Prost, the German word for “cheers,” typically conjures up images of beer steins and hazy memories of bygone Oktoberfests. While Germany is known for its great beer, the country’s outstanding wines deserve to be prosted (a.k.a. toasted), and maybe more importantly, toasted with.
Germany is one of the most diverse winemaking countries in the world, with centuries of know-how and a modern outlook coming together to produce some of the most coveted, interesting, and delicious wines around. Some 140 grape varieties grow across 13 distinct regions, meaning that you can find both familiar and off-the-beaten-path wines no matter where you are in your vinous exploration. And as one of the most northerly viticulture areas in the world, Germany has a long growing season that enables grapes to ripen slowly, creating wines with well-structured acidity and less alcohol than those in more southerly wine-growing countries.
With a rich heritage, vibrant contemporary producers, and endless pairing options, German wine embodies the celebratory nature and togetherness that we all want to inspire when popping open a bottle of wine. Prost every moment — whether a milestone event or a small win — with this guide to the region’s top varieties and styles accompanied by toast-worthy situations.
Germany’s Top Varieties
When people think of German wine, they think of Riesling. And with good reason: 23 percent of Germany’s vineyards grow around 40 percent of the world’s Riesling. This noble grape is unique because it is capable of producing a wider range of styles than many other varieties. From bone dry and powerful, to delicate and floral, to lusciously sweet, German winemakers have the ability to craft each bottle to its own expression. The versatile grape generally produces light to medium-bodied wines with pronounced acidity and aromas reminiscent of apple, peach, and apricot.
Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder)
The most important red in Germany is Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder, as you’ll often see it referred to on labels. Germany is the third-largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world, with 29,000 acres of vineyards devoted to the variety, making it the second most widely planted grape in the country. Typically grown in the country’s warm southern river valleys, German Pinot Noir ranges from robustly fruity to spiced with notes of red fruit and subtle earth tones.
Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
While Riesling is Germany’s predominant white wine, Grauburgunder (or Pinot Gris/Grigio) is not far behind. The country is the third-largest producer of Pinot Gris worldwide, behind Italy and the U.S. These pinkish-gray grapes grow in dense clusters and produce dry, fruity white wines with notes of quince, mango, and honeysuckle. The medium-bodied wine often boasts a moderate acidity and rounded body, allowing it to complement almost any dish you pair it with.
Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder)
Weissburgunder, also known as Pinot Blanc, continues to grow in popularity. Over the past two decades, the number of vineyards dedicated to producing this wine has tripled — in fact, Germany has the most Pinot Blanc-producing vineyards in the world. This light-bodied, easy-drinking wine is perfect for the summertime. It is typically vinified dry, which showcases its light nuttiness alongside notes of pear, white peach, and white flowers.
In addition to its “big four” grape varieties, German wine is produced in styles from still to sparkling and from bone dry to deliciously sweet. With so many options to choose from, there’s bound to be a bottle perfect for your next celebration, no matter how big or small.
Here is a quick guide on the best style to prost with, depending on which of life’s moments you’re celebrating.
Special Celebrations: Think Engagements, Promotions, and Anniversaries
The sound of a cork popping on a bottle of bubbly is one of the most recognizable indicators that the festivities are about to begin. Every winemaking country has its sparkling wine style, and Germany is no exception: Its sparkling wines are referred to as Sekt (pronounced “zekt”). While some of the region’s sparkling wines are made with traditional varieties like Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Germany specializes in Riesling Sekt, which produces classic flavors of citrus, apple, and peach with the added lift from the bubbles. Whether complex and age-worthy or fizzy and fun, Germans take their Sekt seriously — Germany drinks more sparkling wine per capita than any other country. So fill a flute with your favorite Sekt and prost to the good times.
Meeting Your Partner’s Parents for the First Time
Meeting your future in-laws for the first time can be nerve-racking, to say the least. You may need something to take the edge off while also staying in the right frame of mind to hopefully impress. We have a solution: German wines made in a kabinett style.
Kabinett is a German wine term denoting a wine made from grapes picked at normal harvest times. Kabinett is the lightest style of German wine, and while most Kabinetts that you find will likely be Riesling, a wide range of varieties are made in this style. Kabinett wines can range in style from dry to off-dry with crisp acidity and relatively low alcohol (typically 8 to 10 percent), which means you can drink a glass or two without worrying about letting something embarrassing slip. If you really want to impress, request to pair it with seafood, sushi, or spicy Asian cuisine and watch as the future in-laws fall in love with you.
Hosting a Dinner Party
When hosting a dinner party, there are already enough details to keep track of when it comes to dietary restrictions and various cooking times and temperatures, not to mention wine pairings. Simplify at least one aspect of hosting by reaching for German wines made in a trocken style.
Meaning “dry,” trocken wines are vinified to have no perceptible sweetness, and Germany’s acid-driven whites and reds made in this style have the ability to pair with a wide range of cuisines. Riesling trocken is arguably the most pairable of all — with its citrus-forward notes able to complement both light dishes such as salads and deviled eggs as well as heavier fare such as grilled pork chops or turkey burgers.
Relaxing at Home
Plan on spending the night relaxing at home with a good book or a so-bad-it’s-good Netflix show? Pour yourself a glass of a spätlese wine to cap the evening off right and prost to much-needed relaxation and self-care. Spätlese is another term indicating the grapes’ ripeness at harvest time, translating literally to “late harvest.” Leaving grapes hanging on the vine to ripen a little longer results in more intense and concentrated flavors and aromas, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the wine will be sweet — a wine labeled “Spätlese trocken” means it’s been vinified dry, while “spätlese” alone on the label could indicate an off-dry or slightly sweeter wine. A late-harvest white wine from Germany will be highly aromatic and packed with intense flavors like apple, pear, and honeysuckle. The high levels of acidity curb any overt sweetness — which means you can save room for dessert.
This article is sponsored by Wines of Germany USA.