First, a primer about German grape varietals. It always helps to know what the bottle is trying to tell you.
German white wines
Riesling – comes in dry and sweet varieties.
Müller Thurgau – floral and not quite dry.
Liebfraumilch – roughly “favourite woman milk” is a mild, slightly sweet blend containing Kerner, Müller Thurgau, Riesling and Silvaner.
Sekt – Germany’s version of champagne.
Ruländer – the German word for Pinot Gris.
Weissburgunder – literally white from Burgundy, it’s the German word for Pinot Blanc.
German red wines
Spätburgunder – the German equivalent of Pinot Noir.
Trollinger – a light table wine popular in the area around Baden-Baden.
Lemberger – also grown primarily around Baden-Baden, Lemberger is a rich, complex grape.
Wine areas in Germany
Just 30 minutes from Frankfurt Airport, the Rheingau, on the Rhine river, has more castles, monasteries and vineyards than a single person could visit in one trip. The centre of the area, Wiesbaden, is an ideal place to find a good hotel and rent a car.
Indulge in some fine dining at Schloss Vollrads or Schloss Johannisberg, which are both also wineries in their own right, or head to Kloster Eberbach or Schloss Schönborn for an aristocratic and ecclesiastical history of Riesling. The villages of Eltville, Lorch, and Rüdesheim are also high on the list of quaint little places to have a wander and some wine. The Benedictine Abbey of St Hildegard is a special pleasure.
Across the Rhine from Rüdesheim is the town of Bingen, officially in the Rhinehessen region, Germany’s largest by bottles produced. Most of it is table wine at best, but at events like Winzerfest, the 11-day wine festival that takes place every year in the first two weeks of September, more than 40 specialist producers will offer their top bottles.
Rheinhessen is the place to leave Riesling aside and save some sips for Liebfraumilch, a white and light-bodied reds made from the Dornfelder grape. Keep an eye out for Weingut Hemmes and Weingut Peter Ewen, some of the area’s best producers.
The Mosel is the king of Germany’s wine regions. Its steep, winding vineyards cover hillsides of such calf-shattering steepness that the grapes have to be harvested by hand. The Mosel follows the borders of Luxembourg and France and the region is equivalent to the Napa Valley in America.
The most well-known wine from this region is bright, crisp Rieslings with a unique balance of sugar and acidity. Wineries (Weingüter) are scattered all over the area, but the very best are concentrated around the villages of Bernkastel and Trittenheim. Keep an eye out also for the Weinstand in Trier, which has a revolving crop of vendors, as well as bottles made by Jakoby-Mathy or Günther Steinmetz.
The winner for largest German wine region by area is Baden, which covers basically the entire southwestern corner of the country from Lake Constance, along the Swiss and French borders and including the towns of Saarbrucken, Heidelberg, Freiberg, Stuttgart, and Baden-Baden. All of these places as well as innumerable villages throughout the area celebrate the many varieties of wine made in the province pretty well constantly. Still, like the other regions in Germany, autumn is definitely the best time to visit.
One of the most anticipated events on the wine-lover’s calendar is the annual Stuttgarter Weindorf at the end of August. The event closes three city blocks for two weeks in what is basically a Christmas market for wine producers. More than 100 vendors come to show off what they have made in previous years. With all the attendant food and laid-back party atmosphere, the Weindorf is probably one of the most fun ways to explore all the wine Baden has to offer.