Of all the grapes of Germany, the most noble and most important is the Riesling. One can justifiably say that Germany is the home of Riesling after all, some 65 percent of the world’s Riesling vineyards are located here. In Germany’s wine-growing regions Riesling ripens very slowly and is usually harvested from October through November. As a result, the grapes develop intensive aromas. Riesling grapes are harvested at various stages of ripeness, from QbA to Trockenbeerenauslese or Eiswein. Depending on how the grapes are vinified, Riesling is well-suited for producing wines of many styles, ranging from dry to lusciously sweet. The elegant wines have a rich character with an incomparable fragrance and taste, often reminiscent of peaches, or when young, apples. The variety can also produce wines with great aging potential. Young, light Rieslings whether dry or with a fruity sweetness are wonderful summer wines. Dry to off-dry Rieslings go especially well with light fish and meat dishes and/or Asian cuisine.
Müller-Thurgau, or Rivaner, is the second most widely planted grape in Germany and accounts for about 13% of the total vineyard area. It is named after Professor Müller of Thurgau, Switzerland, who created it in 1882, by crossing Riesling and the table grape Madeleine Royale— not, as previously assumed, Riesling and Silvaner. It yields a bit more than Riesling and ripens earlier, usually in the middle of September. It grows best on quite heavy soils with good drainage. Its wines are generally light, with a flowery bouquet and less acidity than Riesling. Müller-Thurgau often carries a hint of Muscat in its flavor. The wines are best consumed while fresh and young. Dry versions are increasingly marketed under the synonym Rivaner. It is grown throughout German wine country.
Silvaner is an old variety that once was the most important grape in Germany. Today, it accounts for some 5% of the country's plantings. Quality-oriented measures in the vineyard yield highly refined and elegant wines. Typical Silvaner aromas are reminiscent of herbs or even gooseberries, sometimes of freshly-mown hay, and usually rather subtle. They are prized for their relatively mild acidity. The wines are well-suited to accompany rich, flavourful dishes or the typical German white asparagus. Silvaner is a traditional variety in Franken, Rheinhessen and Saale-Unstrut, there are also some plantings in the Pfalz and an enclave in the Kaiserstuhl district of Baden.
This full-bodied, complex wine wins over its fans with a deep red color and a smooth tannin structure. Typical Dornfelder aromas are reminiscent of morello cherries, blackberries and elderberries. This grape variety has been a success story in Germany. Initially bred in 1955 in Württemberg, the area under vine has expanded from 124 hectares in 1979 to more than 8,000 hectares today, making Dornfelder the second most widely grown red grape after Spätburgunder. Dornfelder is now the most sold red wine in the German market.
In Germany, the area under Pinot Noir cultivation has grown steadily in recent years to encompass almost 12,000 hectares. That makes Germany the third largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world. As with Riesling, Pinot Noir prefers cool climates so that it has a longer maturing period to combine flavours and acidity. The resulting harmonious balance is why German wine regions are so well-suited to Pinot Noir production. The variety was brought to Germany from Burgundy already in the 14th century. Ambitious German wine-growers have elevated German Pinot Noir to the ranks of the very best red wines thanks to yield reduction, longer mash periods and masterly nurture in the large wooden or small Barrique barrels. The overall impression of German Pinot Noir is of a charming, light, sweet fruitiness with hints of raspberry, strawberry and blackcurrant. The wines usually contain relatively low levels of tannins and pigments compared to other red wine varieties. They are notable for their fruity acidity and smooth, elegant structure. German Pinot Noir is ideally served with ham, roast beef, hearty terrines and pies. 12% of Germany's vineyard area is devoted to Spatburgunder, primarily in Baden, Pfalz or Rheinhessen; it accounts for over half the plantings in the Ahr.
Weissburgunder wines are very harmonious in character with a discreet bouquet and citrus flavour. The drier style wines are extremely popular with food like fish or poultry. Most plantings are in Baden, Pfalz and Rheinhessen, but it is also a traditional variety in the Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen regions. Plantings have increased in recent years to make up 4% of the country's total.