How to Buy Germany

Wine Basics / Regional Guides

An easy guide to buying German wine


Rosie Allen Rosie Allen

Banish all thoughts of Liebfraumilch – classic estate-bottled German wine has never been better, and now there are bone-dry rieslings and sumptuous pinot noir on the table, along with a wealth of other varieties. This beautiful land of meandering rivers, wild forests and rolling valleys encompasses a tempting variety of unmistakeably German wines so you're bound to find a deliciously distinctive style of German wine to fall in love with.

Principal grapes: Riesling, pinot blanc, pinot gris and scheurebe for whites. Pinot noir for reds.

Read on for our Six to Know facts on German wines to get you started. Still want more? Click here for our definitive guide.

Six to Know – German wine

Riesling is king
Though grown successfully elsewhere, nowhere produces such delicate, multi-faceted riesling as Germany's great vineyards. These fragrant whites are subtly perfumed with a dazzling array of fruits, flowers, honey, herbs and spices. Some tasters also perceive mineral elements in the wine. This is indicative of the distinctive soils in which the vines are rooted.

Riesling Grapes
Riesling Grapes

Delicious lower-alcohol options
Germany produces the world's finest lower-alcohol wines, with Mosel-Saar-Ruwer proving a particularly good region for these. The area's unique landscape comprises steep south-facing slopes with vines planted at the northern limit for ripening. This means that grapes get just enough sunshine to lend a naturally sweet taste while retaining freshness.

Fragrant pinot noir
Germany's climate proves difficult for grapes to reach the peak ripeness desired for a full, fruity red. However, the pinot noir grape thrives here. Some lovely sweet and fragrant examples coming from the famous volcanic slopes of the Kaiserstuhl in Baden. Their popularity at home means that they can never be extremely cheap, but many now give red Burgundy a run for their money.

Rheinhessen is considered the most important wine region in Germany. It is very old with vines being planted here as far back as Roman times. While its reputation was once less celebrated, thanks to the aforementioned Liebfraumilch, it produces some lovely, easy-drinking wines.

Excellent food wines
Germany isn't traditionally as renowned for its cuisine as its Gallic neighbour. However, its wines make a delicious accompaniment to traditional local specialities. The opulent wines of the Pfalz region are a perfect match for rich, carby dishes, such as Dampfnudeln (steamed noodles). Crisp riesling is a tasty partner for pork, maybe as a zweites Frühstück (second breakfast – wine is definitely acceptable at brunch). The enthusiastic German home market, which accounts for the lion's share of their production, prefers wines that are totally dry, so there're lots of food-friendly options. See our food and wine matcher for more ideas.

Tricky labels
The grower's name, grape variety, region and vineyard are pretty straightforward. The fun starts with the sweetness/ripeness indicator officially known as a Pradikät. Quality traditional wines will start with 'Kabinett' at entry-level and work up through the later-picked more concentrated Spätlese. These progress to the sweeter Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. Their intrinsic sweetness at every level very much depends on the vintage. A Kabinett from a warm year is often sweeter and riper than Spätlese or even Auslese from a cooler one. The dry wines, simply labelled Trocken, tend to be noticeably higher in alcohol – say 13% or more – as opposed to 8-10%. This is because the sugars in them have been fermented out completely – a useful tip. But if the label looks plain scary, don't panic. Each of our wine descriptions comes with an easy-to-use sweetness code so you can, if you wish, remain in blissful ignorance.

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