If you are looking for fine German wine and food, consider the Rheingau region of central Germany. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local Riesling. The Rheingau region is the most central wine-growing region in Germany.
Its terrain is very special; here the magnificent Rhine River runs mostly east-west with excellent exposure to the summer sun. The heavily wooded hillsides block cold air. This area is particularly known for Riesling which represents more than 80% of its total wine production and secondarily for Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) which accounts for slightly under 10% of the area's total wine production. The Rheingau has been producing great Rieslings since the Middle Ages, but needless to say, not all their Rieslings are great, far from it. Two important terms associated with German wine come from the Rheingau region. The British term Hock referring to white Rhein wines originally meant Hochheim, a small city in the eastern Rheingau.
Hock wines were once amber-colored; traditional Hock wine would probably not be popular today. Many countries use the term Johannisberg Riesling to refer to true Riesling. Guess where the village of Johannisberg is located. The Rheingau region also claims credit for discovering noble rot, the beneficial Botrytis cinerea fungus that is responsible for many of the world's greatest dessert wines including French Sauternes. According to local tradition, in 1775 the Abbey of Fulda's messenger came late with the papers authorizing the wine harvest. By the time he arrived the grapes were rotten and given to the peasants, who ended up having the last laugh as the Late Harvest wine far exceeded the traditional product.
Before the end of the 18th Century the neighborhood castle Schloss Johannisberg was making Spätlese and Auslese wines; two respected German wine classifications that continue to exist today. The Rheingau is eighth in vineyard area among Germany's thirteen wine regions, comprising about 3% of German vineyards. It is also eighth in the volume of wine produced. Less than 20% of its wine production is QbA wine, the remainder is the higher quality QmP wine. In 1983 local producers of dry Rieslings launched the Association of Charta estates to provide consumers with high-grade wines.
Over the years the rules to be accepted as a Charta wine got stiffer and stiffer. This sounds like a good idea to me. Charta wines usually come in a tall brown bottle with a Romanesque double-arch on a white background. I haven't been able to locate a Charta wine in my local wine stores, but if I manage to do so, I'll be writing a review.
The main city in the Rheingau region is Wiesbaden whose population is about 270,000 including an important American military presence. Tourist attractions include the Schlossplatz (Palace Square) in the center of the city and the Neo-Gothic Marktkirche (Market Church). The Wiesbaden thermal springs and spa date back to Roman times. It is said that one hundred years ago Wiesbaden had more millionaires than any other German city. Perhaps this is why Wiesbaden is a center for German antiques. We have already mentioned the castle in nearby Johannisberg.
The monastery dates back to 1100 by which time the area was well known for wine production. Look for a statue in the courtyard commemorating the Abbey's messenger who arrived so late. Before reviewing the Rheingau wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region.
Start with Lachstatar (Salmon Tartare). Continue with Weinfleisch (Pork Goulash in Riesling sauce). For dessert indulge yourself with Rieslingsorbet (Riesling Sherbert) with sparkling Riesling poured over it. OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price. Wine Reviewed Hupfeld Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken 2004 10.
5% alcohol about $17 Let's start by quoting the marketing materials which are somewhat longer than usual. Savvy producers have recognized the importance of "brand name' for a lot longer than we know. In 1845, when the British Royal Family visited the village of Hochheim, the owner of this property invited them to come and try his wines. As the story goes, the Queen was most 'amused'.
Over the next five years, subsequent vintages of these wines were sent to England for the Queen's enjoyment. In 1850, she gave her blessing for the vineyard to be renamed Hochheimer Koenigin Victoriaberg. To this day, whenever the British Royal Family visits Germany, they are served the wines from this property". Please note that this little anecdote did not influence my purchase decision, but perhaps the beautiful bottle with green fluted glass and a very picturesque label did. Having just finished a series on Italian wine, and presently working on a French wine series, I will have to get used to the generally lower level of alcohol in German wine.
Frankly, I don't expect that to be a problem. And now for the review. My first meal consisted of a stove-top cooked chicken in a somewhat sweet soy-based brown sauce. The meat was accompanied by rice and cooked beets. The wine lingered pleasantly in my mouth.
It was fruity, tasting of apples and lime. Unlike many Rieslings, it had no smell of gasoline. The wine was not very imposing.
I finished the meal with two desserts, and wasn't afraid to pair them with this semisweet wine. I found that dry, thin biscotti type cookies with sliced almonds and pistachios intensified the wine's fruit. It also went well with homemade chocolate cookies, being refreshingly acidic. I next tried the wine with a commercial shephard's pie seasoned with a Thai garlic chili pepper sauce. Frankly the wine was wasted with this meal.
Perhaps, I'll try this food with a bottom of the scale Deutscher Landwein. All was not lost, however. I finished the glass with a fruit juice-based candy snack. This slightly tangy sweet brought out the wine's fruit and acidity.
My next meal consisted of fried chicken cutlets, basmati rice, and green beans in a tomato sauce. It was a fine combination; I really enjoyed the Riesling's subtle acidity. The word elegant came to mind. No, the lower level of alcohol is not a problem. And the wine still tasted great when the food was gone.
It tasted of apples and limes. I first tried the wine with a Bel Paese cheese from the Lombardy region of northern Italy. This mild, buttery cow's milk cheese has a light, milky aroma. The pairing was not particularly successful; the wine was not assertive. I next tried it with a French St Aubin cheese, also a soft cow's milk cheese with a brie-like texture and a stronger flavor.
This cheese was too old, it started to smell of ammonia. I won't blame the wine for this problem. But I made sure not to finish the wine, and to give it a shot with a German cheese.
The only German cheese available in my favorite imported cheese store was a Limberger. This cheese is famous for its pungent smell, being the target of comedy by Mark Twain, Charlie Chaplin, Abbot and Costello, Looney Tunes and others. Limberger is a cow's milk cheese with a soft interior. The cheese that I bought had virtually no odor, unlike the previous one that I bought decades ago whose smell I still remember.
In fact I probably would have never bought another Limberger cheese were it not for these articles. The cheese itself was not so bad but rendered the wine a bit flat. By the way, the Riesling went well with an accompanying mushroom omelette. So we can say that this Riesling was disappointing with the selected cheeses. It might have done better with Gouda or Emmenthaler cheese. There are going to be several Rieslings in this series and we'll make sure to taste them with other cheeses as well.
Final verdict. Because this series is only beginning I want to try several other Rieslings before making any commitments.
Levi Reiss has authored or co-authored ten books on computers and the Internet, but to be honest, he would rather just drink fine Italian or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. His major wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com and his major article site is wwwtravelitalytravel.com