Germans have been making wine for almost 2000 years, and they are experts. Several parts of Germany grow grape varietals that make delicious wine. In fact, there are 13 distinct wine regions in Deutschland.
Almost all of them are in west Germany: Ahr, Baden, Bergstrabe, Franconia, Hessische, Mittelrhein, Mosel, Nahe, Palatinate, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, and Wurttemberg.
Saxony and Saale-Unstrat are located further northeast.
There are several major types of German wine. Some of them, like Riesling, are familiar to Americans, while others, like Silvaner, are harder to find stateside.
Below, read about 10 main German wine varietals. We’ve included tasting notes and other essential characteristics.
Riesling is probably the best-known type of German wine outside of Germany. Germans grow Riesling grapes in all 13 wine regions of the country.
Riesling grapes stay on the vine longer than most other types, which helps give them their characteristic sweetness.
The cool weather, relatively low amount of sunshine, and late rainfall make it ideal. It’s so perfect that Germany is the world’s largest producer of Riesling.
Riesling is usually yellowish-green or golden-yellow in color. Some typical tasting notes for Riesling include green apple, honey, peach, lemon, orange, and lime.
It also sometimes has a mineral taste, depending on where the grapes grow.
Its sweetness makes it a good dessert wine, but some people also like to pair it with spicy food.
The sweetness contrasts nicely, and the sugar may help cool your palette.
Also known as Rivaner, Muller-Thurgau is the second most commonly grown wine grape in Germany, behind Riesling.
Most Rivaner wine is produced in Germany. Raising the grapes is relatively easy as long as it has plenty of water.
It doesn’t need much sunshine or warmth and ripens early in the season.
Muller-Thurgau is a light, usually uncomplicated wine. It has mild acidity and a flowery nose.
Tasters often note elderflower, green apple, and various citrus fruits in the flavor.
If you get a bottle of this type of wine, drink it soon. It tastes best the younger it is. Try it with vegetables (asparagus tastes fantastic with it) or a salad.
Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris)
Grauburgunder is a type of white wine which may surprise you if you see it growing on the vine, since it looks purple-red in color.
In France, wine made from this grape is called Pinot Gris, while in Italy, it’s Pinot Grigio.
Like Pinot Grigio and Pinot Gris, Grauburgunder delivers a range of bouquets and flavor notes.
These include citrus fruits, pineapple, green apples, pears, and nuts. It’s usually a golden-yellow color.
It’s versatile and pairs well with chicken, seafood, pasta, and risotto.
Grauburgunder isn’t as widely grown in Germany. You can find the grapes mainly in Baden and Rheinhessen.
They need deep, nutrient-rich soil and plenty of rainfall to thrive.
Silvaner is one of Germany’s oldest grape varietals, and it’s grown chiefly along the French border in Franken and Rheinhessen.
It used to be one of the most common types of wine Germany produced, but now it’s less common.
Silvaner grapes ripen late in the season, a couple of weeks earlier than Riesling. It’s less sweet than Riesling and tends to be earthy and fruity.
Tasting notes often feature many types of apples, plums, and melons.
One of the most distinctive things about this wine is the bottle. It usually comes in a Bocksbeutel, which is thick green glass shaped like a flattened ellipsoid.
Eiswein, which translates to “ice wine” in English, is a very sweet wine made from grapes that freeze while still on the vine.
That usually means farmers leave them on the vine long after they harvest other grapes.
Eiswein can be expensive because farmers have no control over whether weather conditions will freeze the berries at the right time.
They take a huge chance, and because the grapes stay on the vines so long, winemakers can lose an entire harvest through no fault of their own.
In Germany, where seasons and temperatures have become less predictable, it’s even more of a gamble.
At the same time, the natural sweetness of many grapes grown in Germany lends itself to Eiswein beautifully. Drink it with a less-sweet dessert like dark chocolate, or enjoy it by itself.
Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir)
Spatburgunder is the German name for Pinot Noir, and only France and the United States produce more of this wine variety than Germany.
Spatburgunder (which translates to late-ripening pinot grape) is Germany’s most common red wine grape.
This grape is finicky; it takes a long time to ripen and needs warm (but not hot) temperatures and chalky soil. Luckily, growing conditions in Ahr, Wurttemberg, Baden, and other regions have those things.
German Pinot Noirs tend to be less acidic and have lighter bodies and colors than those grown in many other places.
They tend to have bouquets with hints of blackberries and almonds. Pair them with other low-acid foods like fresh vegetables cooked with herbs and skinless chicken.
Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc)
As you can see, Germany produces many types of white wine, and Weissburgunder is their version of Pinot Blanc.
It has grown in popularity in Germany since the late 20th century.
It’s a hardier grape that grows in the country’s warmest climates, often in places too warm for Riesling grapes.
These grapes produce light wines with hints of melon, citrus fruits, apples, and pistachio nuts. It pairs excellently with a range of foods.
Winemakers grow Weissburgunder grapes primarily in the Baden, Rheinhessen, and Pfalz regions, in the heart of the Rhine River Valley.
Frühburgunder (Pinot Noir Précoce or Pinot Madeleine)
Fruhburgunder is made from a distinct grape, though it descends from a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape, where it gets its name.
The world has Germans to thank for saving this grape. Notoriously hard to grow, scientists at a German research institute found a way to increase its yield.
This grape likes to be harvested early in the season, at least two weeks before Spatburgunder.
The berries may be small, but the wine has a big flavor. It’s full-bodied and sometimes even spicy with a dark red color. Drink it with gamey meat like lamb or venison.
Sometimes called simply Dornfelder, this red wine is genuinely German since botanists created it at a German grape breeding center in 1955 and given varietal status in 1979.
In part because of cross-breeding, it can withstand root rot, has strong branches, and is more resistant to weather conditions than other German red grapes.
Often dark in color, Dornfelder grapes have thick skins that infuse the flavor and color of the wine.
You’ll get earthy tones with tasting notes of dark berries. Look for cherries, blackberries, and even elderberries.
Unsurprisingly, Dornfelder pairs well with gamey meat and rich German cheese, both common in Germany.
Trollinger is a very old wine grape that is also grown in Austria and Italy.
Traditionally used to make table wine, it’s primarily grown in the Wurttemberg region today.
If your travel to western Germany today, you’ll see an inexpensive bottle of Trollinger on many restaurant wine menus.
Trollinger is a red wine, though it tends to be light and fruity. You’ll taste notes of sweet berries, especially strawberries.
It’s usually not very acidic, so try to avoid pairing it with high-acid foods.