Germany’s wine industry has been a game of two halves. Their production and export of wines to Britain (formerly their biggest market) has been a continuous and well supported relationship for centuries. Those of you with the ability or wish to remember the 60’s and 70’s will have cut their vinous teeth on the likes of Liebfraumilch or Piesporter, both wines being the Gripea Water of their day for generations of drinkers with modest understanding of the world of wine and even less ability to locate or purchase quality within it. Germany has been sending lakes of the stuff throughout the reign of Queen Victoria until the silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth. Fickle as wine buying fashion is and cognisant now of the rest of the world, drinkers have turned their backs on many of the light, easy drinking ‘medium’ whites that provided Germany with easy pickings here.

But, as one door closes, Germany has the ability to ease another open. Increasingly desirous of drier styles of wine from the world’s newly developed wine industry, Germany has begun to expose its hidden jewels in the form of some of the finest white wines found anywhere on the planet.

Major issues still stalk the wines of Germany over here not least of all being their perception and recognisability. How do we chose, and how do we perceive quality and comprehend wine style, from the visual presentation. The gothic script once associated with World War 2 and indeed the early logo of Walt Disney films, has begun to give way to clearly defined information on the label increasingly influenced by the Southern hemisphere’s use of grape variety over location. Entry level wine, similar to Vin de Table in France, is known as Tafelwein, Germany’s glugging wines undergo a process known as chaptelisation whereby that alcoholic strength of a wine is increased by the addition of sugar to the grape must. One step above we find Landwein, very similar to the French Vins de Pays. The bulk of imported wines to Britain fall into the next and larger category known as QbA (Qualitateswein bestimunter Anbaugebiete). This category provides a quality wine from one of 13 defined regions.

The next level defines the ripeness of the grape, often difficult in such northerly latitude, and is identified by the term QmP (Qualitateswein mit Pradikat). Wines with such description, from only half a dozen or so areas, have no additional sugar and express greater purity in the harvest. Additionally you will find terms such as Kabinett, a light and often dry style through to Spätlese, literally ‘late-picked’ then Auslese and Beerenauslese indicating a potentially sweeter style often influenced by Noble Rot. The pinnacle of which, and one of the world’s long-lived dessert wines, is Trockenbeerenauslese. Generally the term one would seek to find a dry style would be the solitary word Troken.


German wine making dates back to the growth of the Roman Empire along the Rhine with vine-cutting implements dating back to the first century AD having been unearthed. Charlemagne’s dominance in the Middle Ages and the inexorable spread of Christianity show monasteries and convents increasing the domestic planting of vines.

The extent of the industry reached a peak in the late 15th Century with vines planted on the steep slopes of the Rhine and its tributaries, making the most of land unfit for almost all other crops. It has been evidenced that during this period, under the patronage of the church, four times the land under vine was harvested compared to today. The 30 years war wreaked havoc in Germany and it was to take another three to four hundred years for the wine making to prosper. The final chapter of its history, after the incursions of Napoleon left small family plots not dissimilar to those of Burgundy in France. Much of these smaller, family owned plots exist today.

Grape Varieties.


The star of Germany’s wine production with wine styles veering from the crackling-dry whites revered around the world to rounded, unctuous, sweet pudding wines.

Müller Thurgau

This is the grape variety that offers easy-growing bulk whites, much favoured by German wine lovers.


Formerly the most widely planted variety now overtaken by Müller Thurgau. Interesting but somewhat bland wines.


Often providing good quality wines and regarded as a stylistic ‘clone’ of the Riesling grape.


The principal red varietal which naturally requires the warmer micro-climate conditions in some parts of the country. A close relative of Burgundy’s Pinot Noir. Increasingly successful on the world’s stage.

Wine Regions


With almost gravity defying slopes dropping down to the River Mosel, vineyard workers often use ropes to clamber down the vineyards to pick anything from Muller Thurgau to racy, crisp Rieslings. The home to the renowned village of Piesport thereby gives its name to some of the best Rieslings, whereas with the attachment of Michelsberg, from some of the adjacent villages, provides some of the standard ‘medium’ wines, despised and loved in equal measure.


Probably Germany’s most productive area, with less steep rolling fields producing vast lakes of blending wine, a great deal of Liebfraumilch emanates from Rheinhessen, although its sloping micro-regions offer some excellent fine wines. Home to the village of Nierstein, hence Niersteiner.


The River Nahe joins the mighty Rhine to the West of Rheingau and provides us with good value often stunning wines although, once again, a great part of the harvest ends up under the Liebfraumilch nomenclature. Varied grapes such a Silvaner, Muller-Thurgau and Riesling are all grown here.


Pfalz or Rheinpfalz is similar to Rheinhessen, producing some inexpensive bargains from slightly warmer areas. The degree or so increase in temperatures create wines of generally higher alcohol, although like the rest of Germany never reaching the dizzy alcoholic heights of our New-World cousins, with some richly flavoured Riesling and generally well-regarded sweet wines under the Trockenbeernauslese labels.


Sloping vineyards spotted by millions of tourists on their river cruise, with a vast track of warm, south-facing slopes, known by many fans of the Riesling grapes as one of Germany’s finest regions with a glorious body to the whites and often seen as weightier styles to those of the Mosel home to the town of Hockenheim – which gave it’s name to Queen Victoria’s favourite tipple, Hock.


In my short lifetime as a committed wine enthusiast, I have been privy to the rise in recognition of this fabulous wine-producing country. Little was known of its produce over here until fairly recently. Set back by the ‘anti-freeze scandal’ of 1985 and its glorious wines consumed mainly by Austrians themselves. To any visitor the unique shop-window known a the Heuriger, formerly a description of the seasons harvest now a shop or restaurant attached to the wine cellar itself, is the place to visit.

Austrian wines further suffer in their attempts at individual recognition as they are often seen as merely an extension of German wines; this is clearly far from the truth.

There are similarities of course, one being the classification of wines such as Tafelwein and Kabinett and their adherence to the flute-like shape of many bottles.

Riesling, too, reigns supreme here although built in a totally different style, yet many of its delightful wines are now made from the little known indigenous grape, Grüner Veltliner.

New styles and presentation will help the novice, as after the 1985 problems, Austria introduced arguably the strictest wine laws of any wine producing country. One sure-fire identifier is the Banderol as a red and white ‘scarf’ (the colours of the Austrian flag) around its neck.

Its principal vineyards are in the East of the country and concentrated within three regions.

Lower Austria is the heartland of the Grüner Veltliner grape, often reduced to GV to encourage modern-day drinkers, which yields zesty, spicy whites alongside the older Rieslings, famed within central Europe.

Wachau within lower Austria, are the finest vineyards plummeting into the river Danube and heralding Austria’s showcase white wines made of Riesling.

Burgenland, a flatter landscape offering the best reds under the varietals of Zweigelt, Blaufrankisch and Portugieser and one of Europe’s most important producers of delicate, sophisticated dessert wines next to Europe’s largest lake; the Neusiedlersee. Here in the pretty little village of Rust enthusiastic, homely winemakers can create simple Noble Rot pudding wines, but under perfect conditions of Rot and sub-zero temperature allow us to taste the best of that elusive sweetie; Eiswein.

Some adventurous producers in Wachau (pronounced Vacow) are creating Burgundian style Chardonnays in increasing numbers. For steely dry whites the mountainous south-east of the country, Styria, is doing well with its recently imported grape, Sauvignon Blanc and its heartland grape; Traminer.

Tasting Chart


Worshipped and misunderstood in equal measure, Riesling provides a range of tastes unlike any other grape, providing the world with some of its finest ‘food friendly’ wines. It has been long adored by wine merchants yet shunned by many wine consumers probably due to its look-alike bottles and oft-confused styles; will we ever forget Laski Riesling? High in fruity acidity and often comparatively low in alcohol, fermented in stainless steel rather than oak barrels, its light mineral infused style is a natural boon to food and wine matchers of any nation’s cuisine. From Germany its bouquet is reminiscent of Alpine flowers spiked with lychees, kiwi fruit and green apples. With age it will offer a rounded petrol of camphor nose whilst maintaining an underlying racy acidity, these wines are often not for the faint-hearted, but rewarding to those who investigate this unique grape.