Müller-Thurgau was first bred in 1882 at Hochschule Geisenheim University, Germany, by its founding father, Dr. Herman Müller, who it gets its name from. This university professor from the Canton of Thurgau in Switzerland had a dream of reviving the Germany wine industry that had collapsed in the years before. Therefore, he formed a crossbreed of two grape varieties to achieve a high yielding and high-profit margin grape.
He wished to achieve the unique characteristic of the two grapes (the complexity and vigor of Riesling) and the early ripening properties of Sylvaner) in the Müller Thurgau variety.
This was a success, and the resulting product was a high yielding, quick ripening and climate-adaptive vine that could, unlike other types of vines, thrive in flat terrains. Its popularity got to grow quite fast in Germany and the surrounding countries. This was, however, replaced by a severe spell in the late 1970s.
January 1979 was a trying time for this vine when temperatures in Germany dropped to 7 degrees Celsius. It could not withstand the cold temperatures and was hit by black rot, downy mildew, and rotbrenner.
For a very time, Müller-Thurgau was believed to be a crossbreed of Riesling and Sylvaner grapes. Still, recent scientific DNA tests provide clarity by stating that a grape called Madeleine Royale, together with Riesling, might have been one of the parent grape varieties.
Just eight years after it was born, this hybrid became Germany’s most planted grape variety. This was possible because of its ability to grow in a wide range of conditions.
It was later introduced to other parts of the globe. In the 1950s, Müller-Thurgau was introduced to New Zealand by German wine experts who visited the country. They recommended the grape be planted there to produce Spatlese (style wines in the southern hemisphere). This grape was, however, had not celebrated for long before the popular Sauvignon Blanc grape emerged, and Müller-Thurgau was ripped out.
Müller Thurgau is no longer the most planted grape in Germany, but it remains Germany’s second most planted white grape despite its significantly declining popularity in recent decades. It currently covers up to 20% of the entire German vine acreage. It is still replanted but with more aromatic varieties.
Manual harvesting and selecting the grapes is done before de-stemming the ripe, healthy grapes. What follows is careful pressing and clarification to extract the must by natural sedimentation. This then undergoes slow fermentation under a controlled temperature of 16 degrees Celsius in stainless steel tanks before it is allowed to age on fine lees in steel tanks for 4 -7 months. Müller Thurgau is used for popular young wines and should, therefore, be sipped fresh.
The varietal Müller- Thurgau wines are known for their low acidity yet with varied fruit flavors and sweet peach aromas. They are almost always best consumed young
Depending on the region of production, Müller-Thurgau can be used to make dry wines or be blended with other white wines to produce signature wines. For instance, in Italy, Müller-Thurgau is used to make dry wines with mineral notes in the Alto Adige and Friuli regions.
The disadvantage with this high yielding grape is that it brings forth the early maturing blends, and thus mild wines with a slight muscat flavor are obtained. Most sweet and cheap German wines are blended products of Müller- Thurgau wines with other wines. When the acidity is on the lower side, the wines age quickly.
Müller- Thurgau has a smooth and economic plantation requirement but is easily susceptible to hard winters.
In the market, it is also known as Miler Turgau, Müllerka, Müllereovo, Müller, Rivaner (because of the notion that it’s a blend of Riesling and the Sylvaner), Riesling -Sylvamer, Rizlingsilvani, Rizvanac Bijeli or Rizvaner.
Müller Thurgau is a lightweight wine, and this property allows it to punch above its weight and blend very well with foods. These include mushroom tarts, roasted pork or poultry, seas foods like prawns steamed in banana leaves, thin-sliced octopus drizzled with sudachi, swordfish carpaccio, sea bass in foil and poached fish like blue trout. It can also be paired with Montasio cheese tart (Frico friulano), boiled beef with a celeriac purée, and fresh alp cheese.
Some of the popular Müller Thurgau brands in the wine market include:
- Montinore Estate Müller-Thurgau, Willamette Valley, USA
- Weingut Kofererhof Müller-Thurgau Alto Adige Valle Isarco, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
- Pacherhof Müller Thurgau Sudtirol Brixner Eisacktaler, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
- Black Tower Rivaner, Germany
- Tiefenbrunner ‘Feldmarschall von Fenner zu Fennberg’ Alto Adige, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
- Kettmeir Müller-Thurgau Trentino, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
- Radoar Müller-Thurgau Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy
- Bainbridge Island Vineyards Müller-Thurgau Puget Sound 2001
- Airlie Winery Müller-Thurgau Willamette Valley 2005
Müller-Thurgau played a significant role in re-establishing the wine industry in Germany and New Zealand just after their collapse after World War II. With the economy and infrastructure in tatters, Germany needed an easy and productive vine to revive and keep it at the core of wine production.
By then, it used to be blended with grape juice to make an overly sweet yet ordinary wine that dominated Germany in the 1970s, and although the quality was not at the top of the wine charts at that time, it allowed the country to rebuild.
This wine might be overlooked, and its quality is not appreciated around the world, but it has a history, which bodes well for the future.