The History of Wine in Germany

When it comes to making a toast in Germany, most people imagine large beer steins clinking together, not wineglasses. While Germans are indeed master brewers, they are also master winemakers with an ancient tradition of cultivating superior fine wines. A wine tour in Germany is an ideal way to see spectacular countryside, enjoy German culture and learn about what makes this area so unique in the world of wine.

History of German Wine

Wine’s history in Germany is a very long one, dating back to the Romans. The church’s monasteries carried forward viticultural practices and traditions throughout the Middle Ages and are credited with planting some of the country’s finest vineyard sites. After Napoleon’s invasion, the church’s vineyards were sold to private landowners. The pinnacle of popularity in German winemaking came in the 18th and 19th centuries when the wines of Germany were as widely prized as the wines of France.

The 20th century wrought havoc in the German wine industry with wars, economic upheaval and vine diseases. In the 1970s a complex series of laws were passed that further weakened the reputation of German wines as quality standards were altered and consumer confusion grew. At the same time, Germany began exporting an inexpensive, sweet white wine that was popular in the UK, US and other countries. Although no one in Germany drank Liebfraumilch or its many variations, in the eyes of the rest of the world, it defined German wine.

Although its inexpensive sweet white wines are still widely exported throughout the world, Germany has seen a renewed interest in its venerable premium wines, especially Riesling. Convoluted German wine labeling laws have been modified to assist consumers but much work remains to be done. In spite of these challenges, Germany remains the 8th largest wine producing country in the world, and while dominated by white wine production, many excellent reds are also available.

German Wine Production

Germany is one of the most northerly wine producing regions of the world. The country’s thirteen viticultural areas are concentrated mainly in the south and southwest along the Mosel and Rhine rivers and their tributaries. Many of the best vineyards are perched on very steep slopes on the riverbanks, making a beautiful and dramatic setting for tourists but difficult work for those who farm the land.

Today, vineyards in Germany grow almost 100 types of grapes but two white wine varietals, Riesling and Muller-Thurgau, make up over 40% of all plantings. In reds, the leader is Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir). Many German wines receive rave reviews from critics for both food-friendly, crisp dry whites as well as intensely complex sweet whites. Red wines have continued to improve in quality although consistent ripeness can be challenging. In general, most German wines are excellent values when compared to other super-premium wines from around the world and visiting this beautiful, historic land will offer a new level of appreciation and enjoyment to wine enthusiasts.