Germany off the beaten track

Trier: The Unesco World Heritage Site Porta Nigra (about 180 A.D.) © Bjoern Rudek

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10.10.2013

How Much Do You Know About German Wine?


As I've made quite apparent in previous posts, I love all things wine. So, while some might think that such a wine lover would gravitate toward France, Italy or Spain to find her happy place, the truth is that I am actually deliriously happy in Germany.

When people think about German wine, they most often think about Riesling. Fair enough. 60% of the world's Riesling is produced in Germany. And I do love German Riesling, but that's far from being all that the country produces.

Few people realize that Germany has an impressive 13 expansive wine regions and produces 17 different types of wine.

You may also be surprised to learn that Germany is the third largest cultivating nation for Pinot Noir, just behind France and the USA.

You might have to come to Germany to sample some of these wines though. A person could quite easily build an entire holiday around sampling Germany's bountiful grape delights. In fact, it would take weeks, months even, to get to do a full countrywide vineyard tour. Despite having impressive production numbers, relatively little of Germany's wine is actually exported. So, a trip to Germany is the best way to get to know its wines!

In this post though, I'd like to point out a few of Germany's lesser-known wines and wine regions while also highlighting some of Germany's fun wine history. The country is filled with fabulous wine artifacts that anyone even slightly interested in wine will find fascinating.

So, without bogging you down with too many wine variety facts, I've compiled some basic*  information about a few of Germany's wine regions and have included a top Historic Highlights of Germany wine tourism highlight for each region:

Heidelberg
Heidelberg is in the Baden region, Germany's third largest wine region, and also Germany's most mild climate region. I bet you didn't know that this region is also nicknamed Germany's "Pinot country," as more than half of the wine produced here is some sort of Pinot -- Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc). Spätburgunder, by the way, is considered the best of the best as far as German red wines are concerned.

Tourist highlight:
While you can find great Baden wine everywhere in Heidelberg, why not head up to Heidelberg Castle to check out the Great Vat? Back in the 1500s, the Prince Elector of the time thought it would be fun to create the world's largest wine cask and set about doing so. The original cask was capable of holding 127,000 liters of wine, and a new room was built in the castle just to house it. The cask has gone through various incarnations over the years -- due to great fires and leaks -- and the cask currently residing in the castle was built in 1751. It no longer holds any wine, as it apparently leaks too, but it has a capacity even more ambitious than its predecessors -- more than 200,000 liters. Now, the cask attracts more than one million visitors annually. And, of course, Heidelberg Castle is a worthy site in and of itself.



Würzburg
Würzburg is in the Franken wine region. Franconian wine has a very special characteristic, its special bottle -- the bocksbeutal. This short, round bottle dates back to the 1400s and there is even a mini museum devoted to it in Würzburg. As for the wine varieties, Silvaner is considered the "classic Franconian" variety while a red grape specialty is Domina. Other highly popular white wines in the region are Muller-Thurgau and Bacchus.

If there is any doubt about the greatness of this region's wine, consider this. Famous writer Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once wrote to his wife, "send me some Würzburg wine, no other tastes as nice, and I am in a surly mood if I lack my usual favourite drink." It makes one wonder if some of his most famous works may not have been possible without his liquid inspiration.

Tourist highlight:
Most visitors to Würzburg visit the Würzburg Residence. The UNESCO World Heritage site is, after all, a sight to behold, having been supposedly modeled after Versailles. However, beneath this grand palace dwells a massive wine cellar -- more than 14, 000 square feet -- that can hold up to 600,000 liters of wine. The Würzburg Hofkeller estate has belonged to the state since the 12th century and produces 900,000 bottles of wine annually. The grand wine cellar is open to the public daily, even though many sections of it continue to age wine. However, the cellar has also become a museum of sorts as you'll find many historic casks throughout as well as signs and information on the walls about the various sections within the cellar. And you can't beat the cellar's ambiance, as strategically placed bockbeutals-turned-candleholders light the many vaulted passageways. Special tours and events are even sometimes catered to down in these historic vaults. 



Trier

Trier is in the Mosel region, and the Mosel region's history is deeply and undeniably connected to Roman history. If this surprises you, it surprised me too when I first visited. The fact is that the Romans settled in the Mosel region more than 2000 years ago and various Roman artifacts continue to be uncovered throughout the Mosel region even today. In 1986, a number of Trier's Roman sites became officially classified as UNESCO World Heritage. To provide some perspective on just how linked Trier is to Rome, it (Trier was known in the 4th century as Augusta Treverorum) was once the second capital of the Roman Empire, and has been nicknamed by historians as the "Second Rome" of the time. As for grapes, we know the Romans loved their wine. So, wine growing in the region also dates back more than 2000 years. As such, areas within the Mosel region are the oldest wine growing communities in Germany. The region's most cultivated grape is Riesling, but a highlight to the Mosel region is the extremely rare and historical grape variety, the Elbing. The Elbing is often produced as a Sekt (sparkling wine). Spatburgunder is also produced here, as 10% of the region is devoted to red wines.

Tourist highlight:
A visit to Trier would not be complete without a visit to the Rhineland State Museum (Landesmuseum). So, after you've visited the city's various UNESCO sites, head over to this museum. Inside, you'll discover countless artifacts discovered in the region. The collection is so extensive, allow yourself a few hours to go through it all. But, for the true wine lover, a highlight of this visit will be the Neumagen Wine Ship. This is not a replica. It is the original, elaborate grave carving of a wine ship loaded with wine casks. Archaeologists have dated the stone carving back to 220 CE., when it was believed to have been created as part of a Roman wine merchant's elaborate gravesite. 



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*This list is in no way comprehensive. There are so very many more great wine highlights in HHOG cities. To keep this post short, I just posted three highlights…of many. This will just get your started until I add more in another later post devoted to the topic!




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