Site logo

Spotlight on… Rheingau Wine Region

It seems like there’s an ‘International Day’ for most grape varieties and this month it’s Riesling’s turn. But rather than talk about this precious little, we thought we’d spotlight the region of Rheingau where they produce some of the world’s best Riesling wine.

Rheingau sits in the south west of Germany, upon a south-facing stony slope which falls towards the river Rhine. It’s nestled behind the Taunus mountains to the north which protect the vineyards from wind chills. Heat reflected off the surface of the Rhine and the protection from cold help make ideal conditions for a long ripening period for the grapes.

The region is planted with 3,185 hectares of vines – 77.7% Riesling, 12.2% Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) and small amounts of other varieties. For many years it was regarded as Germany’s noblest wine region. This came from its association with aristocratic estates and with the growth of more exciting regions. As focus started to shift to regions such as Pfalz and Rheinhessen, it risked being left behind. Fortunately, there has been some new life pumped into the region and it’s come back to favour.

The best Rheingau wines are still Rieslings, with more body than Mosel wines and strong mineral qualities. Some of Germany’s best sweet Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (see below) have been made here, with 1959 and 1971 being memorable vintages.


Visiting Rheingau Wine Region

Rheingau Wine Region

The Rheingau is a popular part of Germany for tourists. Its wineries and restaurants offer high quality wine and food experiences all year round. Notably there’s the Gourmet and Wine festival in March and the Rheingau Music Festival over summer.

If you like a picturesque drive then the Rheingau Riesling Route winds its way for 120km past old monasteries and castles.


German Wine Classifications

When buying Rheingau wines, or in fact just German wines, there are a few indicators that are useful to know: the origin, quality & sweetness. When you look at a German wine label there will be words on there that tell you this, but they can be confusing 

Helpfully there’s a system to all those words, but it’s a bit complicated. We’ve given an overview of the sorts of words you might find on a label below.


Riesling Spatlese from Nahe

Deutscher Wein and Landwein

Deutscher Wein and Landwein are the most basic wine category. This classification simply means that the wine has been made with grapes from any of the 26 regions and it must also be Trocken (Dry) or Halbtrocken (Half-Dry)


Qualitätswein (QbA)

Qualitätswein is a higher quality wine with classification determined by minimum ripeness. It can also only be produced with grapes from 1 of 13 regions. The classifications within Qualitätswein are:

  • Trocken/Selection: Dry wine with ~9 g/l RS or less. “Selection” is used for the wines of Rheingau that have been hand-harvested.
  • Halbtrocken/Classic: “Half-dry” or slightly sweet wine with up to 12 g/l RS (up to 15 g/l RS for “Classic”)
  • Liebliche: Sweet wine with up to 45 g/l RS
  • süß or Süss: Sweet wine with more than 45 g/l RS


Pradikatswein (QmP)

Pradikatswein has an additional classification that’s based on the ripeness of the grapes when harvested. Sweeter grapes increase the likelihood of alcohol and sweetness of the wine. These classifications are:

  • Kabinett – Usually the lightest style made from fully ripe grapes. This style goes well with light food or just casual quaffing. They’re generally light in alcohol and calories and are mostly dry through to off-dry.
  • Spätlese – Spätlese literally means “late harvest” and these wines are usually of a higher quality, harvested after the normal harvest. They have a more intense flavour and work with richer foods. Spätlese wines are usually sweeter than Kabinett, although if you see “Trocken” on the label it’ll be a dry style with higher alcohol.
  • Auslese – These are a “select harvest”, and are usually the very ripe bunches so even sweeter. They often resemble desert wines but can be dry (Trocken) through to sweet.
  • Beerenauslese (BA) – Following on from the above this means “berry select harvest”. These wines are much more rare and are individually selected over ripe berries. These grapes have noble rot which helps create rich, sweet dessert wines.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) – Meaning “dry berry select harvest” and the most rare wine of the group that have dried out on the vine, almost to the point of being a raisin.
  • Eiswein – Ice Wine is made by harvesting and pressing grapes that have frozen on the vine, usually in the middle of the night. These grapes can be anywhere from BA intensity and have highly concentrated fruity acidity and sweetness.

Additional 'Quality' Indicators

Often as well as the above classifications you’ll see some more words on Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein bottles. This additional rating was created by the VDP these are:

Gutswein: estate wine, dry

Ortswein: village wine (from dry to sweet)

Erste Lage: first growth (from dry to sweet), from a single classified site

Grosse Lage (also Grosses Gewächs): great growth or grand cru (from dry to sweet), from a single classified site 

Wines with these ratings are often higher quality wines.


It all seems a bit complicated but next time you’re out wine shopping see which of the above you recognise on a German wine label. Hopefully they can help you work out what’s good and what you like


Rheingau Wine Resources

If you’d like to dig more into Rheingau and German wines here are a few resources on the site which are helpful. We particularly find the ‘How to pronounce…’ video useful. Particularly when you’ve got words like Trockenbeerenauslese. 


Explore Wines of Germany Film – Wines of Germany

How to Pronounce German Wine – Wines of Germany

Understanding the Rheingau and German Wine Laws for WSET L3 – Wine with Jimmy