Ahr is one of Germany’s least-known and northernmost wine regions. It lies immediately north of the Mosel, and follows the Ahr River in the final stages of its journey towards its confluence with the mighty Rhine. One might expect a wine region this far north (50°N) to specialize in white wines – like almost every other cool-climate wine region. After all, neighboring Mosel and Mittelrhein both clearly favor white wines (around 85%). But Ahr turns the tables completely, producing around 85% red wines, of which around three-quarters are made from Spätburgunder (a.k.a. Pinot Noir). The classic Ahr Spatburgunder is brick-red in color and smells of red cherries, sweet spices, forest floor, possibly with a hint of smoky bacon fat if barrel-aged.
Perhaps the most important feature of Alsace is the looming presence of the Vosge mountains to the west of the region, a source of shelter from the wind and who's slopes provide the south, south-west and south-easterly facing vineyards which which to make most use of the suns rays. Due to the huge variety of soil types and terroirs to be found in the region Alsacian growers tend to produce a variety of different wines and cuvees from the dry and refreshing to some of the world's richest and most engaging late picked Vendage Tardive wines. Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner are all highly successful and most can and are made to varying levels of sweetness.
Baden is a tough region to generalise about. Made up of nine distinct districts and spanning over 250 miles it goes without saying that climate, soil type and topography varies greatly. However, Baden is without doubt the heartland of Germany’s Spatburgunder plantings. Particularly fine examples are found around the Kaiserstuhl, thanks to a clement climate and limestone soils. David Schildknecht, contributor to the Oxford Companion to Wine, feels that particularly around Freiburg and Breisgau, the “higher proportion of calcerous soils promotes firm fruity acidity resulting in Pinot Noir that marries richness with vivacity, and whose virtues have become increasingly evident over the past two decades.” Standout sites from this part of Baden include Malterdingen, Mundingen, Kondringen and Hecklingen. White wines tend to be enjoyably fruity and simple in style, produced in the main from Weisserburgunder, Grauerburgunder and Muller Thurgau. As the reputation of Baden’s Spatburgunders has steadily grown, quality conscious young winemakers have regularly visited, and taken inspiration from, their Burgundian counterparts. In recent years that has meant starting to experiment with new winemaking techniques, vineyard practices, and sources of clonal material in an effort to further hone their style. The Bernhard Huber estate, now run by the ambitious Julian Huber, is a five-star producer in the region.
Home to Horst Sauer, Franken lies in central Germany and was traditionally known as the centre for Germany's most serious Silvaner production. In the hands of Horst Sauer both Silvaner and Riesling are capable of producing excellent wines with greater power and structure than those found in the Mosel. Trocken wines are most common and can have superb intensity when produced here, but the BA's, TBA's and Eisweins, when produced are not to be missed.
The vineyards along the steep sided banks of the Mosel river, part of the region known as the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, are known for being some of the hardest vineyards in the world to work (due to their steepness) and home to some of the finest white wines in the world. Riesling is king in this cool region that follows the twists and turns of the River Mosel providing myriad different terroirs and vineyard aspects.
The Nahe comprises vineyards that occupy each bank of the river Nahe, to the south of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer. The wines are often characterised by spice, red apple notes and intense minerality, and in the hands of producers like Hermann Donnhoff can be some of Germany's greatest wines.
Formerly known as the Rheinpfalz, this region has 59,000 acres under vines. Rich wines reflect the warm climate of the south of Germany.
7,700 acres along the northern side of the Rhine between Wiesbaden and Rüdesheim where the Riesling produces classic and substantial wines.
The Rheinhessen lies with the crook of the Rhine to the north and east, the Nahe to the west, Pfalz to the South and the Rheingau to the North over the river. Keller crafts his fabulous dry, fruity and sweet wines here, where the vines produce more generosity and richness than in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer or even Nahe.
The Ruwer is a mere stream leading into the meandering Mosel, but a mere stream flanked by steep slopes of red and blue slate and riesling vines. The coolness of the area means that all but the most quality conscious growers can achieve ripeness year in year out, but those that do are able to fashion some of the most delicate examples of Riesling to be found.
Nearly all the quality vineyards of the Saar face south, in an effort to counter the cold weather by harvesting as much sun as possible to achieve ripeness. These are perhaps the steeliest of all the wines found in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, but this combination with the marked acidity means that when on song, the balance between acidity and late harvest honeyed ripeness found here can be unbeatable.