individual Sites: 387
Vineyard Area: 26,617
– Mild temperatures
– Protective hills and forests
– Long sun hours
– Little rainfall
– One of Germany’s warmest regions and one of the driest regions in Central Europe
Loess, limestone and loam, often mixed with sand or gravel, are the main soil types. “Rotliegendes” is a red, slaty-sandy clay soil in the steep riverfront vineyards of Nackenheim and Nierstein and near Bingen, there is an outcropping of quartzite-slate.
Top soil types:
The rolling hills of Rheinhessen are bordered by the Nahe and Rhine Rivers. Steep vineyard sites are confined to small areas near Bingen and south of Mainz along the Rhein Terrasse. Historical wine villages of Oppenheim and Nierstein are located along the Rhine, the eastern boundary of the region. The forested, hilly countryside is known as “Rheinhessen’s Switzerland” in the west, the Tanus Hills lie to the North, and the Oden Forest lie to the east.
With over 23,000 hectares, Germany is home of the world’s largest vineyard area dedicated to Riesling. Riesling is predestined for northerly wine-growing regions and grows in all 13 German regions. Depending on type of soil and microclimate, it yields grapes that produce wines with extremely diverse nuances. They range from bone dry to lusciously sweet and from everyday wines to rare, high-quality collectibles. A “typical” Riesling is reminiscent of peach or apple on the nose, and has pronounced acidity. It is fantastic for food pairing and sparkling wine production.
Known for their approachable, light and refreshing taste, Müller-Thurgau wines make for easy, everyday drinking. Bred in 1882 by Professor Hermann Müller (1850-1927) from the Swiss canton Thurgau, this namesake wine now accounts for about 12% of Germany’s vineyard area and is grown in all 13 German wine-growing regions. The wines have a light Muscat tone, usually mild acidity, and sometimes, a flowery bouquet.
If Germany’s finest white wines are produced from Riesling, its red wine counterpart is Spätburgunder, which reaches top form in German sites. Germany ranks third worldwide in area devoted to Pinot Noir, after France and the USA, with almost 12% of the vineyard areas planted with the grape. Ranging from ruby to garnet red, Pinot Noir wines are slightly tannic, mild in acidity, and have a long finish with aromas reminiscent of blackberry and cherry.
Dornfelder was bred in 1955, originally developed for use as a blending wine to add color to pale red wines, but has quickly become known as a classic German wine. Dornfelder is vinified in all styles, but primarily as a dry wine. One distinctive style is a very fruity Dornfelder that brings forth the grape’s intense aromas of sour cherry, blackberry, and elder. Other growers ferment and/or age their Dornfelders in casks or barriques, focus on tannins and structure, and create rich, smooth, and harmonious deep color. All styles have an unmistakably deep color.
Although it is a mutation of Pinot Noir and has pinkish skin, Grauburgunder is a white wine grape. It produces pale to golden yellow wines reminiscent of mango, nuts, almonds, and quince. It is vinified in stainless steel or oak, and typically denotes a dry, medium-bodied wine with fairly lively acidity. Germany now ranks third worldwide in terms of vineyard area devoted to Pinot Gris.
Portugieser wines are uncomplicated, fruity, and fresh – easy drinking for everyday enjoyment. Medium-bodied and mild in tannins, they have restrained aromas of red currant, raspberry, sour cherry, or pepper. Pressed immediately or after a brief period of skin contact, the pale red color is well suited for Rosé. However, if yields are strictly controlled, the grape is capable of producing deep red, full-bodied red wines of substance. There are no conclusive findings on the origin of the grape, but it made its way from Austria to Germany in the 19th century.
Weissburgunder wines’ fresh acidity and delicate fruitiness make it not only an ideal food wine, but also a light summer wine. A white mutation of Pinot Gris, the grape has shown a steady upswing for several decades; its area has doubled within the past ten years, with Germany having the second highest number of plantings after Italy. German Pinot Blanc is typically vinified dry and have a slightly nutlike aroma.
Subtle in aroma and mild in acidity, hearty, fairly neutral Silvaner is an excellent food pairing wine. The wines are sometimes earthy and powerful, and are prized for being juicy and mouth-filling. The widespread cultivation of Silvaner dates from the early 19th century, and it was once the most important grape variety in Germany. It has long been a traditional variety in Rheinhessen and Franken.
This Trollinger x Riesling crossing was only first introduced in the early 1970s but already saw its peak in 1992. Since then the number of plantings has declined. Known as Riesling’s “little cousin,” this aromatic wine is perfect for everyday drinking with aromas of pear, apple, currant, apricot, and more, and can be vinified dry to sweet.