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As in many Old World countries, the rise of viticulture in Germany came about as a result of the Roman Empire, who saw the potential for vine cultivation in the vast flatlands around the base of the Rhine valley. Indeed, for over a thousand years, Germany's wine production levels were enormous, with much of the south of the country being used more or less exclusively for growing grapes. Over time, this diminished to make way for expanding cities and other types of industries, but Southern Germany remains very much an important wine region within Europe, with many beautifully balanced and flavorful German wines being prized by locals and international wine lovers alike. The hills around Baden-Baden and Mannheim are especially noteworthy, as these produce the high end of the characteristic semi-sweet white wines which couple so perfectly with German cheeses and pickled vegetables. However, all of Germany's wine producing regions have something special and unique to offer, and are a joy to explore and experience.
Pinot Blanc is a popular white grape varietal most commonly associated with the beautiful French region of Alsace, but which is also grown across Central Europe and Italy. In Germany and Austria it is known as Weisseburgunder, in Italy it is called Pinot Bianco, and is one of the key varietals in the alpine regions of Alto Adige. Pinot Blanc is the main white grape varietal in Alsace, where it is prized for its ability to beautifully express the fine terroir on which it is grown, and it is used to produce exceptional single varietal wines, as well as blended wine such as Edelzwicker. Pinot Blanc is also a key component in this part of France’s signature sparkling wine, Cremant d’Alsace.
The wines made from Pinot Blanc are typically medium to light bodied, but they possess a remarkable freshness and clean character, which reminds us of the cool, green hillsides of their homeland. Apple, honey and biscuity, yeasty flavors are typical in fine Pinot Blanc wines, as well as a good level of minerality, making it a popular choice for those looking to pair a fine white wine with a wide range of foods. Although it is almost never oaked in Alsace, Italian vintners have a tendency to age Pinot Bianco in oak barrels, adding an extra dimension to this wonderful varietal.
The region of Rheinhessen is the largest and most productive of all of Germany’s wine regions, and wine has been produced here since the Roman occupation of the country. It was favored by Charlemagne, too, whose influence was felt all over Europe, and Rheinhessen wines were at many points in history the height of fashion. Rheinhessen is bordered by the mighty river Rhine in the north and to the west, and is typified by its undulating topography - indeed, it is known locally as the ‘land of a thousand hills’.
The finest appellations in Rheinhessen are generally considered to be those in the Roter Hang (red slope), where the red sandstone soil imparts plenty of character and fascinating features. However, many popular and highly regarded wines from Rheinhessen are produced on the banks of the river Rhine, where the varied soils are full of interesting characteristics carried by the water. The majority of wines produced in this part of Germany are white, with sixty nine percent of the region’s total output being made up of Riesling and Muller-Thurgau varietal grapes. Red wines also thrive here, though, and Dornfelder is a popular varietal which is regularly praised for its depth and expression.