Unpolished Grape 101: Introduction to German Wine

Major Wine Regions


Principal Grape Varieties

White Black
The above list is not exhaustive

Germany at a Glance

Germany, known for its sweet Riesling, is a cool region that is able to experience successful grape-growing due to its wide range of slopes and sun. Under the optimal sunny conditions, grapes are able to ripen with various levels of sugar, producing some of Germany’s most reputable and famed sweet wines. Germany also produces light and dry styles, as well as the outstanding dry wines classified under the prestigious Grosses Gewächs (GG) quality label.

Dry and Off-Dry Wines

German wines are categorized and named according to their sugar level. Wines that are designated “Kabinett,” “Spatlese”, or “Auslese” are lighter in style and can be made dry. However, the majority have some sugar because the grapes are naturally extra sweet from hanging out on the vine during a long growing season. In some cases, grapes gain additional sugar on the vine from “Noble Rot,” a vineyard fungus that makes the grape water evaporate and concentrates the remaining sugars.

If the wine-maker allows fermentation to proceed naturally, the yeast will consume all of the sugar and the final wine will be dry with higher alcohol. If fermentation is prematurely stopped, the wine will remain sweet with lower alcohol.

Sweet Wines

Wines with indications “Beerenauslese” (selected berries), “Trockenbeerenauslese” (dried berries), or “Eiswein” (frozen berries), have such high levels of sugar that the fermentation yeast die before they can consume all of it. Thus, only about half of the sugar is turned into alcohol. Wines under these labels will always be sweet with a low ABV.


As Germany’s most planted grape variety, Riesling is produced in different styles: dry, off-dry, sweet, and very sweet. Wines produced in the cooler regions of Mosel are typically dryer and lighter in style than those produced in warmer regions of Pfalz and Baden. Rheingau is a prestigious region that produces medium-full bodied Rieslings with ripe, peach flavors. As the largest region, Rheinhessen produces both regular and GG Riesling on their steep hillsides.

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