German Riesling from Rhine River Valley area (Rheingau)
The history of the Riesling vine can be traced back to Germany and the year 1435. Throughout the history of Riesling there are numerous writings about this grape from 1552 straight through to 1721. Most of these writings come from Germany and describe the Riesling grape growing in the Rhine valley (Rheingau).
This history also shows us that by the end of the 19th century Riesling was the dominant grape variety in the Rheingau region of Germany. But the early 20th century saw a sharp decline in this trend. This prompted Germany to reserve land especially for growing Riesling Grapes. Now-a-days, the Riesling grape is treated as a national treasure in Germany. (Brook, 2003)
The data compiled by the Federal Bureau of Statistics in Germany shows that there are almost 100 different grape varieties grown in normal and / or experimental vineyards. Of all these, about two dozen are of commercial value, mainly, Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, which account for some 43% of Germany’s 105,000 hectares of vineyards. Nearly 7.5% of the total vineyard area is planted with Spätburgunder, or Pinot Noir, making it the most important red wine grape in Germany (Internet – GWI).
Because of Germany’s climatic and geological factors each region has a different profile. In the more northern areas, Riesling predominates, while further south, the Burgunder, or Pinot, varieties and red wine grapes play a more important role. More than 80% of the Rhine River Valley’s (Rheingau) vineyards are planted with Riesling, which is also the premier grape in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, Mittelrhein and Hessische Bergstrasse (more than 50%). Riesling is also important (more than 20%) in Württemberg, the Pfalz and the Nahe (Internet – GWI).
The Rhine River Valley area (Rheingau)
The Rheingau is one of the most distinguished wine regions of the world.
From east to west, the fairly flat landscape changes into progressively steeper slopes. It is a serenely beautiful region, very rich in tradition and history. The medieval ecclesiastical and aristocratic wine-growers were already associated with the noble Riesling grape and, in the 18th century, were credited for realizing the value of harvesting the crop at various stages of ripeness; from which the Prädikate (measuring the sweetness of the wine), or special attributes that define wines of superior quality, evolved. It was also the Rheingauers who first recognized the value of Botrytis Cinerea; “noble rot” – where water is removed through evaporation and the resulting wine offers richer layers on the palate. These concentrated wines have more sugar (in extreme cases hundreds of grams per liter), more acid (to give balance to all the sugar), more flavor, and more complexity. These elements combine to make wines which are amongst the most long-lived of all white wines.). Similarly, they endorsed the Spätlese (late harvest). The beneficial use of “noble rot” was discovered in the late 18th century at Schloss Johannisberg (Internet – SJR). Permission from the Abbey of Fulda, which owned the vineyard, to start picking the grapes arrived too late and the grapes had begun to rot, yet it turned out that the wine made from them was still of excellent quality (Internet – SHOR).
Queen Victoria’s enthusiasm for Germany’s wines contributed to the wines’ popularity in England, where they, and ultimately, Rhine wines in general, were referred to as Hock. The world-renowned oenological research and teaching institutes in Geisenheim have contributed significantly to the extraordinarily high level of technical competence in the German wine industry today. Two grape varieties predominate: the Riesling and the Spätburgunder. The former yields elegant wines with a refined and sometimes spicy fragrance; a fruity, pronounced acidity; and a rich ripeness in flavor, it is comparatively low in alcohol to white grape varieties from other countries and always unblended and unoaked. The Spätburgunder wines are velvety and medium- to full-bodied, with a bouquet and taste often compared with blackberries.
Rheingau Facts & Figures (Internet – GWI):
Geographical location: Along the 50° of latitude, the region is practically one long hillside on the northern bank of the river on its 30-km (20-mile) east-west journey from Wicker and Hochheim (near the confluence of the Main and Rhine rivers) to the river’s bend at Rüdesheim and beyond, to the border with the Mittelrhein at Lorchhausen. The major towns in the region are Wiesbaden, Eltville and Rüdesheim.
Climate: The region enjoys mild winters and warm summers. The vineyards are protected from cold winds by the forest-capped Taunus Hills and benefit from the heat-reflecting surface of the Rhine.
Soil types: Although the region is compact, there are many kinds of soil, including chalk, sand, gravel, all types of clay, loess, quartzite and slate.
Vineyard area (2003):3,167 ha / 7,825 acres; 1 district; 10 collective vineyard sites; 100+ individual sites
Grape varieties [white 84.4%; red 15.6%] (2003): Riesling (78.2%), Spätburgunder (12.7%), Müller-Thurgau (1.9%) as well as Ehrenfelser, Kerner and Weissburgunder.
Marketing: Compared with other German wine regions, the Rheingau has a high proportion of full-time wine-growers; sales of bottled, rather than bulk, wine predominate; and much of the region’s wine is sold directly to consumers. The region enjoys a broad domestic and international following.
Of all the grapes of Germany, the finest and best-known is the Riesling — a variety that can do well even in stony soil and can subsist on a minimum of moisture.
It is also frost-resistant and a very dependable bearer of high quality grapes which have an acidity level that gives the wine a racy freshness and contributes to its long life. To reach its full potential, Riesling needs extra days of sun; ripening is very late, usually not until the latter half of October or early November and in extreme cases January. This long, slow ripening period allows it to develop more aroma and a harmonious balance. Having said though, the drawback to Riesling is that it takes 130 days to ripen (longer than other grape varieties) and, in marginal years, the Riesling crop tends to be poor.
However, Riesling produces elegant wines of a rich character with an incomparable fragrance and taste, often reminiscent of peaches, or when young, apples. In 1996, the vineyard area planted with Riesling exceeded that of Müller-Thurgau, thus making it Germany’s premier grape variety in terms of area (circa. one fifth of all plantings). It is grown throughout German wine country.
Riesling is also the preferred grape in production of Sekt, German sparkling wine (more on this below).
Riesling wines from Germany cover a vast array of tastes from sweet to off-dry “halbtrocken” to dry “trocken”. Late harvest Rieslings can ripen to become very sweet dessert wines of the beerenauslese (BA) and trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) class.
Sekt is the German sparkling wine. Sekt can only be labelled as Deutscher Sekt if it is made exclusively from German grapes. Some very good examples are made, usually from the Riesling grape, and the traditional (champagne) method of production. A lot of it is drunk locally rather than exported.
To summarize, German Riesling is light but racy and vibrant. The combination of the Riesling grape, very cool climate, and mineral-rich soils yields wines with brilliant fruit, lively acidity, and lots of depth. The wines possess a vivid, chiseled quality that’s unmatched anywhere else.
German Riesling is also perhaps the one of the food-friendliest wines you can drink, especially with the lighter, spicier, savory-with-some-sweetness kinds of food that many of us eat a lot of these days. Among the good food matches are fish, pork, fowl, and all kinds of Asian and Indian cuisines. The wine also ages very well and thus is ideal for keeping in wine cellars.
· Brook, S (October 1, 2003): Wines of Germany – Mitchell Beazley Classic Wine Library. Publisher: Mitchell Beazley, London.
· Johnson, H (30 Rev Ed edition (14 Sep 2006)): The Pocket Wine Guide 2007e. Publisher: Mitchell Beazley, London.
· Pigott, S (Hugh Johnson; Ed., (Antique Collectors Club), February 13, 1997): The Mosel & Rheingau. Publisher: Mitchell Beazley, London.
· German Wine Institute (GWI) (retrieved on 6 April 2007 from http://www.deutscheweine.de)
· A short history of Riesling (SHOR) (retrieved on 6 April 2007 from http://www.uncork.com.au/tidbits11.htm)
· 900 years history of wine – Schloss Johannisberg / Rheingau (SJR) (retrieved on 6 April 2007 from http://www.schloss-johannisberg.com/frame.htm)