Oktoberfest - Holidays and Wine

Oktoberfest When you think of Germany and alcohol, perhaps the first image that comes to mind is drunken men, buxom blond fraulein, and pitchers of beer sliding down planked tables to the rousing cheer of an Oompa band. During the less roudy weeks of the year, however, Germany is world renowned for their fine spicy and sweet white wines, with names that it often takes a few drinks to be able to pronounce!

Germany first began to grow wine when the Romans brought vines up in the 100 BC years. In a few cases, wines that became famous here were copied and improved on in other areas of the world. You can get a Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Silvaner, and so on from many countries, even though the use of these grapes originated in Germany. Even ice wines are now also made in Ontario!

There some wines, though, that are unique to this lovely country. You won't find a German Liebfrauenmilch in Washington State! Note that Liebfrauenmilch is a type of Quälitatswein - late harvest sweet wine. Other Quälitatsweins include Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese.

Here are some German wine terms:
  • Weissherbst: a rosé wine made from only one grape variety and of at least QbA quality.
  • Rotling: a mixture of white and red grapes or their mash prior to fermentation, i.e. they are fermented together; the wine color is similar to a rosé.
  • Schillerwein: a Rotling from Württemberg of at least QbA quality.
  • Badisch Rotgold: a Rotling from Baden made from the grape varieties Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and of at least QbA quality.
  • Perlwein: wines from red or white grapes with natural or impregnated carbon dioxide (1-2.5 atm.) in either the table wine or quality wine categories.

It's good to have a sweet tooth to bite into Germany's wines! Let's take a virtual tour of the wines of Germany - both the ones that can now be found elsewhere, as well as the ones distinct to Germany's wine regions. Pour a glass, sit back, and enjoy the ride!


Gewurztraminer Most people think of Gewürztraminer as the sweet white wine with the unpronounceable name. Originally from Germany, the name Gewürztraminer (Geh-VURTS-tra-MEE-ner) means Spice Grapes. It is currently grown in Germany, Alsace France, and in smaller amounts in California and Australia.

Gewürztraminer tend to be a sweet white wine, although there are dry versions. The aroma is a flowery, spicy one, with particular odors of roses and lychees. While you often can drink Gewürztraminers young, some benefit from 2-4 years worth of aging.


Riesling Riesling is a grape with many names - Weisser Riesling, Rheinriesling, Riesling Renano, and Johannisberg Riesling. Riesling is the respected 'precusor' to White Zinfandel - the wine that "sweet tooth" drinkers sought out before White Zinfandel became available.

The Riesling grape is believed to be indigenous to Germany, and has been planted there since the fourteenth century. Riesling goes very well with oriental dishes. It also goes well with seafood of all types, and is one of the few wines that goes well with chocolate. It is also great on its own, as a dessert wine.


Qualitätswein Qualitätswein is a general German term to describe wines made from late-harvest or overripe grapes. These wines fall into two categories. First comes the standard wines - the Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA). This merely indicates the wine comes from one of 13 regions, from an approved grape. The ripeness level is tested to ensure the light, fruity, easy-drinking quality.

Of a higher quality is the Qualitätswein mit Prädikat. Discovered by accident in the late 1700s, the technique involves harvesting over-ripe grapes to get an extra sweetness and flavor. These more distinctive wines can be divided into six categories.

Kabinett: The lightest of these six wines, the grapes are fully harvested. This can be drunk with a meal.

Spätlese: This is the first 'late harvset' wine. As in other parts of the world, this creates a fruitier, richer flavor, which is also sweeter. This can be drunk with a rich food that can stand up to the flavor, or alone.

Auslese: Another late-harvest, these tend to be intense and very fruity. Some can have a crispness that fend off the sweetness, but most tend to be sweet. Good dessert wine.

Beerenauslese: You're moving into ice wine territory here, and the price has begun to go up. The grapes are now over ripe, making a rich, sweet wine that is perfect for dessert or sipping.

Eiswein: Just as with the ice wines of Canada, these grapes are at the Beerenauslese level, and then harvested and pressed while still frozen. The wine is a pure gold color, sweet, smooth, fruity. Prices can be high.

Trockenbeerenauslese: Popular since its introduction in 1921, these grapes are not only over ripe but have dried up like raisins. These wines are very rich and sweet, with a honey flavor. Also expensive.

Like ice wines and other sweet wines, these are best served alone for sipping after a meal. They should be served chilled.


Liebfraumilch is a particular Qualitätswein (QbA) wine named for the Liebfraumilch monastery in Worms, where monks created this sweet, gentle wine. They are typically made in the Nahe, Rheingau, Rheinhessen and Pfalz regions. A Liebfraumilch must be at least 70% Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Silvaner or Kerner.

The wine should be drunk well chilled, and goes well with pungent cheese, apples, pears, and other crisp fruit. It tends to be drunk either before or after meals, but not during.


Ice Wine Glass Icewine, or Eiswein, originated in Franconia, Germany in 1794. Grapes were left on the vines until the first deep frost, and the freeze/thaw cycles that occurred concentrated both the sugars and flavors of the grapes. The process was refined, and now icewines are highly prized drinks that are created in Germany, Austria, and Canada.

German eiswein is a Qualitätswein and falls under those rules. Typically, eiswiein must be naturally produced - no artificial freezing allowed. This makes ice wine very difficult to create - grapes must be guarded against too extreme temperatures, and because they are the last grapes on the vines, they must be defended vigorously against birds and other animals.

The wine ends up a golden color, or a deep, rich amber. It has a very sweet (of course) taste. The flavor is a combination of apricot, peach, mango, melon or other sweet fruits. There is often a nutty smell to it as well. It is usually drunk as a dessert wine, chilled for one or two hours. It is usually served in small cordial glasses.


Where did the name sekt come from? France became sole owner of the term 'Champagne' at the Treaty of Versailles, and from that day forward all German sparkling wines have been called sekt. Sekt usually contains less alcohol than its French cousin.

Sekt that meets the requirements can be labelled with a quality term - Qualitätsschaumweine. These wines are tested for ripeness, for other chemical standards and then tasted in a blind taste test. If it gains the 5 points necessary, it can be labelled a Qualitätsschaumweine.

Wine and Holidays
Wine in History

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.