Flatiron's Guide to German Wine, Part 2: Key Wine Regions of Germany

Flatiron's Guide to German Wine, Part 2: Key Wine Regions of Germany

The defining characteristic of German wines are their bright, fresh and zippy acidity. The cool weather helps in this regard, but so does its grape varieties, matched over centuries with their best-suited site. Whether from Riesling or Pinot Blanc, Sekt (sparkling wine) or rosé, no matter which of its 13 Anbaugebiete (regions) it hails from, it's probably going to lift off your palate and pair well with a vast number of dishes.

Before climate change, the number one goal of winemakers was to ripen grapes enough to balance all that crazy acid. The key to ripeness is sunlight, and the best vineyard sites were chosen to capture the greatest amount possible. And what is the best way to do that? Plant grapes near a body of water! Water reflects light up towards the bunches and acts as a thermal regulator (it’s also a nifty way to transport goods for trade). Which is why all of Germany’s key wine regions are lined along a river, either the Rhine, or one of its many tributaries.

Rhein River Subregions Wine Regions of Germany

Even though Germany is only Europe's 7th largest country, it is its 4th largest producer of wine. The vast majority of production is bunched into one tiny southern corner, near the French borders. But in this small area there is a huge diversity of terroir, offering us a myriad of flavors, textures and styles of wines. Below we discuss the regions you are most likely to find here in the U.S., what makes them special and details on our favorite producers from each.

Wine Regions of Germany

Mosel

Mosel Wine Map Germany wine region

The Mosel contains the greatest number of super star winemakers and extraordinary vineyards sites, not just in Germany, but maybe anywhere in the world. The snaking procession of vineyards are perched along the Mosel river, 142 miles long, which twists back upon itself so many times, it fits into a 80-mile long stretch of land. Side valleys with their namesake tributaries - Ruwer and Saar - are home to some of its most famous stewards like Weingut Maximin Grünhaus and Weingut Egon Müller respectively.

The Mosel is where Riesling reaches it’s epoch. Here, a spectral rainbow of flavors and divergent structural expectations combine to produce wines of wonder. Every style of white wine is made, from the most filigreed dry, to unctuously sweet, from skin contact to bubbles, and everything in between, sometimes all from the same vineyard in the same year and by the same producer. With this one terroir-transparent grape for a lens, we are left with a dizzying matrix of factors affecting the finished wine in every bottle.

One might expect with such quality wines available, coupled with prohibitively expensive hand worked vineyards, that the wines would fetch high prices. Instead, with few expectations, there are deals to be found in nearly every cellar.

Terroir

This is one of Germany's coolest regions. Vignerons have taken every possible measure to capture the greatest amount of sunlight to ripen grapes fully. Vineyards along the Mosel jump from bank to bank, almost always oriented south or south east. The best sites are on precipitously steep slopes to attract the rays reflected off the river below.

The river ate its way through this valley over millions of years, exposing many different rock types along the way. Devonian gray slate is found throughout most of the region as are schist and shale, all three are referred to locally as Schiefer. Red, green and blue variations can be found with winemakers like Clemens Busch bottling each one separately. The slightest variation in soil type has a huge impact here, from heat and water retention abilities and mineral underpinnings.

Ruwer and Saar areas run south from the Mosel river along their own tributaries, but vineyards are usually along valleys perpendicular to the water. The Saar can be so cold that nothing but grapes ripen, and until recently, not even that was possible 3 out of 10 years.

The hillsides can be so steep that winches, monorails and helicopters are employed to prevent workers plummeting to their deaths. There are labor and financial costs which the average farmer just cannot afford, especially with bottomed out prices of the last hundred years. This has had two unfortunate effects: one, grapes are planted on lesser quality, flatter, yet easier to work sites and second, most unfortunately, some of the best sites have been abandoned.

The number of incredible Einzellagen (vineyards) in the Mosel are too many to detail here, I will touch on them below in relation to the producers.

One issue to be aware of are the Grosselage, or large groups of vineyards, consolidated in the Flurbereinigung, and their confusing naming scheme. Many of these have adopted the name of their most famous village or vineyard (Einzellage) to add recognition to the label, the same way Burgundy villages adopt the name of their most famous Grand Cru, like Gevrey Chambertin (Gevrey is the village, Chambertin the Grand Cru).

This means massive areas of land which have nothing special or in common with the renowned sites can be confused for one, like Piesporter Michelsberg, a Grosselage of over 1,000 hectares. The only way to know the difference between a Grosselage or an Einzellage is to memorize them (a task few are up to), although most reputable producers label their vineyard sites, and you can always ask me!

Producers

Weingut (Ulli) Stei

Ulli Stein Winemaker Mosel Germany Wine Region Producer

Known for: Electrifying acidic, VERY dry Riesling, some sweet wines, rose and some peculiar reds like Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Germany's Mosel River Valley is the most frightful place on earth to make wine. Its dangerously steep slate slopes are being abandoned. But one man in particular, Ulli Stein, is on a crusade to save them. Like your favorite eccentric uncle, he’s educated, passionate and not afraid to step on toes to do what he feels is right. He’s fought the German government and the EU to save historical traditions of the region, and won. He refuses to submit to wine critics for reviews, letting the wines garner their own attention — which they do.

Most of Ulli’s vines are ungrafted on single stakes in pure slate at death defying angles. With tiny berries on little bunches, the airflow is constant, botrytis is never a problem and the juice to skin ratio means these are some of the most concentrated wines out there.

Vineyards to look for: Alfer Hölle, Palmberg

 

Weingut Julian Haart

Julian Haart German Wine Mosel Riesling Wine Producer

Known for: Almost dry “terroir wines” and Prädikat, usually Kabinett and Spätlese, with a rare Auslese.

Julian Haart produced his first solo vintage in 2010 and was trained by Riesling legends Egon Müller and Klaus Peter Keller. With behemoths like these as mentors, it’s no surprise that the wine world hotly anticipated Haart’s wines. He’s certainly delivered on those hopes. Stylistically, Haart’s Rieslings are like a Mosel incarnation of a Keller-inspired style; linear and focused, yet densely packed with complexity and depth.

Right now Haart has just over four hectares of vines, but those four hectares are seriously outstanding pieces of real estate. Haart’s holdings include plots in Ohligsberg, Goldtröpfchen, and Schubertslay, which have some vines that are own-rooted and over 100 years old. The seriousness of Haart’s wines resonates from the top wines he makes all the way down to his introductory offerings and, as such, makes his Rieslings some of the best values out there.

Vineyards to look for: Goldtröpfchen, Ohligsberg, Schubertslay

 

Weingut Peter Lauer

Peter Lauer Barrel X Riesling Mosel Wine Region

Known for: Racy dry and Prädikat wines, and Barrel X: maybe the world’s best value.

The Saar is our kind of region: cold and mineral-rich but with sun that makes Rieslings as succulent as they are perfectly seasoned with salt and racy acidity. Peter Lauer makes some of our very favorite Saar wines. It's a bit hard to pin down exactly how he fits into today's Riesling zeitgeist. He's best known for his forward-leaning dry wines, but also some Prädikat bottlings with residual sugar.

But he's not just a trippy natural grower. He's a neighbor of the great Egon Müller, and while their wines are oceans apart, they share so many affinities, starting with a love for German tradition, terroir-specificity, and brilliance in Riesling. The Lauer wines are often described as drier, which is true as far as it goes; but even his driest wines have fruit and their own sort of decadence. They certainly have the Saar purity we love.

Vineyards to look for: Ayler, Kupp, Neuenberg, Schonfels, Feils, Kern, Stirn, Saarfelser

 

Weingut Selbach-Oster

Selbach Oster Mosel Riesling Wine Region Producer

Known for: Making SO MANY WINES (but very, very good ones) and a series of “vineyard snapshots” that are a little sweet with astounding complexity.

Johannes Selbach is beyond a doubt one of the great producers in the wine world. But, being based in Germany, their wines are available at totally reasonable prices. Usually we can stock many of them year-round.

Selbach is renowned for his ability to take a snapshot of a vineyard at one place in time with every bottling he makes. His favorite sites are picked all at once, with grapes at every level of ripeness, fermented together and labelled with a site name like Rotlay or Antrecht, rather than a Prädikat level.

The Selbach family has been making wine in the Mosel for 400 hundred years, making them one of the oldest wine making houses in the region. But the wines are not old-fashioned; in fact, they exemplify everything we love about modern day Mosel wines: racy minerality, finesse and beautifully balanced acidity.

Vineyards to look for: Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Graacher Domprobst, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Zeltinger Himmelreich, Wehlener Sonnenuhr

 

Karthäuserhof

Known for: Wines from bone dry to decadently sweet from a monopole vineyard, allowing you to taste a site at every layer of ripeness.

It’s not often we can enjoy a bottle from a producer with 700 years of winemaking history, but Karthäuserhof offers exactly that kind of extensive history as well as extraordinary terroir.

Back in the 14th century, a Luxembourgish prince gifted a well-regarded plot of vines in the Mosel to the local Carthusian monks. For hundreds of years, these monks toiled in the vines of Karthäuserhofberg, until it was confiscated in the early years of Napoleon’s reign, and secularized. Remarkably, the family that took charge of the vines is still making the wines.

Today, the picturesque monopole vineyard of steep red slate vineyards overlooking the meandering stream of the Ruwer river is one of the finest sources of dry and sweet Riesling in all of Germany.

This the pinnacle of Ruwer terroir, rivaled only by the Saar for its intense and complex minerality. For years, the winery split the hill into sub-vineyards, which they bottled separately. At some point in the 1980s, they decided the whole was better than the sum of its parts and just as Chave does on the hill of Hermitage, started blending everything together.

Vineyards to look out for: Karthäuserhofberg

 

Weingut Willi Schaefer

Willi Schafer Riesling Mosel Region German Wine Producer

Known for: Sweet wines across the Prädikat spectrum

If you don't know the wines of Willi Schaefer, you've been missing out. Considered one of the best if not the best sweet wine producers in the world, Christoph and Andrea Schaefer farm a miniscule 4.4 hectares in the village of Graach with a sliver of vines in neighboring Wehlener Sonnenuhr. Their wines display a menagerie of fruit which is set as a backdrop to the crystalline minerallity oozing out of every bottle.

Vineyards to look out for: Graacher Domprobst, Graacher Himmelreich

 

Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm

Known for: Classic sweet expressions of Prädikat wines from a string of vineyards between Bernkastel and Zeltingen.

The wines of the Prüm family are nothing short of iconic. Along with the likes of Egon Müller and Maximin Grünhaus, their unwavering commitment to quality spans generations. These are traditional wines, farmed in the middle Mosel's greatest vineyards, fermented with natural yeasts and meant to age for...well...ever.

Their commitment to quality and terroir expression is unrivaled, and their vineyard holdings are some of the best in the Mosel. They are one of the few estates which ferments spontaneously, showcasing vivacity, and a delicate sweetness, tingling with acidity. Wehlener Sonnenhur is the most famous of the JJ Prüm sites, whose ancestor built the sundial in 1842 for which the vineyard is named.

Vineyards to look out for: Graacher Himmelreich, Bernkasteler Badstube, Bernkasteler Lay, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr.

 

Weingut Egon Müller-Scharzhof

Known for: Racy yet sweet Prädikat wines.

About fifteen years ago Egon Müller was wondering, "Why does my wine cost less than Château Pétrus? It's just as good as Château Pétrus. I should charge more for my wine." So the next day he doubled his prices. Sales just kept going up. Egon Müller's Scharzhofberg is undeniably one of the greatest vineyards in Germany and one of the finest wine estates in the world.

Not long after, a six-liter bottle of 2018 Scharzhof Riesling Qba sold for $2,232. That's $279 per 750ml. A bottle of 1975 Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese sold for $18,600. Many fine wine merchants offer 1975 Pétrus for around $2,000. 2017 Pétrus sells for about $3,000. Did Egon get his wish?

Vineyards to look out for: Scharzhofberger, Wiltinger Braune Kupp, First

 

Nahe

Nahe German Wine Region Map

The Nahe is one of Germany’s newer delineated wine regions, but in that short time it has shot to superstar status. Before the German Wine Law of 1971, grapes from the region were simply labelled Rhein wines and garnered no distinction from them. Pioneering winemakers, like Helmut Dönnhoff, produce expressive, long lived wines of gorgeously ripe fruit, laser pointers and finesse, sought out by wine lovers everywhere.

Terroir

The Nahe is nestled between the Mosel to its north and Rheinhessen and Rheingau to its east, where the Nahe river empties into the Rhine. Vineyards are mostly back from the river bank to its north south and alongside valleys and tributaries. Even away from the river, the best sites are super steep and the most difficult and expensive to work.

Temperatures are generally cooler than the Middle Mosel, more similar to the Saar but with less rain. These climatic circumstances are responsible for their lighting acidity yet dense fruit.

Soil types are more varied than the Mosel (although less so than the Pfalz to its south). There is some slate in all colors, but also sandstone, porphyry, melaphyr, clay, loess and quartzite.

Vineyards like the famed monopole Oberhauser Brücke have four different soils throughout, which are probably responsible for the complexity of the wine.

Producers

Weingut Dönnhoff

Donnhoff Wine Nahe Producer Germany

Known for: From dry to sweet, perfectly precise world class bottles.

If you love Riesling, you know the name Dönnhoff. If you don't love Riesling -- yet-- Dönnhoff will teach you why the grape inspires such passion.

Dönnhoff is one of the greatest estates in the Nahe and all of Germany. The family has had four generations to dive deep into their terroir and perfect their winemaking, and their top wines are long-lived and collectible.

That terroir is, of course, key. The Nahe has the most varied soils (including, especially, different kinds of volcanic soil) of any German region, as well as a climate that ranges from very cold high-elevation sites to pockets of Mediterranean warmth. This gives Dönnhoff a painter’s palette of flavors and textures from which to craft a perfect wine.

Vineyards to look out for: Oberhauser Brücke, Dellchen, Kreuznacher Kahlenberg, Niederhauser Hermannshohle

 

Weingut Schäfer-Fröhlich

Known for: Razor sharp dry wines.

For a long time, Tim Fröhlich's name has been synonymous with quality Riesling from the Nahe. These wines are as exceptional as they are exciting. While what's being made is undeniably a most classical expression of what Riesling can and should be, Schäfer-Fröhlich's wines are made naturally from spontaneous fermentation, by people who care about wines that express the mineral character of their terroir, people who care about dry Riesling... all forward-thinking ideas.

Tim Fröhlich's wines are not only special as a result of his winemaking prowess, but also for the terroir he has inherited. The estate's holdings include vineyards of volcanic soil (pretty rare for Germany), as well as the much-prized Blue Devonian slate that characterizes the soil in GG vineyards throughout Germany. Again, the magic of this producer comes from having one foot in tradition with his eye toward what might excite people next.

Vineyards to look out for: Bockenauer Felseneck, Schiefergestein, Schlossböckelheimer Felsenberg

 

Weingut Kruger-Rumpf

Known for: Dry to lightly sweet, easy drinking to complex wines.

200 years of grape growing have given these committed organic farmers a wealth of vineyards to work. Humble beginnings have led them on a steady march towards pure, terroir driven wines in their little corner of the Nahe. As friends and neighbors of Dönnhoff, they knew they had to find their own place in the hearts of Riesling lovers, and so they focused their attention on value, good wines at great prices.

Vineyards to look out for: Abtei, Burgberg, Münsterer Dautenpflanzer, Dorsheimer Burgberg, Im Pitterberg, Im Langenberg

 

Rheingau

Rheingau Germany Wine Region Map

The Rheingau is a land of living history with many firsts and after a decline last century is finding its way back to the limelight. This is the birthplace of Riesling, nobly sweet wines and where picking wines at different levels of ripeness was refined and categorized. Hochheim, its most famous vineyard, is where “Hock” became synonymous with Riesling and which Queen Victoria was a daily imbiber.

It’s sweet wines from botrytized berries might have put it on the map, but now more than 85% of the wines here are dry or off-dry, more than any other German region. Geisenheim, one of the world's best wine schools, is also here, where research into new climate change resistant crosses of grapes are being created.

Most importantly for today’s wine drinker is the current generation of hard working, forward thinking, quality minded producers. They are using the traditions of old to shape the wines of the future and redefine their region, which has been somewhat obscured as of late with the increased popularity of its neighbors but is again on the path to greatness.

Terroir

The Rheingau finds itself in a geological position perfectly suited for ripening grapes in Germany’s cold climate and for an abundance of styles all in one small area. The Taunus mountains, made of extremely hard quarzit, forces the Rhein River to make a sharp left and then right turn around it before continuing due north. The entire 32-mile stretch of vineyards faces almost due south on low gradient hills starting at the river bank up to a forest. Vines at the top of the hill are often used to make drier, higher acid wines and those near the muggy river bank are perfect for luscious botrytizied bottles.

Like the Mosel, the soils there have limited variations, but their consistency allows one to pinpoint the Rheingau minerality in the good wines. There is quartzite from Mount Taunus, but also slate, mica schist and marl with vineyards on the river with more clay topsoil making softer, broader, wines. Great Rheingau wines are fruitier than those in the Mosel, but lighter than the Pfalz, very balanced and very well priced.

Producers

Weingut Leitz

Known for: Simple off dry quaffers, steely dry wines, and beautiful Prädikats.

For wine lovers who treasure articulate terroir-expression above all else, the dry Rieslings of Rheingau Weingut Josef Leitz offer extraordinary value. You get more precision and minerality for the money than just about anywhere else.

For over 30 years, Johannes Leitz has worked to revive the reputation of the Rheingau, once perhaps Germany's most revered winemaking region, and in doing so has established himself as one of the nation's best winemakers.

Vineyards to look out for: Rüdesheimer Klosterlay, Kaisersteinfels, Berg Rottland

 

Weingut Eva Fricke

Eva Fricke Germany Rheingau Wine Producer Riesling

Known for: Mostly dry wines with a few off-dry super-duper deals.

Eva Fricke's vines are all about 40 years old and yields are naturally reduced by the barren soil and rather harsh climate. There are no herbicides or pesticides used and minimal cellar work is done. She is certified organic and converting to biodynamic. The vineyards in Kiedrich and Eltville grow juicy, fruity Rieslings, on loess and clay soils. The wines are full, rich, floral with great fruit. Further north around Lorch and Lorchhausen, the slate and quartzite soils produce wines that have great mineral and saline qualities. These are all estate grown wines of great distinction, purity and grace.

Like many modern producers she has travelled extensively and worked at very different places. During her studies, she worked at Schloss Johannisberg in the Rheingau and in Bordeaux, Piedmont, Ribera del Duero, Australia -- all over the place. After graduation, Eva worked for JB Becker and then for Leitz. She struck out on her own in 2013 and now has her own 11 hectare vineyard in Eltville.

Vineyards to look out for: Lorcher Krone, Lorcher Schlossberg

 

Weingut Spreitzer

Known for: Classic wines at great prices from up the Prädikat letter to dry GG’s.

Brothers Andreas and Bernd Spreitzer have embraced their wealth of resources to produce Rheingau Rieslings of incredible balance, a feat they liken to walking a tightrope. With a generational total of 379 years making wine, the Spreitzers have had plenty of practice.

Even with all the practice, great balance requires great vineyards. The Spreitzers own prime real estate throughout their sub-region of Oestrich, including the Lenchen vineyard and its most famous parcel, Eiserberg. The secret weapon of Lenchen is its series of underground streams, guaranteeing balance even in the hottest years, an asset in this age of climate change.

With these great terroirs and that generations-long attention to balance, the Spreitzer’s achieve some of the most delectable wines in the entire Rheingau, at once beautifully delicate and opulently concentrated.

Vineyards to look out for: Hallgartener Hendelberg, Hattenheimer Engelmannsberg, Oestricher Lenchen, Rosengarten, Winkeler Jesuitengarten

 

Weingut Peter-Jakob Kühn

Known for: Mostly dry and off dry wines.

Peter-Jakob Kühn is the biodynamic innovator of the Rheingau. His soils are rich with quartz, a mineral which helps regulate heat and acidity and gives wine a saline quality. Kühn has some very fine sites, including two vineyards within the Grand Cru Doosberg, which is famous for just those quartz soils and excellent drainage.

Vineyards to look out for: Oestricher Lenchen

 

Rheinhessen

Rheinhessen Germany Wine Region Map

Rheinhessen is a sort of catch all region for Germany, its largest and in many ways, most diverse. But what has it caught? Everything from the sweet, cheap, image-tarnishing Liebfraumilch of 70’s Blue Nun fame to Keller, arguably one of the greatest winemakers in the world.

This is frontier land with France and has spent centuries caught in the middle of other people’s wars. It is also where Charlemagne started planting vines in the late 700’s and has been doing so continuously ever since. Not all of its wines have had the best reputation, gently rolling hills make this one of the few regions capable of mechanization, instead of hand harvesting, and quality has suffered at times. Luckily its current, enthusiastic, and highly talented winemakers are moving mountains to change that.

Terroir

Most of this area is rolling hillsides surrounded on two sides by the Rhine and three sides by mountains, making it an ideal place for not just viticulture but all sorts of agriculture.

Temperatures are cool, rainfall just below average, but the same mountains also keep away destructive frost and hail.

Millions of years ago this was an inland sea which has left plenty of limestone, found in many of the world’s renowned vineyards like Chablis and Burgundy. Here it brings another facet to Riesling with spine tingling minerality on an already high acid grape. Poking up along one edge of the region is iron rich sandstone and red slate, streaked with limestone, in a sheer face, creating the Roter Hang vineyard, prized for its meaty, spicy, wild wines.

Because of the relatively temperate weather and geology, there are a lot of other grapes grown here besides Riesling, in all manner of styles. There is also Spätbugunder (Pinot Noir) and Silvaner, two grapes that do very well here. Although there is still a lot of sweet wine across the region and some stellar examples, the best winemakers are crafting dry wines very much worth seeking out.

Producers

Weingut Klaus-Peter Keller

Known for: Incredible dry wines, but all levels of sweetness are represented.

Keller is, without a doubt, the Rheinhessen’s greatest address – and one of the most beloved in all of Germany. Their fame can be traced to their culty (and sometimes wildly expensive) dry Rieslings, culled from limestone-dominated soils, which critics have compared to the great Grand Crus of Burgundy for their power and precision.

Vineyards to look out for: Morstein, Nierstein Hipping, Dalsheim Hubacker, Westhofen Kirchspiel, Westhofen Abts

 

Weingut Dreissigacker

Known for: Dry intense wines.

Ever since Jancis Robinson described a white from Klaus-Peter Keller as the “Montrachet” of Germany, we have been trained to think of the Rheinhessen as a bit like Burgundy. In the Mosel, the wines are usually sweet and the soils are slate. In the Rheinhessen, the wines are mostly dry and the soils are limestone. Anybody who loves magnificent dry white wines that delineate different vineyard sites and age brilliantly in the cellar will be drawn to the Rheinhessen.

Jochen Dreissigacker was among those drawn to the wines of the Rheinhessen. He gave up a career in accounting to go learn wine with, among others, the great Keller himself. Then he took over his family winery in Bechtheim, the historic center of wine production in the area. It's just one village over from the better-known Westhofen, where you find many of the region’s top Grand Crus and Keller’s own winery. Though Jochen has holdings in Westhofen too, he is a big believer in Bechtheim's own great terroir.

Jochen’s wines have this in common with Burgundy: there is a clear hierarchy from the more general expressions of his terroir (like a regional or village Burgundy), up to the magnificent Grand Crus.

Vineyards to look out for: Kirchspiel, Hasensprung, Westhofener Morstein

 

Weingut Schlossmühlenhof

Known for: dry easy drinking, great values.

The Schlossmühlenhof property is a large estate spread across the slopes above Kettenheim, south of Alzey. Organically farmed, and with a freshness, they perform an aggressive green harvest, reducing yields by as much as 50%. These are always some of our favorite every days wines, clean, crisp, varietally true, and a great bang for your buck.

 

Pfalz

Pfalz Germany Wine Region Map

The Pfalz, like the Nahe, has taken some time to distinguish itself from the rest of the German regions. The middle of the 19th century saw the wines of top producers highly priced on wine lists, although never the level of those from the Rheingau. After the first World War, a few prestigious estates hung on, barely, while the rest of the area’s producers folded or moved towards bulk wine production.

An infusion of investment coupled with the guidance of Hans-Günter Schwarz, previous cellar master of Müller-Catoir and proponent of ‘minimalism in the cellar, activism in the vines’, has risen the fortunes of the region. Wines here, from Riesling to Spatburgunder, Scheurebe to Traminer, are now some of the most distinct in Germany.

Terroir

The Pfalz is the only major German region which doesn’t have any important vineyards on a riverbank. The Rhine runs along its eastern edge, but vines are planted at various elevations to the west in the Haardt Mountains, an extension of the Vosges in France, with which it shares many grape types and growing conditions.

The climate is much drier and sunnier than the other regions we’ve talked about, allowing a much greater diversity in grape types to be planted. Even with the warmer and sunnier days, Riesling manages to hold on to its acidity and lift and express its terroir with precision and power.

Aspect and elevation differences offer the chance for diverse styles, but the variation in soil types, greater here than any other German region, gives producers the chance to make endlessly complex wines. Limestone, sandstone, shale, schist, marl, clay, loess are scattered about, but the black basalt from ancient volcanoes is the most prized. Winemakers would mine chunks of it to scatter around their other, non-basalt vineyards, for its heat retention to help ripen grapes. Tasting wines from these diverse sites really brings home just how dynamic German wines are.

Producers

Weingut von Winning

Von Winning Riesling German Wine Producer Pfalz

Known for: Powerful dry wines, Sekt and killer Sauvignon Blanc.

Von Winning produces some of the finest dry wines in the Pfalz, if not all of Germany. Each wine, from an entry-level Riesling to the heralded Grosses Gewachs, is a microcosm of the Pfalz’s unique mineral profile, and of the fastidious winemaking at the estate.

Although the domain was established in the 1860s, its fortunes rose in 2007 when Stephan Attman was appointed head winemaker. Stephan chose to abandon the stainless steel fermentation typically favored for Riesling and return to the old way of fermenting in wood, a practice that encourages structure and complexity.

V-W has vines in some of the most revered terroir in the Pfalz, including eight different GG sites—nowhere else can you taste Riesling grown on such a diverse set of terroirs, including limestone, sandstone and volcanic basalt from the same producer.

They are all fermented in large (typically old) oak barrels. The fermentation is long and slow, and the wines are aged on their lees for 1.5-2 years, producing a fascinating texture, simultaneously rich and ethereally fleeting.

The GGs of von Winning have virtually unlimited aging potential; there is a perfect balance struck between acidity, minerality and concentrated fruit.

Vineyards to look out for: Leinhöhle, Paradiesgarten, Grainhübel, Forster Jesuitengarten, Kalkofen, Kirchenstück, Reiterpfad.

 

Weingut Heinrich Spindler

Known for: Dry wines with plenty of acidity.

Spindler has made wine for a very long time. David Schildknecht starts their story in Napoleonic Europe in the 1600s.

The wines are stupendous with food in that classic German way; they bring extra life to everything you eat. But they're more than a great accompaniment to a meal. Each wine has something unique to say. Pechstein: "minerals," and Kirchenstück: "juicy", and the next level up, Jesuitgarten, declares: "I will slay them all."

Markus makes wine in the Pfalz village of Forst, a special place with a range of top vineyards. Grapes are a little easier to ripen and, in the hands of great growers, like Markus Spindler, retain acidity, minerality, and unique personality.

A few Pfalz producers, like Von Winning, have reached the top echelons in the German press and market. Markus Spindler doesn't quite have that following yet, but he will. He studied wine with Egon Müller, among other luminaries, and values "clarity" in wine more than anything else. He wants you to drink his wine, and see right away the story that it tells.

And you do! But wines, of course, don't actually speak English. And our words don't do justice to the incredible waves of complexity and nuance Markus' work delivers. For that, you need to open a top bottle of dry Riesling from a legendary Forst site.

Vineyards to look out for: Jesuitengarten, Kirkenstück, Pechstein, Ungeheuer

 

Weingut Müller-Catoir

Known for: Dry to sweet, structured and chewy, textural wines.

Every bottle of Müller-Catoir is a love letter. There is a visceral experience with these wines, like a pumice stone, a rough surface to a smooth finish. These aren't razor edged wines, forcing a point of view, they are edgy with secrets to share with those who are willing to listen.

This historic estate has had hundreds of years and plenty of talented winemakers to garner it critical acclaim. But never have they rested on their laurels, even now, with some of the most careful farming and strictest selection of grapes from anywhere. Whether dry or sweet, Riesling or Pinot Noir, young or old, the stark minerality of these wines will bring you back for more.

Vineyards to look out for: Bürgergarten Im Breumel, Gimmeldinger Mandelgarten, Gimmeldinger Schlossel, Herrenletten

 

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Flatiron's Guide to German Wine

Part 1: Introduction to the Wines of Germany

We set out to write this Flatiron Guide to German Wines to explain not just why the wine geeks go so nutty for all things Deutsch, and not just why German wines are among the best wines for the super-casual wine drinker. And not even why we are so deeply in love with them, ourselves. 

No, we set out to explain why a German wine is the bottle you should take home tonight. You. Yes, you.

 

 

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Clara Dalzell