Kinds of German White Wines

By Russ Buchanan

Germany has been producing high quality white wines since the Romans introduced vineyards to the region around 100 BC. By the 17th century, Germany had become famous for its wines, particularly its white varieties produced in the north. By the late 20th century, however, vine disease, war and economic ruin had all but decimated the German wine industry. Only now, in 2009, are the wines of Germany making a comeback, with white varieties leading the way.

Glasses of white wine
credit: Creatas Images/Creatas/Getty Images


Riesling, the most planted grape variety in Germany, is grown in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer area, Alsace, and the Spotlese and Auslese regions. Nearly all popular white wines from Germany contain at least some of this grape variety. The slate soils of the Mosel area are reflected in the flavor of its wines, while wines from the warmer Alsace region tend to have less soil character and more peach and apricot influence. Liebfraumilch, a very popular German export, is an example of a late-harvest, sweet Riesling. The taste and bouquet of Riesling wines are often compared to floral and fruit blossoms, apples, limes, slate and minerals.

Classification and Rating

Quality classification of the highest-rated German wines is largely based on ripeness level at harvest. Wines not based on ripeness level are Tafelwein (table wine), Landwein (landwein) and wines having the lowest rating of "Q." The next level, QbA, includes inexpensive, easy-drinking wines grown in one of the 13 grape-growing regions of Germany. The final, highest level, QmP, is based on six levels of ripeness, and includes the following: Kabinett—light-bodied, low to medium alcohol content, and the driest of the QmP classification: Spatlese—a fuller, more intense body (due to later harvesting). Though not as dry as Kabinett, Spatlese is still considered one of the drier of the QmP class. Austesse—harvested later than Spatlese, results in a sweeter, fuller-bodied taste. Beerenauslese—grapes affected by botrytis (noble rot) are selected—grape-by-grape—to produce this sweeter and more expensive group of wines. Trockenbeerenauslese—the latest harvest of the QmP classification is also the sweetest.

Wine Experts' Favorites asked a panel of wine experts: "What's the one German white wine you'd recommend seeking out?" Here's how they answered: Tony Connell, personal wine consultant for Montesquieu Wines, chose a 2007 Steinadler from the Mosel region, calling it "a pleaser in every way, and my go-to wine for spicy food pairings." A 2007 Gutzler Blanc de Noir White-Pressed Pinot Noir—a non-Riesling—was the favorite of Cezar Kusik, fine wine specialist, Fourcade & Hecht. "The wine is great by itself as a refreshing aperitif or with a wide range of seafood," said Kusic. Loren Sonkin, founder/winemaker of Sonkin Cellars, chose Selbach Oster Riesling Spatlese Wehlener Sonnenuhr, as the best representative of the Spatlese classification and a personal favorite. Said Sonkin, "It can be found for about $28, and is a great wine to sip on its own or matches well with a wide variety of foods."