Outlander: Why is their Rhenish wine not white?!


Previous Outlander post: https://timeslipsblog.wordpress.com/2014/08/24/outlander-update-episode-3-no-way-out/

In my previous Outlander post, I mentioned my personal confusion as to why the Rhenish Wine was a Red or Rose and not a white variety that I am so fond of and familiar with? I also mentioned that I would do some research on this and return with my findings.

Colum and Claire enjoying the Rhenish wine


I did go forth and research this puzzle that was nagging at me. So, now I will provide a very abbreviated history of the Rhenish wine and some possible reasons why the wine was not white!

First of all, we need to know a bit about the general history  Rhenish or Rhine Wine and the area from which it comes. 

Rhine wines are wines which come from the valleys surrounding the Rhine River in Germany. There are a number of tributaries to the Rhine River, and these tributaries make up the many different wine regions of the Rhine River valley. Some of the wine regions in this geographical area include:


  • Ahr
  • Nahe
  • Pfalz
  • Rheingau
  • Rheinhessen




Germany produces wines in many styles: dry, semi-sweet and sweet white wines, rosé wines, red wines and sparkling wines, called Sekt. (The only wine style not commonly produced is fortified wine.) Due to the northerly location of the German vineyards, the country has produced wines quite unlike any others in Europe, many of outstanding quality. Until end of the 1980ies German wine was known abroad for cheap, sweet or semi-sweet, low-quality mass-produced wines such as Liebfraumilch.

The wines have historically been predominantly white, and the finest made from Riesling. Many wines have been sweet and low in alcohol, light and unoaked. Historically many of the wines (other than late harvest wines) were probably dry (trocken), as techniques to stop fermentation did not exist. Recently much more German white wine is being made in the dry style again. Much of the wine sold in Germany is dry, especially in restaurants. However most exports are still of sweet wines, particularly to the traditional export markets such as Great Britain, which is the leading export market both in terms of volume and value. The United States (second in value, third in volume) and the Netherlands (second in volume, third in value) are two other important export markets for German wine.

Red wine has always been hard to produce in the German climate, and in the past was usually light colored, closer to rosé or the red wines of Alsace. However recently there has been greatly increased demand and darker, richer red wines (often barrique aged) are produced from grapes such as Dornfelder and Spätburgunder, the German name for Pinot noir.




Greman wines-red, rose, white, dry, sweet

Greman wines-red, rose, white, dry, sweet


Early history of German Wines


Viticulture in present-day Germany dates back to Ancient Roman times, to sometime from 70 to 270 CE/AD (Agri Decumates). In those days, the western parts of today’s Germany made up the outpost of the Roman empire against the Germanic tribes on the other side of Rhine. What is generally considered Germany’s oldest city, Trier, was founded as a Roman garrison and is situated directly on the river Moselle (Mosel) in the eponymous wine region. The oldest archeological finds that may indicate early German viticulture are curved pruning knives found in the vicinity of Roman garrisons, dating from the 1st century AD.[3] However, it is not absolutely certain that these knives were used for viticultural purposes. Emperor Probus, whose reign can be dated two centuries later than these knives, is generally considered the founder of German viticulture, but for solid documentation of winemaking on German soil, we must go to around 370 AD, when Ausonius of Bordeaux wrote Mosella, where he in enthusiastic terms described the steep vineyards on river Moselle.[3]


The wild vine, the forerunner of the cultivated Vitis vinifera is known to have grown on upper Rhine back to historic time, and it is possible (but not documented) that Roman-era German viticulture was started using local varieties. Many viticultural practices were however taken from other parts of the Roman empire, as evidenced by Roman-style trellising systems surviving into the 18th century in some parts of Germany, such as the Kammerbau in the Palatinate.[3]


Almost nothing is known of the style or quality of “German” wines that were produced in the Roman era, with the exception of the fact that the poet Venantius Fortunatus mentions red German wine around AD 570


History of Rheingau area

Kloster Eberbach was built by the Cistercian monks who founded much of the Rheingau wine industry, and the buildings still house a wine cellar of the Hessian state winery and is used for wine auctions.

Old wine cellar at Kloster Eberbach

Since the Verona donation in 983, the Rheingau belonged to the archbishopric of Mainz. Legend has it that Charlemagne let the first vineyards be planted in the region, close to present-day Schloss Johannisberg.[2] However finds like a Roman origin grapevine cutting knife point to even earlier cultivation. Better documented is the early influence of the church on Rheingau winemaking, which was controlled from Eberbach Abbey. Augustinians and Benedictines are known to have inhabited the area of the later abbey from 1116, and in 1135 the Cistercians arrived, sent out from Clairvaux. Legend has it that the Cistercians, which are also credited with having founded the wine industry in Burgundy, brought Pinot noir with them to Rheingau, although the earliest record of the grape variety in Rheingau is from 1470.[3] The slopes down from the Taunus mountains belonging to Kloster Eberbach were planted as vineyards in the 12th Century, and early in the 13th Century the vineyards had reached their present area. In medieval times, more red than white wine was produced, usually as Gemischter Satz, i.e. the vineyards were planted with mixed varieties which were vinified together.  For our purposes and understanding, this mixing of varieties would have at times resulted in variations from the Whites to Rose or lighter Reds.


Geography, Terrain, and history of Rheinhessen (wine region)

The Rhine forms the eastern and northern boundary of the region, with the Nahe River to the west and the Haardt Mountains to the south. The Palatinate wine region lies to the south, the Rheingau lies across the Rhine to the north, and the Nahe wine region to the west. Known as the “land of the thousand hills”, the terrain is undulating with vineyards mixed with orchards and other forms of farming. Its larger towns include: Mainz, Worms, Bingen, Alzey, Nieder-Olm and Ingelheim.

In general the wines are best nearest the Rhine, where the soils impart more complex flavours. The best known area for white wines is the so-called Rhine Terrace (Rheinterasse; sometimes Rhine Front, Rheinfront) between Oppenheim and Nackenheim, which by itself is bigger than the whole of the Rheingau. A part of the Rhine Terrace, between Nackenheim and Nierstein is known as the Red Slope (Roter Hang) because of the presence of red slate.[3] The main red grape area is around Ingelheim, in the north of the region opposite the Rheingau.

Grapes have been grown in the region since Roman times, and viticulture was promoted by Charlemagne.

When the owners of Stadecken-Elsheim the Counts of Katzenelnbogen first cultivated Riesling in 1435 they called the wine from this part of their county the Wine from the Gau.[4] At the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15, Louis I, Grand Duke of Hesse, was awarded with Rhenish Hesse as compensation for the loss of his Westphalian territories. As a result, he amended his title to “Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine” and the name of the region was created.

Liebfrauenmilch is named after the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Worms, which also was the name of a good and famous vineyard. Later, Liebfrauenmlich was used as a name for a semi-sweet wine style produced in several German regions, and became responsible for much of the erosion of the German wines’ reputation on the export market. The most famous Liebfraumlich brand, until they changed their classification, was Blue Nun which was created in 1921. Today, no quality-oriented top producer in Rheinhessen would dare to produce a Liebfrauenmilch for fear of their reputation.


Well, after reading through the history and other research, it does indeed seem that I completely missed out on experiencing the long history and the varieties of  Red Wines during my years in Germany! It is entirely plausible and probable that during the 1740’s Colum would have enjoyed some Rhenish Red and Rose type Wines!


Aside from fine goblets in which to enjoy the wine, here are some versions of the types of casks, pitchers and such that might have also been in use during that time!


Rhenish wine flagons Rhenish wine cask with pitcher claret-jug-plinth antique wine bottle for rhenish wine


Now, my last concern about the Rhenish Wine was the alcohol content? Normally, the Rhenish Wines should or would have had a lower alcohol content… which would not have done much to relieve Colum’s pains or caused Claire to be so tipsy after only a few glasses of it?  I do believe that I have found the answer to that concern as well!


For those who have read the Outlander books, you will be aware that were relatives in France who were in the wine business. Jamie’s cousin Jared is in the wine business and has dealings with winemakers in Germany in the Outlander book, Dragonfly in Amber.  For now though we will only deal with possibilities that pertain to his dealings in France and Colum’s possible procurements of  Rhenish Red wines with a higher alcohol content!

His stronger Rhenish Wine might have come from the Alsace region.



Riesling grapes growing in Alsace.

Riesling is on record as being planted in the Alsace region by 1477 when its quality was praised by the Duke of Lorraine.   Today over a fifth of Alsace’s vineyards are covered with Riesling vines, mostly in the Haut-Rhin district, with the varietal Riesling d’Alsace (fr) being very different from neighboring German Riesling.  This is partly from difference in the soil with the clay Alsatian soil being more  calcareous than the slate composition of Rheingau. The other differences come in wine making styles, with the Alsatian preferring more French-oriented methods that produce wines of higher alcohol content (normally around 12%) and more roundness due to longer time spent in neutral oak barrels or steel tanks. In contrast to German wine laws, Alsatian rieslings can be chaptalized, a process in which the alcoholic content is increased through the addition of sugar to the must.




The modern history of Alsace-Lorraine was largely influenced by the rivalry between French and German nationalisms.

Since the Middle Ages, France sought to attain and preserve its “natural boundaries“, which are the Pyrenees to the southwest, the Alps to the southeast, and the Rhine River to the northeast. These strategic aims led to the absorption of territories located west of the Rhine river. What is now known as Alsace was progressively conquered by Louis XIV in the 17th century, while Lorraine was integrated in the 18th century under Louis XV.

In the earlier times, any wine produced in the Alsace region, whether a White or a Rose type  (very few if any Reds were produced in the area), would have been labeled and marketed as a Rhenish or Rhine wine. The alcohol content would have been much higher, up to 15% due to the terrain and the method of wine making which was more of the French method than the German method.


So, there we have our answers as to why Colum’s Rhenish Wine might have been Rose or Red, and strong enough to put a dent in any pain he was feeling! I hope you’ve enjoyed this history and wine lesson as it relates to Rhenish Wine and to Outlander!

For more detailed information, you can visit any number of related pages:


German Wine



Rheingau (wine region)



Rheinhessen (wine region)



Alsace wine



White Rhine Wine from Germany



Bauer Haus Sweet Red– Bauer Haus Dornfelder and Riesling wines 




Just a quick update to let you know that I did find a Rhenish Red Wine at my local Trader Joe’s!  It was a bargain at under $5 so I decided to pick it up and will be trying it out! I have not had a chance to taste it yet, it’s chilling for now and I will update on whether it was truly a good find or not… or whether I will be using it to flavor some cooking!

Joseph Handler Sweet Red- Reinhessen Germany

Joseph Handler Sweet Red- Reinhessen Germany



I did also find two reviews of it on other sites and am including those here!

The Wino that I know: Joseph Handler Sweet Red



This other video review is for the 2010 Joseph Handler Sweet Red from Thumbs Up Wine Review


After taste testing this wine, I can very happily give it high praise and approval! It was definitely a good bargain and will not have to be moved to the cooking only category! I am not normally a fan of Red wine, Rhenish or not, but this one won me over!  It was slightly dry with a bit of a smoky flavor that enhanced the fruitiness. It was a good mix of muted fruit flavors with no one particular fruit overpowering it. It was excellent and I shall have another!

Joseph Handler Sweet Red Rhine wine

Joseph Handler Sweet Red Rhine wine














20 thoughts on “Outlander: Why is their Rhenish wine not white?!

  1. Pingback: Outlander: Why is their Rhenish wine not white?! | Time Slips

  2. I have a vague recollection that Colum’s wine was laced with poppy to give it opium qualities as well. Although I have no idea if that would alter the color or if they used this color to differentiate the fact that she wasn’t drinking the standard wine. Fascinating, none the less.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, I do think lacing it with the poppy might alter the color a bit . I would think though that the Poppy laced Rhenish would have been his very private stock, not one which he would passed out at the dining table to everyone?


  3. Pingback: Outlander: Historical Cooking | Time Slips

  4. Pingback: Rhenish Wine update! | Time Slips

  5. Pingback: Rhenish/Rhine Red Wine- Joseph Handler Sweet Red | Time Slips

  6. Lovely post and so informative!! I always thought that since fortified wine classically means it has had spirits added to it… That Colum’s Rhenish was a Rhenish wine fortified with no less than (drumroll…) Scotch Whiskey, but of course. Obviously DG didn’t specify exactly the concoction… But if Colum is the mixologist, then it seems to me he would have likely chosen an excellent scotch pairing to fortify it. Has anyone tried creating a drink in this vein that tastes good? I’m all for a “Colum’s Rhenish” mixology contest, for the record…

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Point of information: Scotch whisky has no E in it.

    Thanks for this. I am very late watching Outlander and just finished S1E3. The Rhenish wine drove me to Google and I found you post.

    I have a friend who brews mead and now wine. He is in the SCA (Society for Creative Anachronisms) and uses old recipes for his creations. His wines and meads are all between 10%-15%, most falling around the 12% alcohol content. The next time I see him, I’ll ask him if he knows anything about fortified wines. Of course his expertise is more Middle Ages/Renaissance.

    I know in the Middle Ages, they had meads and beers for everyday use that were only 1%-2% alcohol. They brewed the stronger stuff for celebrations and feasts. If that followed through to the 1700’s, then it makes sense that Colum’s Rhenish would be special and stronger than everyday beverages.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Great, thanks for that. I much prefer white wines, red always makes me drowsy (no matter what the alcohol content is). Also I think white wines in general are somewhat lighter in alcohol than their red cousins. Next time you’re in Germany try finding wines from the Elbe region, they’re quite good, but hard to get outside Germany, because the production is quite small – which makes it all the better if you do find it. Also try to find Rotkaeppchen Sekt, which is also from East Germany (as with the Elbe wines it might need a little research to find them). I like it, but I am hardly to be called neutral in the matter, since I’m from East Germany and it’s pretty much the only bubbly we drink whenever I’m home (I live in Ireland now, and it’s impossible to get here). Sorry for digressing – but I was wondering about the Rhenish for another reason, namely its mentions in Shakespeare, and even I’ve always assumed it was white – but, as has been mentioned, I also did remember that Colum’s wine was laced with something. I always assumed whisky, or some other spirit (maybe grappa, which would spoil the taste less and could be procured by the family connections) and for his private stock probably poppy seeds/ opium as well, which was rather used for everything (even on children) in those days. Well, thanks again.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for that account. I am a great fan of the Alsace Pinot Gris and loved the palazzo wines when I lived in Germany. The history and explanations of the Rhein sub regions was fascinating!

    Liked by 1 person

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