German Wine History and Culinary Facts

German winegrowing has a 2,000-year-old tradition. It was introduced by the Romans in the Germanic areas conquered west of the Rhine River, and the Mosel area is the oldest German wine region. Grape varieties such as Riesling, Elbling, and Trollinger were cultivated as early as the Roman era, and many German words in winegrowing terminology are of Latin origin, such as Kelter (wine press), Most (must – the unfermented juice of grapes), and Winzer (wine grower).

Roman wine ship from Neumagen © photo: Th. Zühmer, Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier Enlarge image Roman wine ship from Neumagen on the Mosel from circa 220 A.D. (© photo: Th. Zühmer, Rheinisches Landesmuseum Trier) After the collapse of the Roman Empire, the cloisters in particular continued to produce wine. Charlemagne began regulating wine production from cultivation to sale around 800 A.D. and promoted winegrowing by the cloisters by generously donating wine gardens. Some 200 years later, grape vines were also cultivated in central Germany and even as far north as the Baltic Sea. Around 1600, vineyards in Germany were three times as large as they are today and experienced their biggest expansion. However, the devastation of the Thirty Years’ War and climate changes brought an end to winegrowing in northern Germany and, for a long period, also in eastern Germany and Bavaria. At that time, beer also gained the favor of the consumer, a trend that did not reverse itself until recently.  Napoleon’s policy of secularizing the cloisters in the early 19th century ended their millennium-old tradition of winegrowing in the provinces occupied west of the Rhine. The wine gardens then fell into private hands, which is the ownership structure still typical today.

Oak Barrels© picture-alliance/ dpa Enlarge image The traditional process of aging wine in oak barrels imparts overtones of vanilla and oak into the wine. (© picture-alliance/ dpa) European winegrowing experienced a major setback in the second half of the 19th century, when phylloxera was brought to Europe from America and destroyed large swaths of vineyards. Development of wine production also stagnated during the two world wars.  An upturn could not be detected until after World War II. While wine was often mass-produced in the postwar period, many wine growers have increasingly turned to producing fine wines in the past two decades, and there have been uniform quality wine standards for German wines since 1971. 

Tourists can gain first-hand knowledge about the various wine regions by strolling down the specially designed “wine routes.” Each wine region is included on one or more wine routes. Combine your trip with a visit to one of over 1,000 wine festivals taking place in Germany between spring and fall. In addition to the wine-tasting tours, perhaps you will have the opportunity to experience the crowning of a local wine queen.

Anyone interested in learning more about the history of winegrowing in Germany should definitely visit the German Wine Museum in Oppenheim, Rheinhessen. The museum tells the history of winegrowing and explains related techniques, such as vine cultivation and maintenance, production, and use of winegrowing equipment, as well as wine-aging in cellars.

Wine is traditionally an integral part of daily meals in many European kitchens. It is served as an accompanying beverage and is often used in the preparation of many dishes. It is intended to bring out the flavors of the food and enhance the sense of satisfaction after a rich meal. White wines go well with fish, white meat, and soft cheeses and should be enjoyed at a temperature of 48°- 57° Fahrenheit. Red wines are preferred with dark meat and hard cheeses and should be consumed at a temperature of 59°- 64° Fahrenheit.

 

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Vineyard in Rheingau © picture-alliance/ dpa