Long surveyed from this side of the Alsatian border, the vineyards covering the south-west of Germany today seduce the palates of professionals and lovers of great wines from all over the world. An exquisite pretext to criss-cross the landscapes of the region.
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Germany may be best known for its beer, but the country is also a wine producer! If you’re a wine lover, you’ve probably heard of Riesling. This highly aromatic white grape is Germany’s flagship grape variety. German wines are actually very varied, prepare to be surprised.
In this article, you’ll find everything you need to know about German wines, the country’s different wine styles, the grape varieties used, and even the country’s rather unique labeling rules.
Germany is the tenth largest wine producer, with just under 3% of world production. German wine has struggled, but today the country is experiencing a golden age in terms of quality and diversity. If there was ever a time to get started and try German wines, it’s now!
Germany is a country with low average temperatures. And since vines love the sun, growing grapes remains a challenge in Germany. It is this fight with nature that has shaped the German wine scene through the ages.
The Palatinate, land of a white king…
The sunny climate and the limestone soil of the Palatinate, gives the southern region of Germany bordering the French border, a mild Mediterranean air. It is enough to see the almond trees in bloom in spring, then in summer, to bite into fresh figs and kiwis to be convinced of it.
Among the Roman heritage, the vine also finds its happiness, making the region the second largest vineyard in the country (behind neighboring Rhine Hesse) with nearly 25,000 hectares.
The pride of the Palatinate remains the unbeatable Riesling, whose territory occupies 20% of the land. This white and dry grape variety of great purity has in recent decades restored Germany’s image on the world oenological scene.
85 kilometers from south to north
Since 1935, the Weinstraße has crisscrossed this part of Rhineland-Palatinate bordered by the Palatinate Forest, connecting 130 wine-growing localities. About a hundred kilometers from Schweigen-Rechtenbach, on the French border, to Bockenheim in the north.
This route from cellar to cellar is divided, for administrative reasons, into two chapters: the southern wine route (Südliche Weinstraße) radiating around the town of Landau, and the middle Haardt (Mittelhaardt) including the spa town of Bad Dürkheim marks the center.
The difference is also felt in the landscapes. If the southern part is fond of hills and small villages, such as Annweiler (where Richard the Lionheart was imprisoned), the Mittelhaardt has steeper hillsides, crowned with forest and fortified castles (including that of Hambach, a European symbol of the struggle for civil rights since 1832).
Curiosities and stars
Among the steps to include in its roadmap: the Ludwigshöhe villa, summer residence of King Ludwig 1st of Bavaria (closed for renovation until summer 2022) with Italian influences. More anecdotal: the giant barrel of Bad Dürkheim, built in 1934 by a master cooper.
His particuliarity ? A diameter of 13.5 meters for an impressive volume (1.7 million litres) which now houses a cellar and a restaurant with 300 seats. On the table side, the Palatinate region will never leave you on the side of the road.
Those of the cellars, taverns and four starred restaurants make up a varied panorama, just like the region. In the gastronomic UFO category: the starred “Japanese-Palatine pub” Izakaya, in Wachenheim, marks a stunning fusion of genres (tamagotofu with char caviar to name but one), which goes perfectly with local wines.
Four kilometers away, Deidesheim has two award-winning addresses for less than 4,000 souls. A small village with half-timbered houses, considered the cradle of great Rieslings, with seven kilometers of cellars under its cobblestones and above all, four of the largest estates in the world of this grape variety, king of German whites.
The Rise of the Reds
For only ten years, the Palatinate has been the crucible of a small revolution.
The improvement of techniques associated with the arrival of maitre.esse.s having studied internationally and the rise in demand, sees the red grape varieties gain in fame and surface area (today nearly 40% of the palatine vineyard).
Thus the fruity power of Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), but also the character of Dornfelder and Portugieser (Portuguese blue) is affirmed and refined from vintage to vintage.
The result of meticulous work carried out by young winegrowers producing harmonious cuvées. Some areas are also a step ahead of their European neighbors in terms of biodynamics.
Looks like the south
An hour’s drive further south, you enter the country of Baden, region of Freiburg im Breisgau, which has made pinot noir its spearhead.
The red hillsides dress here a third of the narrow valleys crossing the volcanic massif of Kaisersthuhl (Emperor’s Chair) which offers magnificent views of the foothills of the Black Forest.
Present for two centuries, the grape varieties have recently relied on Burgundy clones worked to give wines that offer a beautiful roundness.