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German Wine Regions

by Staff Writer - K. Ash | July 02, 2011

Like most of Europe, Germany has an illustrious and significant history in the production of wine. Germany is home to the Riesling grape, arguably one of the finest white grape varieties. As such, Germany is known as a region that can produce top quality white wine. Unfortunately modern wine production has tarnished Germany's image with the production of quality wines.

The history of winemaking in Germany is as exciting as that of France or Italy. During Roman conquests, winemaking principles were introduced to the region. From this humble beginning, winemaking in Germany was born. Further conquests and settlements resulted in increased wine production. By the Middle Ages, huge vineyards were developed by the church in Germany. The development of aristocratic German families during the Middle Ages led to the development of estates in the Rheingau and southern Germany. In the 1600's, turbulence in Europe led to the destruction of vast vineyards and was a major setback for German wine production. Development of the vine persisted and by the late 19th century Germany had recovered. Estates in the Rheingau were producing top Riesling wines with exceptional quality. This prosperity was not to last. With the conflicts of the 20th century, the German wine industry was again negatively affected. After the Second World War German wine production recovered however modern wine production focused more on quantity than quality. This can be seen in the development of large cooperatives producing poor quality wines for the export market. Due to this, Germany gained a reputation for cheap, innocuous and frivolous wines. Small estates still produce exceptional Riesling wines but due to the actions of the large producers, many consumers equate German wines with the poorest quality. Change is on the horizon as top Germanic estates have recently been working to re-capture the image of Germany's exceptional past.

The Riesling grape remains the variety of choice for German vineyards. German estates have similar Terroirs that include cool and longer growing seasons. These conditions lend themselves to the natural and successful production of the Riesling grape. Riesling wines are generally produced in unoaked barrels resulting in the preservation of the purity of flavor. Riesling wines also typically retain the properties of their growing conditions, specifically the mineral makeup the vineyard soil. With each of these important characteristics, Germany is known for producing exceptional white wines ranging from bone dry to sweet. Other grape varieties such as Pinot Noir have been successfully introduced with annual improvements in quality. While these other varieties have shown some successes, few equal the quality and excellence found in estate Rieslings.

Most German wine regions can be found in Southwest Germany near the Rhein and Mosel rivers. To take advantage of local climates, vineyards are often found on steep south facing slopes rising from the riverbanks. While this has proved to be ideal from a terroir standpoint, the vineyards themselves tend to be small and difficult to manage. Wine regions include the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, the Rheinland and the Rheingau. In addition to these well-known wine areas, wineries can be found outside these larger wine areas.

The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region is Germany's most celebrated wine region. Comprised of 5 districts, this region is responsible for producing Mosel Riesling, an elegant low alcohol and sweet white wine. Wine production in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer spans over 2,000 years and to this day remains of Roman grape pressing houses remain in the region's vineyards. The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region became internationally popular during the early 20th century. Wines exported during this time gained an immediate reputation for their quality. Like most of Germany, the scenery of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region is breathtaking. Vineyards are planted on the slopes of riverbanks. This allows the grapes excellent sun exposure while at the same time providing stimulation to the soil that assists in ripening. Unfortunately the development of the vineyards in this manner has lead to some recent hardships. Management of vines is very difficult and dealing with vines planted on slopes is tiresome work. Many vineyard owners are having a difficult time finding labor to work the vineyards and as such some vineyards are being abandoned. The various districts of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer each produce wines that are strikingly different. While the Mosel yields rich fruity wines, the wines of the Ruwer can be described as intense. The districts that span the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region include the Bereich Burg Cochem, the Bereich Bernkastel, the Bereich Ruwer, the Bereich Saar and the Bereich Obermosel & Moseltor.

Another well-known and well-regarded region for German wine production is the Rheinland. The mighty Rhein River flows through the Rheinland region, providing the climate necessary for the production of quality wines. Vineyards closer to the Rhein feature warmer temperatures that result in grapes ripening faster than vineyards located further inland. Contained in the Rheinland is the Rheingau region where the Rhine flows east to west. This directional change allows southern facing vineyards maximum sun exposure and is the only area of the Rheinland where this sun exposure is possible. Like the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, the Riesling is of extreme importance to the Rheinland. However, vineyards found away from the river are comprised of different grape varieties. Districts within the Rheinland include the Ahr, the Mittelrhein, the Rheingau, the Nahe, the Rheinhessen and the Pfalz.

The Rheingau region can be found along a 20-mile span of the Rhine river flowing west. Due to this direction change, vineyards are located on the north banks with optimum southern exposure to the sun. Again, just like the Rheinland and Mosel-Saar-Ruwer regions, Riesling is a very important variety. However, the Pinot Noir grape also has great importance and a long history in the Rheingau region. Vineyards in the Rheingau region are mostly aristocratic estates with many still being controlled by medieval family lineages. Unfortunately recent history has seen a decrease in the quality of wine from the Rheingau region as standards have declined. Many top producers have worked to reverse this trend, and many have been successful in their endeavors. However, many wines from the Rheingau tend to lack consistency. This is attributed to some aristocratic landlords being notably distant from their vineyards. Managers are often employed to oversee the vineyards with the end result being a conservative approach to winemaking. Estates where the owners function in decision making capacities are better suited to take risks and generally produce higher quality wines. The Rheingau region is a small area and therefore is composed of small villages with various estates.

Various other German wine regions exist outside the famous Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheinland regions. These additional regions include Franken, Hessische Bergstrasse, Wurttemberg, Baden, Sachsen and Saale-Unstrut. Like the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer and Rheinland regions, these regions are usually found along rivers for the benefits of alleviating harsh winter weather. The Riesling grape is of course present but by no means the dominant variety. Additional varieties are grown for the production of local specialty wines. The quality of the wine produced in some of these regions can be of dubious quality, as large wine cooperatives have increased quantity while sacrificing quality. However some truly exceptional wines can be found within these regions.

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