The Six Regions Bringing Out the Best In German Wine
Germany’s top six Grosse Lage, or ‘Grand Cru,’ regions are producing some of the country’s best dry wines. Here’s what to look for.
In Germany, where wine preferences have long been swinging dry and drier still, the market is dominated by trocken, or dry wines made from Riesling, Pinot Noir(known as Spätburgunder), Pinot Gris (or Grauburgunder) and more. Among the very best are dry wines classified as Grosses Gewächs, or “great growths,” GG for short.
They represent standout dry expressions of exemplary single vineyards known as Grosse Lage, Germany’s version of the grand cru. These are recognized for historically producing wines of distinction.
GG wines are produced in each of Germany’s 13 wine regions. They must contain no more than nine grams per liter of residual sugar, adhere to strict quality and production guidelines and utilize only specific grape varieties classic to each region.
The modern-day GG classification was codified in 2002 by the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP), an exclusive organization of German winegrowers. The VDP system is distinct from the German prädikat that classifies wine into categories like kabinett, spätlese or auslese, based on the ripeness of grapes at harvest.
The VDP classification continues to evolve, and its trademarked VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS nomenclature extends only to members. However, winemakers in non-VDP estates throughout Germany are increasingly emulating classification systems for flagship dry wines based on vineyard designations, as well.
Read on to discover just six of Germany’s top regions for GG bottlings.
The VDP’s GG framework was formed by a coalition of enterprising Rheingau winegrowers known as the Charta. In the 1980s, the Charta advocated a regionwide focus on high-quality, dry Riesling production and the resurrection of historic vineyard classifications that link wine quality with provenance, not sugar levels. At the top of this classification were the Erstes Gewächs, which are comparable to premier cru, or first-growth, vineyards.
Many Rheingau producers labeled dry Riesling from top vineyards as Erstes Gewächs, in keeping with the Charta, until 2012, when the classification was replaced with Grosses Gewächs.
Since 2018, non-VDP winegrowers have incorporated the Rheingau Grosses Gewächs (RGG) designation for flagship dry, single-vineyard wines. Both the RGG and VDP.GROSSES GEWÄCHS regulations permit Riesling and Spätburgunder GGs.
At Schloss Johannisberg, late-harvest dry Rieslings, or spätlese trocken, were produced long before GG existed, according to its estate manager, Stefan Doktor. Fermented dry to seven or eight grams per liter of residual sugar, they’re an evolutionary predecessor to the estate’s GG Silberlack, which debuted in 2005.
A svelte, crystalline expression of the estate’s monopol vineyard, the GG Silberlack has inched bone dry to less than three grams per liter of residual sugar in recent years.
Historically, Doktor says, when acidity levels were higher, the resulting wines were made sweeter in the Rheingau to maintain balance. Today, with increasingly warmer climates, “the acidity of grapes has changed,” he says. “You can produce wines that are drier and drier, but still balanced.”
Among the region’s iconic dry-style wines from non-VDP producers are Georg Breuer’s textured monopol Rieslings, Eva Fricke’s vibrant single-vineyard dry Riesling and J.B. Becker’s sinewy spätlese trocken Riesling and Spätburgunder.
Wines to Try
August Kesseler 2016 Höllenberg Pinot Noir GG Grosse Lage; $203, 96 points. Hints of violet, succulent black cherries and freshly dug beetroot perfume this complex, intensely concentrated Pinot Noir. It’s rich and voluptuously textured but balanced by crisp red-currant acidity and fine feathery tannins. Appealing now for its opulent fruit and heady spice, but time in the cellar should lend even more complexity and nuance. Vineyard Brands.
Domdechant Werner 2018 Kirchenstück Riesling GG Trocken; $55, 94 points. Wafting of yellow peaches, apricot and spice, this producer’s 2018 Kirchenstück is substantially more open and yielding than it’s also-excellent 2017 bottling. Sleek and steely but luscious and peachy, too, it’s a racy dry Riesling that’s thrilling now but likely to be better from 2022. Concentrated and piercing, it should improve through 2035 and hold further still. Miller Squared Inc. Editors’ Choice.
In recent years, German wine lovers, particularly Millennials or members of Gen-Z, most likely associate Rheinhessen with its cult-status dry wines and rock-star winemakers like Klaus Peter Keller or Phillip Wittmann. Until the turn of the 21st century, however, Rheinhessen was best known as Germany’s heartland for inexpensive, sweet bulk wines.
According to Wittmann, there is a provenance of great vineyards as well as “a long history of making dry wines here well before Liebfraumilch.” His Grosse Lage vineyards, Morstein and Aulerde, have documented winemaking histories as far back as 1282 and 1380, respectively.
This drive to retell Rheinhessen’s story as one of quality and provenance has made it one of Germany’s most riveting wine regions. It’s a hot bed of highly sought-after GGs and similarly produced single-vineyard-designated dry wines.
Rheinhessen’s groundbreaking ’90s era association of young winemakers, Message in a Bottle, was started by Keller, Wittmann and other regional luminaries. It has grown up to become the Maxime Herkunft Rheinhessen, which translates to Maximum Origin Rheinhessen. Founded in 2017, this group set out to organize its members according to the VDP’s origin-based classification framework, even if they’re not members of the VDP.
GG expressions of Riesling from producers like Keller and Wittmann, as well as the dry, single-vineyard equivalents from non-VDP producers like Jochen Dreissigacker, are all majestic, exceptionally ageworthy wines. Frequently, they’re compared to the greatest white Burgundies in the world.
The VDP permits only the production of GG bottlings from Riesling and Spätburgunder.
Wines to Try
Gunderlock 2016 Pettenthal Riesling GG Trocken; $75, 95 points. Ripe yellow-apple and quince flavors fall in lavish, creamy waves on the palate of this full-bodied Riesling. Dry and luscious in style, it’s peppered by delicate hints of smoke and exotic spice and spine-tingling tangerine acidity. An elegant wine already but it should hit its stride by 2025 and hold further. David Bowler Wine. Cellar Selection.
Wittmann 2017 Morstein Riesling GG Grosse Lage; $92, 95 points. Brisk lemon and white grapefruit aromas are accented by smoke and crushed mineral in this stately dry Riesling. Grapefruit and apple flavors fill the palate in silky, supple waves, but piercing acidity and murmurs of astringency lend structure and vibrancy. It is a stunning wine now, but is likely to hold well through 2030. Loosen Bros. USA. Editors’ Choice.
Wagner-Stempel 2017 Heerkretz Riesling Trocken GG Gold Cap; $69, 94 points. Intense aromas of smoke and earth are gradually replaced by crisp pear and apple notes that intensify from nose to palate. It’s dry and full bodied, with concentrated orchard-fruit flavors moderated by dried herbs and sun-dried hay. It’s a complex wine that balances savory and fruity beautifully but needs some time to open. Hold till 2022; it should improve through 2030 and beyond. The German Wine Collective. Cellar Selection.
Blessed with ample sunshine and a warm, dry Mediterranean climate, the Pfalz is a focal point for Germany’s most powerful, sun-drenched GGs. While Riesling is the dominant variety here, the VDP also permits GG Spätburgunder and Weissburgunder.
The Pfalz has a long, noble history of exemplary dry winemaking. Its storied Kirchenstück vineyard is widely considered the region’s greatest. It consistently produces some of the world’s greatest dry white wines.
Like Rheinhessen, however, production in the Pfalz was dominated by high-volume, mass-market sweet wines in the decades after World War II. In recent decades, however, historic icons of the northern Pfalz, like the three “B’s” of Geheimer Rat Dr. von Bassermann-Jordan, Dr. Bürklin-Wolf and Reichsrat von Buhl, seem to have awoken from years of listlessness.
In 1991, upon taking the reins at her family estate, Bettina Bürklin-von Guradze, owner of Dr. Bürklin-Wolf, ignited a revolution when she shifted focus to dry wines and established meticulous quality guidelines.
As early as 1994, Bürklin-von Guradze began to designate dry wines from flagship single-vineyards as grand cru, or GC, in accordance to vineyard classifications established in 1828 by the Bavarian royal property assessment. The vineyard classifications and quality pyramid that she installed were forerunners to the Pfalz VDP’s own quality classification system.
Südpfalz, in the south, is where much of the region’s bulk-wine production was centralized. There, pioneering producers like Ökonomierat Rebholz and Friedrich Becker not only revolutionized the production of dry, terroir-driven, single-vineyard Riesling and Spätburgunder, but they elevated Weissburgunder (also known as Pinot Blanc) to heights unseen almost anywhere in the world.
Many non-VDP producers in the Pfalz, particularly Markus Schneider and Odinstal, also produce stunning examples of dry, single-vineyard wines.
Wines to Try
Ökonomierat Rebholz 2017 Im Sonnenschein Weisser Burgunder GG ; $103, 95 points. Pinot Blanc is typically a shy white grape, but this powerful, voluptuously textured wine offers intensely concentrated apricot and white peach flavors marked by whiffs of blossom and lime perfume. It’s decadent but balanced neatly with zesty acidity and a reverberating mineral tone. Delicious already but should improve through 2037. The German Wine Collective.
Pfeffingen 2017 Weilberg Riesling GG Trocken Gold Cap; $56, 94 points. The nose here is subdued suggesting barely a whiff of crushed stone, but there’s an abundance of zesty lemon, tangerine and grapefruit on the palate. Dry and full bodied, it’s a dense, richly textured wine with a firm, steely finish. Tasted at the end of 2019, it’s still quite closed. Hold till 2023, it should gain even more breadth through 2030. The German Wine Collective. Cellar Selection.
Von Buhl 2017 Forster Pechstein Riesling GG; $68, 93 points. Soft, luscious yellow peach and pear are balanced pertly by fresh grapefruit acidity and a dusty mineral edge here. While dry in style, it’s a plump, silken sip accented by hints of bramble and sweet spice that linger on the finish. Enjoy now through 2035. The German Wine Collective.
Baden, Germany’s sun-kissed southernmost wine region, boasts a remarkable diversity of GG grape varieties of Burgundian heritage. The region is most known for Spätburgunder, Weissburgunder and Grauburgunder, but it also produces GG Riesling, Chardonnay and Lemberger.
According to Fritz Keller, owner of Franz Keller, “Burgundy is the role model for our wines,” both for its emphasis on fully dry Pinot wines, but also site specificity. “I want to bring the character of each vineyard into the glass,” he says.
Spätburgunder is the most planted grape in Baden, and its flagship GG expressions range from muscular wines from the volcanic terraces of the Kaiserstuhl to transcendent, fruity wines from the cooler limestone slopes of the Breisgau. Oft-underrated varieties like Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder are grown with unusual reverence.
Keller’s GG Schlossberg Grauburgunder, sourced from 75-year-old vines, clocks in at a dainty 12.5% alcohol by volume (abv), but it offers a complexity and ageworthiness not often found in commercially ubiquitous Pinot Grigio.
“Pop music is nice,” says Keller. “It’s pleasant to listen to for about two minutes, but afterwards, can be forgettable. In terms of music, this is jazz.”
Fermented in oak barrels, “these are wines that age beautifully, gaining minerality with age and holding up well to richer cuisine,” he says.
Baden’s most ambitious GGs have been historically criticized for intense extraction and oak embellishments, but there’s a clear generational shift bringing youthful vitality. As sons and daughters of Baden’s old guard like Keller, Bernhard Huber and others return from studies in Burgundy and beyond, they’ve infused a thrilling transparency and purity into the region’s flagship dry wines.
Wines to Try
Franz Keller 2016 Enselberg Jechtingen Spätburgunder GG; $60, 95 points. Hints of toast and vanilla mingle into smoke and ash in this ripe and richly concentrated Pinot Noir sourced from volcanic soils. Blackberry and black cherry flavors are luscious but elegantly balanced with firm acidity and an elegant herbal edge. It’s welcoming now for its fresh fruit and fine-grained tannins but should improve further through 2030. Delicato Family Wines. Cellar Selection.
Salwey 2015 Oberrotweiler Eichberg Pinot Gris GG; $53, 94 points. Layers of smoke and spice accent vibrant lemon, pear and apple in this dry but lusciously textured Pinot Gris. Plumpness on the palate is balanced by firm hits of steel and mineral along with a savory touch of white mushroom. It’s an intense, structured wine that should improve well through 2030. The German Wine Collective.
It’s ironic that Franken, one of Germany’s most eminent producers of predominantly dry, terroir-transparent wines, is one of its least known. The region excels in svelte wines that are often powerfully mineral. Most loved is Franken’s soft-edged, luminous Silvaner, but Riesling, Spätburgunder and Weissburgunder round out the region’s four recognized GG varieties.
Great, dry wines have been a part of Franken’s history long before the rise of the GGs, says Andrea Wirsching, managing director of Hans Wirsching. While much of Germany embraced cheap, cheerful sweet wines, Franconians held to their Fränkische-trocken, or Franconian dry wines, an informal moniker for wines with a maximum residual sugar level of four grams per liter.
At Hans Wirsching, flagship single-vineyard dry wines labeled spätlese trocken were produced as early as the 1980s. They’ve evolved, Wirsching says, as a new generation of highly educated, well-traveled winemakers in the 1990s prompted a “renaissance of great, dry single-vineyard wines.”
As throughout Germany, the effects of climate change are prompting evolution in Franken.
“A good GG should have an alcohol level of between 12.5% and 13.5%,” says Wirsching. With current climates, however, “if we worked our vineyards as we did in the early 2000s, they would be 15–16% abv. We want our GGs to be concentrated and complex,” but above all else, elegant.
“With too much alcohol, we’re in danger of losing that elegance,” she says.
To preserve the freshness, minerality and perfume so classic to the region’s dry wines, many of Franken’s winegrowers are seeking out cooler sites and new vineyard management techniques to slow sugar accumulation in grapes.
Wines to Try
Rudolf Fürst 2016 Hundsrück Spätburgunder GG; $206, 96 points. This is a vibrant, concentrated Pinot Noir that reverberates with pristine black currant and graphite. Toasted wood and dried herb tones are a prominent companion to primary black fruit now but should meld over the next few years. The finish is long and lean, ending on fine firm tannins—a stunner that should improve for decades to come. Cellar Selection.
Schmitt’s Kinder 2017 Randersackerer Pfülben Riesling GG Grosse Lage Trocken; $67, 95 points. Delicate notes of yellow peach and jellied quince gain intensity from nose to palate here, edged by steel and a bracing acidic backbone. Full bodied and creamy on the midpalate, it’s a deeply satisfying, pristinely fruity wine that should gain mineral complexities with time. Lovely already but it should improve through 2030. Editors’ Choice.
Hans Wirsching 2016 Iphöfer Julius-Echter-Berg Silvaner GG Trocken Gold Cap; $36, 94 points. While juicy and richly textured, there’s plenty of zip and vibe in this dry, deeply satisfying white. Crisp pear and green plum flavors are concentrated and fresh, finishing on zesty notes of lemon peel and crushed stone. Drinks beautifully now, but it’s concentrated enough to improve through 2040 and will likely hold much longer. The German Wine Collective.
The incomparable finesse and electric edge of the Mosel’s noble sweet Rieslings link them inextricably to the identity of the region—so much so that legendary winegrowers like J.J. Prüm and Egon Müller do not produce any dry wines whatsoever.
Yet, the Mosel produces Rieslings in an unparalleled stylistic range. In recent years, the region is increasingly lauded for dry, full-bodied and steely GG-style wines made exclusively from Riesling.
According to Ernst Loosen, owner of the Dr. Loosen estate, dry Mosel Riesling is nothing new.
“On my father’s side, wines were always produced in a dry style,” he says. In 2008, after tasting a 50-year-old Riesling produced by his great-grandfather, Loosen was gobsmacked.
“We all know that our wines with residual sugar have an enormous potential to age, but I was not aware that dry Rieslings from the Mosel could also age so beautifully for more than 50 years,” he says.
That year, Loosen introduced a series of GG Rieslings modeled after those of his ancestors. He sourced grapes from ungrafted, century-old vines in Grosse Lage vineyards and vinified them slowly with natural yeast in old, traditional barrels.
Raimund Prüm, owner of S.A. Prüm, suggests that dry Rieslings of exceptional provenance have a transparency of origin.
“You can really taste the vineyard in a GG,” he says. “You can easily detect the blue slate or the red slate in a way that you can’t with sweeter styles of Riesling.”
Many Mosel winegrowers like Markus Molitor, Immich-Batterieberg or Sybille Kuntz are not VDP members, but they also produce spectacular dry wines from historically recognized sites.
Wines to Try
Dr. Loosen 2017 Ürziger Würzgarten Dry Riesling GG Alte Reben; $54, 95 points. Hints of smoke, struck flint and spice accent this gorgeously honeyed, intensely concentrated dry Riesling. Tangerine, quince and lemon flavors are rich and reverberating, edged by thrilling lime acidity and long, earthen finish. Fantastic already but it should gain complexity through 2030 and likely longer. Loosen Bros. USA. Editors’ Choice.
S.A. Prüm 217 Graacher Dompropst GG Dry Riesling; $72, 92 points. Pristine lemon, apple and quince are tart and vital in this filigreed dry Riesling. It’s restrained and lean in its youth and veiled by slate and smoke, but spine-tingling lime acidity and a deep core of citrus flavors suggest a long future ahead. Best enjoyed from 2022–2035. Taub Family Selections. Cellar Selection.
Source: The Six Regions Bringing Out the Best In German Wine | Wine Enthusiast