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A Simple Guide to the 13 German Wine Regions

A Simple Guide to the 13 German Wine Regions

Germany wine regions

Germany is one of the most complicated wine-producing countries in the world, not only because of the difficult language but also because of its intricate classification system and the use of local synonyms for its grapes. Fortunately, the German wine regions are few, where they exemplify an interplay between tradition, innovation, geography, and techniques. The result is a wide range of styles, from dry to lusciously sweet, producing some of the most famous wines in the world.

The country boasts more than 254,000 acres of vineyard, which is relatively small (France has nearly ten times that amount). However, it’s a vital and historic producer of Riesling, responsible for around 40% of the grape’s worldwide production, making it a small but very mighty winemaking country.

Germany is among the coldest and most northern climates of all winemaking countries. The warmth of the Gulf Stream, combined with centuries of winemaking knowledge, allows the country to ripen grapes and produce wine. Also, more recently, average temperatures have increased due to climate change, allowing growers in the northern part of the country to succeed more with their grapes.

One of Germany’s most complicating factors is its many wine laws. Germany has its own PDO system to comply with EU regulations, including two levels, Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein. Within wines designated “Qualitätswein” (the higher category), there is an additional system with the top wines designated Grosses Gewächs, coming from Gosses Lage wine producers, within the VDP system. Wines designated Prädikatswein have yet another system for assessing grape ripeness, from Kabinett (dry) to Trockenbeerenauslese (very sweet). 

Outside of the country’s dizzying wine laws, it’s home to only 13 wine regions, with few subregions, producing around 30 total grapes, making it a little easier to comprehend. 

Let’s take a look at the 13 German wine regions.

German Wine Regions

German wine regions
Artwork by Brandon Wise © SOMM TV


Rheinhessen is Germany’s largest wine region. Of the 254,000 acres Germany has under vine, Rheinhessen accounts for 67,000 of them, about 25%. The region lies in a valley of steep rolling hills, with the best sites along the river.

In addition to being responsible for about 20% of the country’s Riesling production, Rheinhessen boasts the world’s most significant acreage dedicated to the ancient grape, Silvaner. Following Riesling and Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau is also a priority, in addition to international grapes like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, known locally as Spätburgunder. The region offers a variety of wines, from simple and easy to drink to complex and elegant.


Pfalz is Germany’s second-largest wine region, spanning more than 58,000 acres. It sits between the forested Haard Mountains (part of the Vosges Mountains) and the Rhine Plain, extending south to the French border. The region gets around 1,800 hours of sunlight annually, with an average temperature of 11°C (51°F).

Riesling dominates most German wine regions, and Pfalz is no exception. Other white grapes in this region include Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris), Müller-Thurgau, Chardonnay, Kerner, and Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder). Red grapes, which account for around 40% of the region’s production, include Spätburgunder and Dornfelder.


With more than 38,000 acres stretching south to the Swiss border is Baden. Because of its southerly locale, it’s one of the sunniest, warmest climates in the country, meaning Riesling does not dominate here. Spätburgunder makes up about one-third of wine production in the region, followed by Müller-Thurgau and Grauburgunder. Still, about 60% of wine in Baden is from white grapes.


Württemberg is a region spanning 28,000 acres, east of Baden and inland from the Rhine River. The region is moderate in climate, with the hills of the Black Forest and Swabian Jura protecting the area. Soils here include clay, shell-limestone, marl, loess, and keuper.

Württemberg is the premier red wine region in Germany. While the top grape by production is still Riesling, over two-thirds of the area is planted to red grapes. Those include Trollinger, Blaufränkisch (Lemberger), Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling), and Spätburgunder. The remaining third comes from white grapes, primarily Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Kerner.


Mosel is the most famous of all German wine regions, primarily because it exports the majority of its wine. The region spans about 22,000 acres, from the Rhine River south to the Luxembourg border. The climate is optimal as it surrounds the Rhine, Saar, and Ruwer rivers. Grapes grow on steep slopes with clay and greywacke soils.

Riesling makes up about 60% of all grapes in the region, followed by Müller-Thurgau, Elbling, and Pinot Blanc. Pinot Noir is also produced in Mosel, though less than 10% of grapes in the region are red grapes.


Just east of Frankfurt is the region of Franken. Vines in Franken are primarily on south-facing slopes along the Main River and its tributaries. The area has a dry continental climate with warm summers and cold winters. The region boasts primitive rock, shell limestone, colored sandstone, and heavy gypsum, all good for retaining heat from the sun.

About a quarter of grapes in Franken are Müller-Thurgau, with another quarter planted as Silvaner. The remaining half includes Riesling, Bacchus, and Kerner. Exports play a minor role in the wines of Franken, so finding them abroad may be difficult.


Nahe vineyards surround its namesake river, the Nahe. Vineyards are on or near the banks of the river and its tributaries. Because of that, the climate is mild, with little frost. Soils vary from volcanic and sandstone to clay, limestone, or slate. The area spans about 10,000 acres that grow all of Germany’s classic grapes: Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Grauburgunder, Weissburgunder, Spätburgunder and Dornfelder.


Rheingau may be the next most famous region after Mosel. Similarly, the region exports heavily abroad. Though the region sits on the 50-degree latitude (among the coldest latitudes that can still ripen wine grapes), the area is protected by the Taunus Hills and its forests, along with the heat-reflecting Rhine River. Slate, chalk, gravel, and quartzite soils also help retain the heat. About 80% of grapes in Rheingau are Riesling, while the remaining are smaller white varieties in addition to Spätburgunder.


Saale-Unstrut, a region located between rivers by the same name, is one of the northernmost wine regions in Europe. It sits at the 51st parallel, where vineyards have shell-limestone and colored sandstone soils that release heat at night when it is coldest. Otherwise, it’s a small region of about 2,000 acres with a dry continental climate. This region grows primarily local white grapes: Müller-Thurgau, Weissburgunder, Bacchus, and Silvaner. About 25% of vineyards are red grapes, mainly Dornfelder.


Ahr is among the smallest in the country, spanning about 1,400 acres along the Ahr River. This area is in Northern Germany, but the vines grow in warmed rocks and volcanic soils, which create milder growing conditions. Ahr is one of the regions with the most red grapes planted in Germany. Two-thirds of grapes are Spätburgunder, followed by Frühburgunder, which is a mutation of Pinot Noir. The remaining grapes include Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Portugeiser.


Sachsen is another small region in Northern Germany. It sits along the 51st parallel with Ahr and Saale-Unstrut and spans about 1,200 acres, surrounding the town of Dresden. The combination of sufficient rainfall, 1,600 hours of sunshine per year and the continental climate allow this otherwise cold region to produce grapes. Of course, these are cold-hardy grapes, including Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Weissburgunder, Spätburgunder, and Grauburgunder. Unfortunately, the vast majority of these wines are only available locally.


While it may be a small region (only about 1,100 acres), the Mittelrhein might be one of the most picturesque regions in Germany. In fact, the southern portion of the region, the Upper Middle Rhein Valley, was named a UNESCO Heritage Site in 2002.  

In addition to looking beautiful, the steep hillsides and the Rhine River provide warmth to the vines and protect them from the cold winds in the area. The area is primarily Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, and Spätburgunder. Like Sachsen and other smaller German wine regions, wines from Mittelrhein are mainly consumed by locals or tourists. 

Hessische Bergstrasse

Hessische Bergstrasse (say that five times fast) is the smallest of all German wine regions, though it is only about 12 acres smaller than the Mittelrhein. It sits between the Rhine River to the west and the Oden Forest to the east. Ample sunshine and precipitation allow the region to ripen grapes, including Riesling, Silvaner, Weissburgunder, Spätburgunder, and Grauburgunder. Wine is a rare commodity here and only consumed by locals.

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