Pfalz is a key wine region in western Germany, located between the Rhine river and the low-lying Haardt mountain range (a natural continuation of the Alsatian Vosges). It covers a neat rectangle of land 45 miles (75km) long and 15 miles (25km) wide. To the north lies Rheinhessen, to the south French Alsace.
In terms of both quality and quantity, Pfalz is one of Germany's most important regions, and one which shows great promise for the future. An increasing proportion of Germany's finest Riesling and Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) come from Pfalz vineyards, and the region generates more everyday Landwein and Deutscher Wein than any other region by far (see German Wine Label Information).
With roughly 58,000 acres (23,500ha) of land planted to grapevines, Pfalz is the second-largest of Germany's 13 Anbaugebeite wine regions (only its northern neighbor Rheinhessen has more vines). The region is home to some 10,000 vine growers, half of whom work as contractors, and is so densely planted that vines outnumber inhabitants 600:1.
Pfalz's vineyards produce both white wines (60%) and red (40%). The whites have long been the most successful and, as is standard almost everywhere in the Rheinland, Riesling dominates the local vineyards and wines. In 2013 the region had 14,000 acres (5,600 ha) of Riesling vines, accounting for roughly a quarter of its entire vineyard area. Riesling is easily Germany's most successful grape variety, from the perspectives of both quality and quantity. Here in Pfalz it produces wines which are noticeably richer and riper than those found in the other top Riesling regions, Mosel, Rheingau and Nahe. The next most popular grape, with roughly half as many vines, is Dornfelder, a red-wine variety crossed in 1956 which has become popular all over Germany. This is followed by Muller-Thurgau, Portugieser and Pinot Noir, now Germany's most popular red-wine grape.
There are many similarities to be drawn between Pfalz and its southern neighbor Alsace, not least because both regions are sandwiched between the Rhine and the Vosges/Haardt mountains. The wine styles produced in the two regions are also very similar, not just because the climates are similar, but because of the grape varieties used: Riesling, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Blanc are common to both regions.
The low-lying, densely forested Haardt Mountains have much the same influence over Pfalz as the Vosges do over Alsace. They rise as high as 2210ft (675m), and cast a rain shadow over the region, and are largely responsible for its relatively warm, dry climate. It is this which makes Pfalz's wines styles (particularly Riesling) noticeably more concentrated and fuller-bodied than those found in cooler, wetter regions. All of Pfalz's top vineyards are located in long thin strip at the base of the hills.
The style of Pfalz's wines has evolved noticeably over the past few decades. In the 1990s the proportion of Sekt made here rose significantly in response to rising demand for sparkling wines (both domestic and internationally). The region's still white wines have reduced in sweetness, and are now mostly trocken (dry). Its red wines have also evolved, becoming fuller-bodied and higher in alcohol as the global appetite for this style has continued to grow. Pfalz Pinot Noir has risen to become one of Germany's flagship wine styles, and is gaining both national and international attention. Even Dornfelder, whose plantings across Germany have risen significantly in recent years, is now building a reputation as a more serious wine.
Wine tourism contributes significantly to Pfalz's economy, particularly that brought to the region by the Deutsche Weinstrasse (German Wine Route). This tourist trail was created in 1935 and it still draws hundreds of thousands of visitors to the region each year. The largest event in Pfalz's wine calendar is September's Wurstmarkt which attracts more than 600,000 visitors to Bad Durkheim.