While France gets a lot of attention for its stunning châteaux and fairytale castles spread throughout its scenic wine territories, don’t discount visiting other Old World wine regions like Germany. Germany’s Mosel and Rhine Valleys feature beautiful terraced vineyards set along the banks of both rivers, complete with castles perched atop the hills. One of the best ways to explore the Mosel and Rhine wine regions is to take a road trip through Germany.
How German Wines are Classified
Before you venture off on your German wine tour, it would be good to understand some of how German wines are classified. Some important terms to know:
Landwein: Basic German table wine classification
Qualitätswein: One step up from German table wine, these are the start of the higher quality wines. The different categories are determined by the minimum ripeness of grapes, which results in different sweetness levels. Sweetness levels are:
- Trocken: dry wine
- Halbtroken: half-dry
- Feinherb: off dry, similar to Halbtroken
- Liebliche: sweet
- Süss: Sweeter than Liebliche
Prädikatswein: These wines tend to be a bit sweeter, and the category is often used for wines that come from the Mosel region. Always remember, the sweeter the grape, the more likelihood that the wine has a higher alcohol content and sweeter taste. Here you find terms like:
- Kabinett: lightest style of Riseling, can be dry to off-dry
- Spätlese: Means “Late Harvest” and typically sweeter than Kabinett
- Auslese: An even sweeter wine where grapes are hand-picked due to their desirable “noble rot”
- Beerenauslese: Less common to find — these are basically raisins from noble rot grapes. Expect pricier half-bottle dessert wines here
- Trockenbeernauslese: Most rare of the group, very raisinated grapes that dried on the vine
- Eiswein: If you’ve ever had ice wine, that is what Eiswein is in Germany. Grapes freeze on the vine and then are pressed while still frozen
VDP: VDP stands for Verband Deutscher Prâdikatsweingüter, which was created to recognize the top quality Rieslings. You’ll see this term used more in the Rheingau versus the Mosel region. Two of the most common terms are Grosse Lage, “great site,” or VDP Grosses Gewäches, or “Great Growth”.
Koblenz – Where the Moselle and Rhine Come Together
The scenic city of Koblenz is actually the convergence of the Moselle and Rhine Rivers. Dating back over 2000 years, the historic city is the ideal base if you want to visit both wine regions. Look for history, culture, good food, and of course, excellent wines at every turn. The Ehrenbreitstein Fortress sits high above the Rhine, providing stunning views down to Koblenz and the rivers.
Rhine Valley – Rheingau
The Rhine Valley, or Rheingau, is one of the 13 main recognized wine regions, or anbaugebiets, in Germany. Wines that come from the Rhine Valley tend to be of superior quality and lower production yields — it’s definitely about quality over quantity here.
The main varietals grown in the Rheingau are Riesling and Pinot Noir, which is known locally as Spätburgunder. About 75% of the Rheingau is planted with Riesling, and less than 15% is dedicated to Spätburgunder.
While the region itself is small, it plays a large part in German wine history. Names like Johannisberg Riesling, the Geisenheim Research Institute, and Kloster Eberbach are some of the most famous ones you’ll hear. Kloster Eberbach is where Cistercian monks began making wine as far back as the 12th century. Johannisberg, Saint John’s Mountain, is where the Riesling gets its name. And, the Geisenheim Research Institute, sometimes referred to as the Geisenheim Wine Institute, developed some of Germany’s most noted varietals like Müller-Thurgau, named after the professor who created it.
How to Get around the Rheingau
Drive through the beautiful towns along the Rhine River, stopping in towns like Rüdesheim to enjoy the historic sites and great food and wine. There is a Rheingauer Riesling Route that will take you through 74 miles of roads in the region. Follow the cycling trail or opt for the hiking trails. During the summer months, consider booking a Rhine River cruise to enjoy some of the best views of the vineyards and castles.
The Mosel River, or Moselle in French, also has two tributaries, the Saar and Ruwer. Together, they make up one of the biggest German wine regions, geographically speaking.
You’ll find the grapes are cultivated on rather steep hillsides along the Mosel River. Some of the slopes are so steep they appear perpendicular. Each area produces wine with notable and distinct characteristics, yet share some familial traits like a fruity acidity, light body, and pale color. Late harvest wines are good for aging from the Mosel, while young wines should be consumed quickly to appreciate their subtle nuances.
Wines in the Mosel are most notably defined by their producers — names like Ernst Loosen or Uerziger Würzgarten. Loosen is one of the most renowned Riesling producers in the Mosel, while Würzgarten’s vineyards are noted for incredibly smoky and powerful wines, thanks to his vineyards’ red slate soil.
Getting Around the Mosel Valley
Much like the Rheingau, you can drive along the Mosel river or take a boat cruise and learn more about the vineyards along its banks. There are various hiking paths and nature trails, or rent a canoe in towns like Ernst, Klotten, or Bruttig-Fankel.
When to visit
The best time to visit the Rhine and Mosel Valleys is late spring through early fall, between the end of April and the start of October. Not only is the the time when the vineyards are in bloom, this is also the time when the cruises along the rivers are running on a regular basis, and the majority of shops and restaurants are open full hours. Visiting outside of this time is also nice, but expect to be driving the whole time as opposed to cruising along the river.
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This post is in collaboration with Alamo Rent-A-Car but as always, opinions and views expressed are our own.