The Bavarian city of Würzburg is at the heart of one Germany’s oldest and most historically significant wine regions. References to the wines of Franconia (or Franken as they say in Germany) are made as early as the eighth century.
Würzburg is also the start of the famous Romantic Road. The road was established in the 1970s as a way to connect and showcase some of Southern Germany’s most beautiful and important landmarks. It runs south 220 miles to the city of Füssen at the foot of the German Alps.
Even before you start your trek down the Romantic Road, you will notice that the steep banks of the Main River that flows through Würzburg are covered with grape vines. Views of the “Stein,” Germany’s second largest vineyard, are possible from various points on the river. It must also be noted that the section of vineyards along the Romantic Road represents only a small fraction of Franconian wine country.
Spend some time looking around Würzburg before beginning your drive or make it a base of operations. Rather than devote several paragraphs to the city and still do it injustice, see Ingo Deckler’s article “Home of Dirkules, Silvaner and the Bocksbeutel” for a wine-oriented overview.
The Tauber Tal
As you leave Würzburg driving south on B 27, the first section of the Romantic Road winds through the vineyards of the Tauber Valley (Tauber Tal in German) to the Medieval walled town of Rothenburg. The first few miles will find you escaping the environs of the city, but after that, the countryside is simply spectacular. Vineyards climb the steep hillsides and small villages with their half timber houses and narrow streets make pleasant side trips along the route.
Any of these small towns will yield one or more wineries (“Weingut” in German) and many of them operate regular tasting rooms. A bit of good news is that most tasting rooms do not charge for a tasting, but there is an expectation that visitors will purchase a bottle of wine.
Be aware that the pours can be large. It is okay to ask for a smaller sample and it is also fine if you want to pour out some of the wine. Germany strictly enforces drunk driving laws and the tasting room staff is aware that you likely arrived by car.
This section of the road begins and ends in the German state of Bavaria, but the majority lies in Baden-Württemberg. Curiously the area around the towns of Lauda and Königshofen are technically a part of the Baden Wine Region, which is many miles to the southwest. Nevertheless, the residents speak the Frankish dialect and consider themselves part of Franconia. If nothing else, you can stop in just to say you visited two German wine regions in the same day.
Like much of Germany, Franconian wines are predominantly white. Some Riesling is grown here, but the undisputed king of Franken wine is Silvaner. This grape produces very clean, dry-style wines ideal for food pairing. It is by far the best grape variety that most people have never heard of.
Kerner and Scheurebe are other important white-wine grapes. Müller-Thurgau, which was once the most widely planted grape, is now being replaced by other more desirable varieties.
There are some respectable red wines in the region, but they make up a small percentage of overall production. Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir) can be found in vineyards around Würzburg. Some Lemberger and Dornfelder are also being grown. Domina is a red grape that is only found in Franconia. It makes fruity and less complex wines, but it is worth trying if you should run across it during your travels.
The traditional Franconian wine bottle is the Bocksbeutel. You will find other more “mainstream” bottles, but the Bocksbeutel is the gold standard and the best wines will be poured from these containers. The flattened ellipsoid shape is similar to that of the Portuguese Mateus wine bottle. In other words, the bottle is a bit bulky, so factor that into plans for carrying Franken wine home in your suitcase.
Other Stops along the Way
If you are making the drive only for the wine, you will miss some of the region’s most important and spectacular landmarks. There really are too many places to mention along this little stretch of the Romantic Road, but a few must-stop highlights are:
Taberbischofsheim with the quaint narrow streets through the shopping district and beautiful market square was ruled by the Bishop and Arch-Bishop of Mainz during the Medieval period. The manor house or “Kurmainzisches Schloss” constructed between 1250 and 1400 once housed the ruling officials appointed by the See of Mainz. Today the Schloss functions as a museum and sits next to the last remnants of the ancient city wall—the Türmers Turm or watchtower.
Bad Mergentheim was awarded to the chivalrous Deutcher Orden in 1219 and the palace was residence of the order’s grand master until the 19th century. The palace grounds are fully intact and can be accessed from the town’s lovely market square and shopping district.
Rothenburg ob der Tauber is the terminus of the Tauber Valley section of the Romantic Road. From here the road climbs up onto the plain and enters a section that is particularly famous for it castles.
The town of Rothenburg is a popular destination because the Medieval walls, buildings and narrow streets are all preserved and perfectly intact. If you have time, multiple days can be devoted to this stop.
Planning Your Trip
The parts of the Romantic Road and the Tauber Valley described above can be seen in a single day or it can be the basis of a multi-day tour. Below you will find a few resources to help with planning.
Address: Turmgasse 11, 97070 Würzburg, Germany
Hours: Mon-Thu 8:30am to 5pm; Fri 8:30am to 1pm
Phone: +49 931 372335
Rothenburg Tourismus Service
Address: Marktpl. 2, 91541 Rothenburg ob der Tauber, Germany
Hours: Daily 10am to 6pm
Phone: +49 9861 404800