Wine has been cultivated in Germany since the Romans left outposts of their advancing armies and created settlements in the Mosel River, Rhine River and Eifel Mountains region. As the vineyards of Germany are about the most northerly of the world’s vineyards, the varieties of grapes that can be commercially grown for wine are limited. This is also the reason why all of the regions are based on rivers, which act as moderating influences, adding humidity, reflected heat and helping to create a variety of micro-climates. There are 13 official wine regions (Anbaugebeit) of which 6 are consider primary, Nahe, Rheingau, Pfalz (formerly known as Rheinpflalz), Mittlerhein (Middle Rhein), Rheinhessen and Mosel. The other 7 are considered “minor regions” (with the possible exception of Baden, which is, by volume, the third largest wine producing region in Germany), unless of course you’re a fan of those wines or you actually live there. The thing is, those of us in the Northern Hemisphere will rarely, if ever, see any product from those regions.
The Anbaugebeit is then divided into different Bereich, or districts.
The next official division down from Bereich is Grosslage, which is roughly similar to the French appellation (although Bereich could also be called similar as well, with Grosslage being an even smaller sub-region such as a town name) , followed by Einzellage (single vineyard) of which there are approximately 500, less than a fifth of which are of any real significance.
While there are a few examples of red wine, the predominate grape grown in Germany is white.
During this month, we are going to concentrate on each wine-growing region (Anbaugebiete) in Germany, starting with the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, named for the three rivers that provide the slopes and banks for growing.
The Mosel, known by the French as the Moselle is a river that runs north from the Vosges Mountains in southeastern France, forming the border between Germany and Luxembourg and finally emptying into the Rhine River at Koblenz.
The Anbaugebiete Mosel is informally divided into thirds, the Upper, Middle and Lower Mosel, athough there are five official Bereich of which the Bereich Bernkastel is the best known outside of Germany and of generally higher quality than the other areas . If you’re looking at a map, down is up – remember, the Mosel actually flows north to the Rhine. So, the Lower Mosel is actually at the northernmost part of the Mosel. while theUpper Mosel is at the southernmost German part of the river and also comprises the smaller Saar and Ruwer tributaries. Obviously, the Mittlemosel lies between these two regions, centered between roughly Trier and Zell, with Bernkastel about midway. This is where the Mosel is at its twistiest and carves its most picturesque landscape through the Eifel and Hunsrück Mountains. This is also where its wines are the most magical. Due to the very steep, grey slate strewn slopes, the sun is captured at its most optimal and the best producers have set up shop there, growing on every patch of sun-soaked slope that it’s possible to get a row of vines planted (many of these slopes have a 26% grade). This is a map of the section of the river where the greatest vineyards lie and the finest wines are produced:
Map courtesy of www.thewinedoctor.com
Here you’ll find such famous vineyard names as Doctor, Sonnenuhr, Himmelreich and Würzgarten. But don’t be fooled – a vineyard designation doesn’t necessarily mean that all grapes from that vineyard have the exact same characteristics or quality, as micro-climate is extremely important in German viticulture.
While other varieties such as Müller-Thurgau and Grauburgunder are grown in the region, it’s Riesling that’s king of the mountain.
In the next installment, we’ll talk about the characteristics of Riesling. Since Riesling is the predominate grape in all of the major regions in Germany, we’ll discuss it globally, i.e. we’ll address the main characteristics and then discuss the differening characteristics of Riesling in the varied regions, so we don’t have to repeat ourselves as we survey the various regions.