December is here and that means Christmas season is in full swing with holiday markets, Christmas trees, decorations, and music are everywhere. This time of year always makes me dream of German Christmas markets. I’ve never been to one, but I always imagine how cool it would be to walk through the market in the evening, sipping mulled wine with snow capped mountains all around. Since I’m in the Christmas spirit and thinking of Christmas markets, it’s only fitting that this month’s focus be on German wine and dessert. Germany is known for amazing desserts and delicious wine. In the U.S., the wine most people know is Riesling, but there are many types of German wine grown in 13 different regions, predominantly in the south and southwest of the country. German wine growing regions are some of the most northern in the world, which makes them well-situated for white wines, which make up more than half of the wine growing area in Germany. Three wine regions to note are Rheinhessen, Saale-Unstrut, and Rheingau.
Rheinhessen is the largest wine region in Germany. Vineyards are planted in a valley surrounded by gently rolling hills with fertile soil. Wine are generally easy to drink and predominantly white. Like many of the other wine regions, Rheinhessen primarily grows grapes for white wines, although it does have the largest acreage of Silvaner in Germany. Silvaner was once the most popular wine in Germany, but has been displaced by Muller-Thurgau.
Saale-Unstrut is the oldest region in Germany, having been cultivated since AD 998. It is also one of the northernmost wine regions in Europe, which makes grape growing rather difficult. Shorter growing seasons mean low yields with less time for sugars to develop in the wine. This results in generally dry and somewhat acific wines. Muller-Thurgau is the most commonly planted grape, followed by Weissburgunder (pinot blanc) and Silvaner.
Rheingau is known as the most prestigious of Germany’s wine growing regions. It is situated along the Rhine River with a generally mild climate. A huge proportion of the vineyards are planted with Riesling, which thrives in the warm summers and mild winters. The region has a long history of winemaking associated with the ancient castles and monasteries located there.
German wines are every bit as varied as their regions, taking a lot of characteristics from the climates and soil they are grown in. While it’s easy to grab a bottle of Riesling at the store, next time you’re in the mood for something new, try to find a Muller-Thurgau or a German pinot noir. While they may be hard to find, the search will be well worth the effort.