German Rieslings are, to put it bluntly, misunderstood wines. German winemakers will tell you that Riesling is their country's flagship wine and that the Riesling grape works perfectly with the cooler climates and slaty soils of German river valleys. If, however, you ask a group of non-German wine drinkers to tell you about Riesling, several of them will probably use phrases like "too sweet" and "doesn't pair well" in their descriptions. In my opinion, they are missing out on one of the world's great wines.
Size Isn't Everything Rheinhessen's long winemaking history and large size are the building blocks of its reputation in the world of wine – and there are pros and cons associated with both. Rheinhessen's most famous wine, Liebfraumilch, while well known as far back as the mid-1700's, might well be called "infamous" today because of its reputation for insipid sweetness. Still, it's hard to argue with brand-name success, so you're likely to find Liebfraumilch prominently displayed in your local wine shop's German section.
Between the Rhine River and the Odenwald forest, in the area between Heidelberg and Darmstadt, you'll find a tiny German wine region, the Hessische Bergstrasse. Its name means "Hessian Mountain Road" in English. Long ago, the Romans named their trade route through this part of Germany the "strata montana," or "mountain road."
Most wine drinkers have never heard of Saale-Unstrut, unless they happen to live in Germany. That's understandable, since nearly all the wine produced in this small German wine region is consumed locally. Wine production varies here, because Saale-Unstrut lies so far north. In particularly harsh years, crops are lost and production declines accordingly. Still, Saale-Unstrut has a proud winemaking history, dating back over a thousand years.
In spite of its small size, Sachsen has many pleasant surprises in store for those who enjoy German wine. Sachsen is, indeed, the smallest and most eastern wine region in Germany. It’s also – by a hair – Germany’s northernmost wine region. Most visitors to the area come to see the city of Dresden, restored to splendor and named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, or to shop for porcelain in nearby Meißen. Since most Sachsen wines are consumed locally, a visit to the Dresden – Meißen area may be the only way you can experience the region’s wines for yourself.
Many years ago, a Navy friend brought us a bottle of German wine as a hostess gift. Brian was elated because he’d found this wine in the U.S. I was surprised to discover that the gift was German red wine from a region I’d never heard of, the Ahr. No surprise, Brian told us – the Ahr is a very small wine region that produces mostly red wines, so it’s very hard to find Ahr wines outside of Germany.
Tradition. Hundreds of years of winemaking. The Aldinger family has owned Weingut Gerhard Aldinger since 1492; Ernst Dautel’s weingut ancestors began making wine in 1510. Staatsweingut Weinsberg is part of Germany’s oldest wine college. Wherever you look in Württemberg, you’re surrounded by winemaking history.
I begin this article with a disclaimer: Baden is one of my favorite wine regions in all of Germany – not that I’ve ever visited a German wine region I didn’t like. I’m heartily biased toward Baden, however, not least because I’ve spent so much time there. Our good friends – the ones who arranged last fall’s winery tour – have taken us all over Baden, ensuring that this warm and inviting part of Germany will always have a special place in my heart.
Dramatic. Historic. Traditional. Cutting-edge. All of these terms describe Germany’s Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wine region, often called “Moselle” in English-language guidebooks. Mosel wines are uniquely German and internationally acclaimed. Perhaps more than any other German wines, Mosel wines truly reflect their terroirs .
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.