Dornfelder: The Dark Horse of German Reds

Welcome to the world of Dornfelder, a relatively young yet rapidly growing red grape variety that has made a remarkable impression in the wine industry. Known for its depth of colour and rich fruitiness, Dornfelder is gaining recognition for producing expressive, enjoyable red wines, particularly in cooler climates where other red varieties may struggle.

A Brief History

Dornfelder is a German grape, created by crossing two vine varieties in 1955 by a viticulturist named August Herold at the grape breeding institute in Weinsberg, Baden-Württemberg. It was named after Immanuel August Ludwig Dornfeld, a 19th-century founder of the viticulture school in Weinsberg. Initially developed for colour enhancement of Germany’s traditionally light-coloured reds, Dornfelder has outgrown its initial purpose, showing its potential as a standalone variety.


In the vineyard, Dornfelder has a reputation for being robust and relatively easy to grow, with good resistance to fungal diseases. It ripens earlier than many other red varieties, which, combined with its ability to achieve high sugar levels, makes it well suited to cooler climates. The wines produced from Dornfelder are known for their deep, almost opaque, colour, full body, and typically moderate to high tannins.

Flavour Profile

Dornfelder wines are usually rich and fruity, offering an array of dark fruit flavours like blackberry, cherry, and plum. Depending on the winemaking techniques used, these wines can also show hints of sweet spice, earth, and sometimes a subtle smoky note. Despite its depth of colour and flavour, Dornfelder typically maintains a balanced acidity that keeps the wine fresh and vibrant.

Different Styles of Wine

The style of Dornfelder wines can range significantly based on winemaking decisions. Some Dornfelders are made in a lighter, fruit-forward style meant to be drunk young, while others are aged in oak, resulting in a more structured, complex wine. There are also sweet or off-dry versions of Dornfelder, capitalizing on the grape’s natural tendency towards high sugar levels.

Wine Making and Maturation Options

Dornfelder provides winemakers with a good deal of versatility. It can be vinified to emphasize its bright, fresh fruit character, or it can undergo oak aging to add complexity and structure. The grape’s high sugar content also gives winemakers the option of creating off-dry or sweet wines, which can be a delightful pairing with certain types of cuisine.

Important Regions

Dornfelder’s primary home is Germany, particularly in the regions of Rheinhessen and Pfalz, where it has surpassed Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) to become the second most planted red grape. Additionally, it has found success in cooler American wine regions, such as parts of Pennsylvania and the Finger Lakes region of New York.

Food Pairing Suggestions

The versatility of Dornfelder makes it an excellent match for a wide range of dishes. Lighter, fruitier styles pair well with poultry, pork, and vegetarian dishes, while the fuller-bodied, oak-aged versions can stand up to heartier fare like steak, game, and dark chocolate. The off-dry and sweet styles of Dornfelder pair nicely with spicy Asian cuisine or fruity desserts.

Dornfelder, the dark horse of German wines, invites wine lovers to explore beyond traditional varieties and to discover the unexpected depth and versatility it has to offer.

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Written by

Bernard Marr has a deep passion for wine. He has written hundreds of articles on wine, including features for Forbes, covering wine-making and industry trends. Away from the world of wine, Bernard is a world-renown business and technology futurist. He is the award winning author of over 20 best-selling books and has a combined audience of nearly 4 million people across his social media channels and newsletters.

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