German Wines Quick Facts – Part 2 The Grapes

Beside the growing regions, what you might want to know next is probably what wine you will get in the glass if you decide to give it a go for German wines. This is closely related to the grape varieties that are planted so I will continue with some facts about the grapes.


White Wine Country?

Germany was a white wine country and still is. This is probably due to its cool climate since it is one of the northern-most wine growing country in the world. Here white varieties which benefit from long ripening period like Riesling shines, while red varieties have trouble achieving the full ripeness. However, if you look at the numbers in the table below, you will see that this might not hold true anymore in the future and a growing trend of red vines is clearly to be seen (from 11.4% in 1980 to 35.9% in 2010). One of the reason is of course the global warming, which, although not good for the world in general, is benefiting a cool wine growing country like Germany a lot.

source: German Wine Institute


Riesling and Pinot Noir Leading the Pack

This is only my personal believe but cool temperature often imply long ripening period which mean that the grapes have more time to absorb the soil and climate, or in the old world term, the terroir. The longer ripening time means that the works of gods in providing sun, water and nutrients would be expressed more clearly in the glass. Riesling and Pinot Noir are just perfect for this task and these two grapes are the flagships of the German whites and reds both in term of quality and quantity.

Riesling Grapes

So let’s start with Riesling. It is  the most grown variety in Germany with a total planted area of 22,601 ha*. Looking at the world level, this account to around two third of the total planted area. That’s more than half! Leaving the second place, Australia, with 4,613 ha. or 12.7% far behind. German Rieslings come in many styles, depending of course on the sites, from dry to sweet desert wine. Riesling from cooler regions in the north tend to be sweeter than those in the south. This grape is regarded by many as the most transparent of all. To give a clear picture of Riesling’s transparency, let me quote my favorite quote from Stuart Pigott,

“Riesling-wines are even more diverse than this suggests though, because the smallest distance from one vineyard to the next lead to pronounced differences in the flavor of the wines from them. Riesling is all about location, location, location rather than what high-tech enables winemakers to do in the cellar. The somms call this transparency, which you could translate as “honesty”. To get this third dimension of my favorite grape you’re going to have to put your nose way into the glass and inhale deeply, then savor the Riesling as it rolls slowly over your palate like a big wave in Maui.”

In my own words, I would say that Riesling is the perfect interpretation of the soil and one year climate in a bottle. There you go.

Source: German Wine Institute

Next is the Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder in German), the most transparent red wine; although its transparency is still a few steps behind Riesling. This grape reaches its height in term of quality and price in the Burgundy with many fine bottles also from the USA. But if you look at the table below, you would be surprise that it is actually Germany on the third place as the producer of this noble grape with a total area of 11,334 ha. or 14.3%. The rising quality of the German Pinot Noirs is one of the most kept secret in the wine world but more and more people is starting to realize this. For me, fine German Pinot Noirs are the closest to fine Burgundies in term of style. Anyway, I doubt that you will believe my words but have a quick glance at what Jancis Robinson wrote here and here to be more convinced.

Source: German Wine Institute


Second Place, the Post WW II Products

The second most planted grape from the white categories are the post world war II products in German’s attempt to recover economically. It is a crossings which is more robust, has higher yield and is suitable for larger scale production. It is Müller-Thurgau, known internationally by the name Rivaner, a crossing between Riesling and Madeleine royale (not Riesling and Silvaner as previously assumed). The yield is about 30% more than Riesling and is pleasant to drink young; however, it lacks the potential to achieve greatness. As the German vintners strive more for quality instead of quantity, this variety is starting to decline and a rise of the often better quality white Pinots, the Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc (or Grauburgunder and Weißburgunder in German), is clearly seen. From my own experience, fine examples of both white Pinot grapes are not hard to be found. Another white worth mentioning is the Silvaner, the main grape of the Franken area, where it comes in the flat eclipse shaped Bocksbeutel.

Dornfelder, the German Super Tuscun?

On the red side, the second most planted grape  is Dornfelder, a dark skin grape often used to added more color to a cuvée. This grape is first bred in Württemberg. For me, it is like the Sangiovese of Germany, a local variety that can be found as a single grape wine and blended in a cuvée. The single varietal wines have so far failed to convince me but many blended bottles are really promising. However, I still think that there is quite a distance to go before they can achieve the fame enjoyed by the Super Tuscuns.


Secret Tip

Finally, my personal tip for picking German wines. Just look out for German Rieslings and Pinot Noirs! The Rieslings are of superb quality and possess a unique taste profile that is impossible to be found elsewhere. The Pinot Noirs are also of great quality and the closet to the terroir wines from Burgundy. And you know what, both come with the prices far less than the crazy First Growths from France and cult wines from the US.


*ha or hectare is a metric unit for area equal to 10,000 square-meters. A football field (I don’t call football soccer since I live in Europe and I love football!) is around 0.62 to 0.82 ha so one hectare is just a little bit bigger than that.

5 Responses to “German Wines Quick Facts – Part 2 The Grapes”
  1. Great post! I was not aware that Mueller-Thurgau is a cross with Gutedel. That was total news for me. Always thought it was Silvaner. Do you have more on that story?

    • ponotet says:

      Thanks. I was away to the Rheingau so I haven’t have the chance to answer you. It’s not Riesling and Silvaner and it’s also not Gutedel. I had this info from the website of the German Wine USA (; however, I have double check again after your comment and found in the seminar document of the DWI and also on DWI’s website that it is actually a cross between Riesling and Madeleine royale. This is found out in a later genetic analysis of the grape. Thanks for the comment; otherwise, I will have it all wrong.

  2. PW1177 says:

    Thanks for great article. Hope I can find a nice Riesling in my home town!

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  1. […] started writing about German wines and have already finished two parts which can be found here and here. I attempt to explain everything very short and easy in the hope that people with no clue about […]

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