Last fall, I discovered the Nahe wine region for myself.  It’s easy to overlook the Nahe when the wine regions along the Rhine are so close by, but I highly recommend this beautiful part of Germany.  I’m already planning my next trip to the area.

Varied Soils, Diverse Wines

The Nahe is one of Germany’s smaller wine regions, with just over 10,000 acres planted.  Some wine writers suggest that the Nahe lacks an identity of its own; perhaps they have a point.  I’d like to think, instead, that the Nahe offers an amazing diversity for a region of its size.  It all begins with the varied soils of the Nahe.

The Nahe region stretches along three river valleys: the Nahe, the Glan and the Alsenz, and runs from Bingen in the north to Martinstein in the southwest.  Within the region, you can find sedimentary, igneous and metamorphic rocks.  In fact, the Nahe is known for its gemstones.  There’s even a mercury mine here, the only one in Germany.

All of this geologic variety means that the soils of the Nahe are also diverse.  Some are slaty and perfect for growing riesling grapes.  Loam, clay, porphyry, sandstone and even copper are found in the Nahe’s vineyards.  As a result, white wine producers plant not only riesling but also Müller-Thurgau, weissburgunder, grauburgunder and silvaner.  About 26 percent of Nahe vineyards are planted in red grape varieties, particularly dornfelder and portugieser.

The Nahe’s three valleys have many south-facing slopes, and the region’s climate is mild.  The Hunsrück Mountains surround the area, sheltering it and protecting the grapes.   As in other areas of Germany, winemakers in the Nahe are benefitting from warmer weather, which they associate with climate change.  Things are looking good for the 2007 wine year, according to the Nahe Wine Region’s report; the harvest was 22 percent higher than the 2006 harvest, and must levels were high.

Nahe’s Award-Winning Wines

For such a small region, the Nahe produces quite a few award-winning wines.  Wine Spectator’s “2008 Ultimate Buying Guide” awarded 99 points to Prinz zu Salm-Dalberg’s Trockenbeerenauslese Nahe Schloss Wallhausen Wallhäuser Johannisberg 2005 (yes, the price is as high as the name is long).  Wines from the Nahe’s Prinz zu Salm-Dalberg, Schlossgut Diel, Emrich-Schönleber and H. Dönnhoff all received very high scores from Wine Spectator this year.

The region also boasts award-winning organic wines.  At last month’s Nürnberg BioFach, or World Organic Trade Fair, Weingut im Zwölberich’s Grauburgunder Classico QbA 2006 received a gold medal.  Weingut Hahnmühle’s organic wine won a large gold medal, the highest award level, at last year’s Nürnberg BioFach.

Visiting the Nahe

The Nahe’s largest cities include Bad Kreuznach, Bad Münster am Stein and Bad Sobernheim.  During the summer and fall months, you can attend a wine festival nearly every weekend.  The Nahe Wine Region’s Wine Festival Brochure, which lists all the Nahe’s wine events for 2008, is a great travel planning tool.

If you’re planning to visit the Nahe and you enjoy outdoor activities, late spring, summer or early fall might be the best time to travel.  You can hike the area’s many trails, including the Weinwanderweg Nahe (“Wine Hiking Trail of the Nahe”), or bicycle along the Nahe Cycle Route.  You can also reserve a place on one of the area’s organized winery bike tours; just contact the Nahe Tourist Office.  There are plenty of places to fish and paddle.

The Nahe offers some unusual outdoor opportunities, too.  You can rent a railroad handcar, or “draisine,” powered either by the traditional up-and-down lever or by two or three pedaling people, and ride along nearly 25 miles of old railroad tracks through the countryside.  Too much work?  Head to Bad Kreuznach and rent a rowboat, complete with picnic lunch and, of course, a bottle of local wine.  If rowing isn’t your thing, the Badischer Hof in Weiler offers old-fashioned tractor tours of its vineyard.

In German, the word “Bad” means “bath” or “spa.”  As you might imagine from local place names, the Nahe’s spas and wellness centers are quite popular.  You can enjoy a massage, a body wrap or even vinotherapy, where you soak in – you guessed it – wine.

If you’d rather drink the wine than bathe in it, try a “wine weekend” at Weiler’s Badischer Hof.  This package includes two nights’ lodging, two dinners and a wine tasting.  You can add the old-fashioned tractor experience for an extra fee.

Of course, you can always spend a day visiting wineries.  Weingut Emrich-Schönleber, located in Monzingen, welcomes visitors who telephone in advance.  Spending the day in Bad Kreuznach?  Drop by the Staatsweingut Bad Kreuznach on Rüdesheimer Straße.  If you’re interested in organic wine, stop by Weingut Grossman, in Windesheim.  They, too, prefer that visitors call ahead.

If you visit the Nahe, you’ll leave with an impression of steep cliffs, sparkling rivers and shimmering glasses of wine.  Like me, you’ll definitely want to return.