Here’s a fun exercise to helping to learn the different German regions: think about them in reference to the country’s most popular grape variety—Riesling. Going from North to South, let’s talk about Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Pfalz, and Baden.
[Information based on WSET Level 3 material]
Mosel: As I talked about in my Mosel-Alsace post, the Mosel region includes the River Mosel (easy to remember…). Here, wine production is pretty much concentrated to what’s called the Middle Mosel, which includes a number of villages, the best known of which are Piesport, Bernkastel, and Wehlen. Given the overall cool temperature, the steep slopes filled with slate soils, and the the vineyards’ proximity to the River, Rieslings here are typically light bodied, low alcohol, and higher in acidity when compared to other regions. FUN FACT: In some of the coolest vintages, even the best vineyard sites struggle to ripen fully. In this case, these grapes will be harvested for sparkling wine production.
Nahe: The best vineyards here are located on steep, south-facing (again, river-facing) slopes along the banks of the River Nahe (also easy to remember). The temperature is slightly warmer than Mosel to the north. Again, vineyards are located on steep, south-facing slopes. Like Mosel, Riesling is the most planted variety, but, the wines are a bit fuller bodied with riper fruit characters (since the temperature is a bit warmer), yet they do maintain that same level of high acidity as those coming from the Mosel region.
Rheingau: Rheingau is warmer still, with best vines sitting on the slopes of the banks of the River Rhine and River Main (slightly less easy to remember…). Because of the warmer temperatures, dry Rieslings are medium to full bodied with a distinct ripe peach character. Also, because of its proximity to the rivers, noble rot can be achieved, so Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese can be produced from the Riesling grape as well. FUN FACT: The region can also grow Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) in some of its warmest sites.
Rheinhessen: This is actually the largest winegrape growing region in Germany and is planted to both white and black grape varieties. The most important village to know: Nierstein—the area is often referred to the Rheinterrasse and produces some of the fullest bodied Rieslings in the country. The vineyards are situated along steep slopes on the west bank of the River Rhine.
Pfalz: This is the second largest wine-growing region in the country and can be considered a continuation of France’s Alsace (swoon). FUN FACT: The Haardt Mountains which run through the region are actually a continuation of the Vosges Mountains in Alsace. The best vineyards are located on these mountains in a section called the Mittelhaardt (easyish to remember). And it is because of the Haardt Mountains that Pfalz is the driest region in Germany (in warm years, vines can suffer from water stress), as those mountains (like the Vosges in Alsace), provide a rain barrier. Given the more southern location, Pfalz also has a warmer climate. That combined with the overall dry situation means that the Rieslings here are riper and fuller-bodied. The region also grows a number of other white grapes, including Wiesβburgunder, Grauburgunder, and Muller-Thurgau, as well as black grapes, such as Spätburgunder, Dornfelder, and Portugieser . (I kind of just like saying these names…)
Baden: Baden is the warmest, most southern wine region in Germany, producing the fullest bodied wines with the highest alcohol content. But unlike the rest of the regions, Riesling is not number one planted grape: here it’s Spätburgunder. Even when it comes to the white grapes, Riesling comes up the caboose: Muller-Thurgau, Grauburgunder, Weiburgunder and then Rielsing.
Franken: See it on the map, kind of off to the boonies in the east? If you thought Baden was playing the loner, it’s got nothing on Franken. Here, the specialty is Sylvaner, the variety I’ve dubbed Alsace’s “reject grape.” It’s a delicate grape, early to flower and ripen, susceptible to frost—a pain in the butt in these cool, continental climate regions. But here, in Franken’s warmest sites, Silvaner can become concentrated, and the resulting wines are dry with a rich palate and often earthy quality. (Does anyone have one I can try???)
Regrettably, I do not have a wine review this time around. You can check out my Mosel versus Alsace Riesling experiment.
And I’d like to open up the floor to you. Have you tasted Rieslings from the different wine regions in Germany? How do they compare? Have any recommendations that would help a certain someone with her studies? (Asking for a friend… called Me.)
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