Rheinhessen, Courtesy of German Wines USA
When the German wine scene comes to mind, it’s most closely associated with Riesling, the country’s premier white wine grape variety, quickly followed by the Mosel River Valley, where Riesling lays down deep roots. However, Germany’s international wine stage is built on a strong, regional foundation that includes 13 individual wine growing regions and consists of over 100 different grape varieties, though only about 20 of the grapes see the limelight consistently in any given vintage.
Württemberg – Germany’s Red Wine Country
Tucked into the hilly landscapes and flatter fields found between Stuttgart and the historic city of Heidelberg, Württemberg is Germany’s largest red wine growing region. Typically running in close proximity to the Neckar River, roughly half of the vines are planted to red wine grape varieties. With key red wine players being the thin-skinned Trollinger, the most widely planted variety, the black-skinned Schwarzriesling (aka Pinot Meunier – one of three grapes used in the famous bubbly blends of Champagne, and the late-ripening Lemberger all collectively (and effectively) carrying the lion’s share of the red wine plantings. Rounding out the rest of the regional reds, Spätburgunder (also known and loved as Pinot Noir), Dornfelder, and Portugieser account for an additional 2,200 acres of vineyard space. Most of the region’s lighter bodied red wines stay within Württemberg, where friends and families have been enjoying and consuming the local wines with local fare for generations. Happily, there are a handful of both family-owned and cooperative producers that may be found within the EU, Asia, and to some degree within the U.S.
Württemberg Wines to Try:
Weingut Roth Rosé Trocken 2015 – A lovely, evenly divided blend of Trollinger (33%), Pinot Noir (33%), and Dornfelder (33%) build a beautiful, bone-dry rosé in a classic style that showcases strawberry fruit character, medium acidity, and a lighter body.
Lauffener Blanc de Noir Brut Sekt – Built from the Pinot Meunier grape, this bubbly begins with a fresh nose carrying subtle red fruit nuances, chalky minerality, and vibrant acidity. A delicious aperitif or an easy partner to all sorts of hors d’oeuvres, this German sekt is a delicious example of what the German sparkling wine industry is all about.
Producers to find: Weingut Roth, Laufferner Weingartner, Weingut Herzog von Württemberg, Weingut Singer, Weingut Heid, Weingut Schnaitmann, Winemanufactur Unterturkheim (a regional cooperative).
Rheinhessen – German Wine Classics Done Well
Moving to the upper end of the Rhine River Valley, the Rheinhessen wine region is in close proximity to the famous spa city of Wiesbaden and less than an hour southwest of Frankfurt. Carrying close to 65,000 acres of planted vineyard and boasting some of Germany’s warmest and driest growing climates, the Rheinhessen is capable of growing an impressive assortment of over 25 unique grape varieties with significant success. The region’s spotlight shines bright on the white wine heroes of Riesling and Muller-Thurgau, which consistently dominate the green grape landscape, while the lesser known Dornfelder, a thinner-skinned grape that creates a light-bodied red wine, accounts for the largest plantings of red wine grape varieties throughout the Rheinhessen. Many of the regional vineyards are cultivated on flatter plots of land allowing for cost-effective machine harvesting to take place, and the price per bottle to run quite reasonable region-wide. Similar to the wines of Württemberg, many of the Rheinhessen wines tend to stay local with family-owned wine estates selling to German consumers, restaurants, and retailers. However, Rheinhessen has significant stakes in international markets and an increasing number of producers are available worldwide.
Rheinhessen Wines to Try:
Weingut Thörle Estate Weissburgunder 2015 – Weissburgunder is the German name for Pinot Blanc and this particular bottle shows classic character with subtle fruit, a mineral-driven nature, lively acidity and a medium body.
Weingut Winter Ortswein Deittelsheim Spatburgunder 2013 – A lovely German Pinot Noir carrying bright cherry fruit with a dash of raspberry and a lighter bodied style. A decent dose of acidity gives this wine an extra edge for food-pairing options.
Producers to Find: Gunderloch, Weingut Thörle, Weingut Winter, Weingut Stallman-Hiestand, Weingut Pfannebecker, Weingut Wagner Stempel, Weingut Fritz Muller
While German Riesling from the Mosel River Valley continues to claim much of Germany’s wine spotlight for being wildly versatile, created in dry, off-dry and downright sweet styles, there are many other remarkable grape varieties and regions that offer consistent quality and outstanding food-pairing opportunity. Keep an eye out for the Rheinhessen’s rendition of Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, and Sauvignon Blanc in particular.