German winegrowers produce some of the world’s most distinctive and aromatically pure white wines. The country’s best known and widely grown grape is the Riesling, 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. Rieslings account for almost two thirds of the country’s total wine production, while the country’s dark-skinned grape varietals are primarily used for the production of Spatburgunder, the domestic name for Pinot Noir.
Germany’s viticulture dates back to Ancient Roman times, sometime from the 1st to 4th century, when western portions of today’s Germany made up the outpost of the Roman Empire. Many grape varietals most commonly associated with German wines, including the Reisling and Pinot Noir, date back to the 14th and 15th century. The most grown variety in medieval Germany was however Elbling, with Silvaner also being common, and Muscat, Reuschling and Traminer also being recorded.
Germany’s 13 primary wine-producing regions produce approximately 1.2 billions bottles per year, which places Germany as the eighth largest wine-producing country in the world. It is also one of the most northern major winegrowing regions, on the same latitude with Winipeg, Canada, and therefore has a shorter wine-growing season. The 13 main regions are:
Ahr – a small region along the river Ahr, a tributary of Rhine, that despite its northernly location primarily produces red wine from Spatburgunder.
Baden – in Germany’s southwestern corner, across river Rhine from Alsace, located in the federal state of Baden-Worttemberg. Noted for its pinot wines, both red and white.
Franconia or Franken – situated along portions of River Main, this is the only wine region situated in Bavaria. Noted for growing many varieties and producing powerful dry Silvaner wines.
Hessische Bergstrasse (Hessian Mountain Road) – a small region in the federal state Hesse dominated by Rieslings.
Mittelrhein – along the middle portions of river Rhine, primarily between the regions Rheingau and Mosel, dominated by Riesling.
Mosel – located along the River Moselle (Mosel) and its tributaries, dominated by Riesling grapes grown in dramatic-looking steep vineyards directly overlooking the rivers. Known for wine that is light in body, crisp, of high acidity and with pronounced mineral character, Mosel is the only region to stick to Riesling wine with noticeable residual sweetness as the “standard” style, although dry wines are also produced.
Nahe – situated around the river Nahe where volcanic origins give very varied soils that yield mixed grape varieties but the best known producers primarily grow Riesling, some of which have achieved world reputation in recent years.
Palatinate or Pfalz – the warmest of Germany’s wine regions and the second largest producing region in Germany, producing a variety of wine styles (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 specializing in powerful dry Riesling wines.
Rheingau – a small region situated at a bend in river Rhine, affording excellent conditions for wine growing. The oldest documented references to Riesling come from the Rheingau region, where currently many high-profile producers are situated. Dominated by Riesling with some Spatburgunder, the Rheingau Riesling style combines the best aspects of both the Mosel and Palatinate regions.
Rheinhessen or Rhenish Hesse – the largest production area in Germany, once known as Liebfraumilch land, producing both red and white wines. The best Riesling wines are similar to the dry Palatinate Riesling. Despite its name, it lies in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate, not in Hesse.
Saale-Unstrut – one of two regions in former East Germany, situated along the rivers Saale and Unstrut, Germany’s northernmost wine growing region.
Saxony or Sachsen – one of two regions in former East Germany, located in the southeastern corner of the country, along the river Elbe in the federal state of Saxony.
Wurttemberg – One of two wine regions in the federal state of Baden-Wurttemberg, this traditional red wine region primarily grows Trollinger (the region’s signature variety), Schwarzriesling and Lemberger.
The eastern half of Austria is the winemaking center for this country whose history proves a passion for winemaking dating back thousands of years. Austrian wines are mostly dry white wines (often made from the Gruner Veltliner grape), as well as some dense sweet dessert wines (made from the ancient Welschriesling). About 30% of Austria’s wines are red, made from the Blaufr-nkisch, Pinot Noir and locally bred varieties such as Zweigelt, which is used in nearly half of the country’s red wine.
Despite a winemaking history that dates back to the Roman Empire, Austria’s wine industry suffered a tremendous blow during the ‘antifreeze scandal’ of 1985, when it was revealed that some wine brokers had been adulterating their wines with diethylene glycol. The scandal destroyed the market for Austrian wine, but in the long term has been a force for good, compelling Austria to tackle low standards of bulk wine production and shift its wine culture towards an emphasis quality. Today Austria lies 17th in the list of wine producing countries by volume, but the wines are now of a quality that can take on – and beat – the best in the world. Nearly three quarters of Austria’s wines are purchased domestically, however its export market has improved significantly as its wines have achieved worldwide respect and recognition
Austria’s wine producing country is divided into 4 wine growing regions: Weinland sterreich comprises the federal states of Nieder sterreich (Lower Austria) and Burgenland with a total of 12 wine growing areas; Steirerland with its three Styrian wine regions, and Wien (Vienna), Austria’s capital. The other states of Austria are collectively referred to as Bergland sterreich (mountain country Austria), where small vineyards are thinly scattered.
Nieder-sterreich (Lower Austria) is the largest quality wine-growing area in Austria. The eight specific wine-growing areas of Nieder-sterreich, which include well-known names such as Wachau, Kamptal and Carnuntum, can be divided into three climatic zones: the Weinviertel in the north, the Danube area to the west of Vienna and the Pannonian Nieder-sterreich in the southeast.
The large Weinviertel area made headlines in 2003 when its flagship wine, the peppery Gruner Veltliner, was introduced to the market under the Weinviertel name. The Weinviertel region also produces a diversified palette, including fresh white wines, fruity red wines and even sweet wine specialities.
In the Danube river area, from Melk to Klosterneuburg, and the nearby rivers of Krems, Traisen and Kamp, Riesling joins Gruner Veltliner in the rank of flagship varietal. In the Kamptal, volcanic soils imparts a distinctive character to the wines, resulting in specialities such as Weinburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay, plus elegant red wines.
Pannonian Nieder-sterreich, south of Vienna, is home to some of Austria’s most outstanding red wines, predominantly Zweigelt in Carnuntum and St. Laurent in the Thermenregionetting. Pinot Noir, as well as modern cuvée blends, are also gaining in importance.
Bergenland produces Austria’s most full-bodied red wines, the result of the hot continental Pannonian climate in the eastern part of the region. In the south, the Eisenberg – with its special soil and touch of Styrian climate has optimal conditions for Blaufr-nkisch and other red wines renowned for their fine minerally character and elegance. One of the truly special qualities of the Burgenlan is the pioneering spirit of its winemakers. The region’s varietal wines and cuvée blends have received numerous accolades in recent years.
In Mittelburgenland, Blaufr-nkisch grapes yield a special depth of fruit with impressive length. In the hills to the west of the Neusiedlersee (Lake Neusiedl), the varietal has a distinctive mineral note as well as good tannins. The eastern slope of the Leithagebirge, with its limestone and slate soils, provides unique terrain for complex white wines, especially Weinburgunder, Chardonnay and Gruner Veltliner.
On the eastern side of the Neusiedlersee, the Blaue Zweigelt variety is dominant, as well as the respected Blaufr-nkisch and St.Laurent. The southern area, called Seewinkel, has a special microclimate that makes it one the few sweet wine strongholds in the world. Here, the high amount of air humidity created from surrounding lakes creates a favorable climate for the development of noble rot (Botrytis cynerea) on the grapes in the fall. This enables high quality Beerenauslesen and Trockenbeerenauslesen wines to be vinified from wonderful varietals like Chardonnay, Scheurebe, Traminer and especially Welschriesling.
Steiermark (Styria) is known for producing the freshest and most elegant Austrian wines. All three Styrian wine-growing areas lie more or less in the southern part of this federal state. To the west, in a uniquely scenic, hilly landscape, the Schilcher wine (a piquant rosé) is one of the most distinctive wines. In the Sausal and along the South Styrian Wine Road, Sauvignon Blanc and Muskateller hold court, made from a critically acclaimed Traminer. The most abundant Styrian wine, the Welschriesling, is known for its lovely green apple bouquet. The region also produces more bodied wines in the Pinot family. The Weinburgunder (Pinot Blanc), from calcareous soils with a touch of minerality, is a distinguished wine, along with the region’s Chardonnay.
Wien (Vienna) – Wine-growing in a major capital city? In Vienna, it’s a tradition! And today, with over 1700 acres of vineyards situated in the city’s northern, northwestern and southern outskirts, it plays an important economic role. The excellent range of wines here include the quintessential Gemischter Satz (field blend), Gruner Veltliner, Riesling, Weinburgunder (Pinot Blanc) Chardonnay and several varieties of red wines and cuvées.