For many, German wines conjure up 1970s stereotypes of mass-produced liebfraumilchs that have long been considered as sophisticated as a visit to Burger King.
Yet connoisseurs know that Germany produces some of the world's most aromatically pure white wines as well as a growing selection of superb reds. Going on a trail of German vineyards reveals glimpses of lovely countryside, pretty hills and river valleys, peppered with beautiful villages.
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Germany's 13 vineyard regions each have their own winemaking traditions. The best are situated along rivers such as the Rhine and its tributary, the Mosel, and around 60 per cent of production is in the state where these rivers flow, Rhineland-Palatinate.
A tour along the Mosel and Rhine rivers reveals an attractive region dotted with everything from small privately-owned vineyards to high-volume operations. A good place to start is Germany's oldest city, Trier, in the Mosel valley, where the tourist information office can organise tours.
One of Trier's jewels is Becker's, an outstanding modernist restaurant with two Michelin stars. You can sample fine wines while trying the five- or eight-course Pure Pleasure menu, which at around £100 is good value for one of the most imaginative and delicious meals you are likely to ever have. It features an amazing gazpacho amuse bouche of cucumber and prawn, a glazed turbot with beluga lentils and calf's head, and a dessert of pumpkins, carrots, chocolate and meringues resembling a picture of a walk in the woods.
The region surrounding the Mosel, and its tributaries the Saar and Ruwer rivers, is Germany's oldest wine region, with large-scale production since Roman times. Today there are more than 5000 wineries in 125 wine villages lining the Mosel river alone. Wine here is not among the cheapest, as the vineyards on the valley slopes are among the steepest in the world and much of the wine production is labour-intensive, the slopes being too steep for machinery. The sunny slopes temper the extremes of the weather and help the grapes ripen and the sheltered Mosel valley is ideal for riesling.
When Swiss vintner Daniel Vollenweider gives me a selection of rieslings to sample at his winery at pretty Traben-Trarbach on the Mosel, I am amazed to learn that until recently, when he took on a full-time employee, he used to do everything himself, except for a month each summer when he employed help to pick the grapes. The 11-acre vineyard produces around 25,000-30,000 bottles each year, and everything from pressing to fermenting, bottling and labelling is done in house.
I try his basic 2011 Felsenfest, at £8 a bottle, then a nicer glass of £12 Wolfer Golgrube (£18). Its musty, cheesy smell is caused by what is known as the 'noble rot', where grapes are infested by a fungus and the wine left longer to develop a stronger flavour. Daniel pours a glass of 2010 Schimboch. It is £19 a bottle and he explains why. "We pick the grapes later from a particular west-facing vineyard and when we crush the fruit we leave the skins together with the juice for 60 hours before pressing on an old wooden press to produce greater intensity," he says.
More wines shimmer golden at the Fran-zen winery at Bremm, also on the Mosel.
With slopes greater than 65 degrees, Angelina Lenz and Kilian Franzen's vineyards at Bremm are Europe's steepest, producing wines with a mineral-rich, tangy taste, and prices vary from £6 to a sobering £240 riesling made from overripe berries that have been individually chosen.
Germany's climate is relatively cool and generally red grapes do not ripen well, which is why most German wines are white. The soil can vary greatly from one vineyard to another. At the Raddeck estate in Nierstein on the Rhine, a larger winemaker producing around 170,000 litres each year, Stephan Raddeck showed me amazingly different soils from two of his 60 vineyards: a deep rusty red slate-ridden soil, coming in at 280 million years old and packed with iron, ideal for rieslings, and a brown, chalky limestone, a baby at 15 million years old, particularly suitable for pinot noirs.
"The vineyards here are usually small because Napoleon once visited and decreed that every generation should get their own piece of the vineyard, resulting in smaller and smaller parcels of land," he explains.
For more information on German wines and travel in the wine regions, go to germany.travel.
Ryanair (ryanair.com) flies daily from Edinburgh to Frankfurt-Hahn.