Rheingau Wines

Wine writers / experts often employ superlatives. For example, Hugh Johnson speaks of the best of all cultivation area on the Rhine. Frank Schoonmaker's Wine Encyclopedia states: "According to expert-opinion, the most significant wine-growing area of the world." They refer to the Rhine's Rheingau growing area that consists of a mere 3,000 hectares, one of the smallest cultivation areas of Germany (appellation in French). Wine-growing in the Rheingau has a history which can be traced back to Roman times; however, only the archbishops of Mainz encouraged an expansion to today's size (between the 10th and 14th century). The church promoted the clearing of the forests along the Rhine to put into vineyards. The Rheingau became a farm "community" with civil rights, reflected in the saying: "Rheingauer air produces freedom."

The Rheingau region is only 38 kilometers long (Lorch am Rhein bis Hochheim am Main) and generally two to three kilometers wide along the Rhine (Rhein) which applies from the Main mouth with Wicker up to Lorch[hausen]. The wine-growing climate one finds here is ideal, a fact recognized many hundred years ago by the brothers (monks in cloisters) growing grapes for the church. Numerous cloisters and noble families were involved in this change. They showed an exemplary interest in the development of new and better methods of wine-growing, cellar economy and marketing.

The region mimics sea climes, where the orientation of the Rhine provides a water surface reflecting solar radiation into the vineyards. In the area's hinterlands, forests of the Taunusgebirge (Taunus Mountains) protect the vines cold north winds. On the average, weather in the Rheingau region guarantees an excellent growth of the vines: {technically: 9.9'C middle annual temperature, 1643 solar hours and only 536 mms of annual precipitation}.

Additionally one finds a noteworthy variety of the soils with a base of slate, quartzite, softer sandstones, gravels or loess (fine pebbles). These differences contribute to the wealth of nuances of the Rheingauer wines. The Vintners are experts in their field, protecting the traditions of the local craft. Moreover, almost every independent wine producer has a comprehensive education as a winegrower's assistant, winegrower's master or wine-growing engineer in the Rheingau style. What becomes apparent above all other facts is the retention of the classical reliance on the grape (Riesling and late-ripening Burgundian stock), while retaining an open mind about progress in the cellar economies and ecological protection.

All together about 380 wine-growing concerns make up the Rheingau. With most of them concentrated in family enterprises having vineyards covering four to eight hectares. In addition, three local cooperatives exist, together with about two dozens larger wine producers (coverage between 10 and about 50 hectares). These account for the worldwide knowledge about and the good reputation of the Rheingau Riesling and to a lesser extent its reds.

All German wine predicates (grapes that will produce fine wine) have an origin in the Rheingau. see generally http://www.vdp.de/en/vdp-praedikat-wine-estates/ More than 250 years ago the concept "Cabinet" was applied to precious plants producing good volumes, accordingly kept in Kabinett cellars. The late vintage wine selections and related variants of grapes for dry (Trocken or Trockenbeerenauslese) wine were likewise discovered in the Rheingau. Some grow here only as specialities, because they will not grow every year with consistency in quality or volume.

The Spätburgunder:

What the Riesling is for white wine (see below), the blue Spätburgunder varieties are for red wine ! In France one calls it Pinot Noir. In the Rhine region the Spätburgunder a real speciality, tilled on only 160 hectares, its preferred position is the precipitous slopes near Assmannshausen. The Spätburgunder is found first mentioned as a German-grown variety in 1318; Cistercian's monks of Eberbach presumably brought it to the Rheingau, where its cultivation in 1470 is well-documented. In its traditional home in Assmannshausen, this "red vine" has grown since at least 1507. It stands in high value, even against the Burgundian, a red wine the highest degree of strength (1829). Indeed even today, the Rheingauer Spätburgunder belongs certainly with the best of red wines from Germany, but it is lighter, softer, more velvety than full wines rich in alcohol and full in body from France.

The finesse of the Rheingauer Spätburgunder also reflects its relatively low yields. From small berries, full-ripeed, deep-blue grapes originates bright-colored vintages -- with a discreet, tender-spicy aroma and elegant, warm (pleasant) acidity. This allows the wines to age properly. Over the years, the wine can increase in taste, its fire restrained at first, with the flavorful nuances developing. Also some isolated islands of refreshing rosé exist, fully able to develop in the manner of a fine but delicate wine.

The Rheingau Riesling:

The first report for the cultivation of the Rheingau Riesling (seczreben riesslingen) dates from the year 1435. Since then, the variety has been especially maintained in this small area on the Rhine. Today the Rheingau has 84 percent of its vine acreage in the highest Riesling quality of all wine-growing areas of the world. One can say with some certainty that other types of grapes might have more yield; but they never have been able to assert themselves in the Rheingau (or generate proper profit). In the end, the Riesling accounts for elegance, by its typical bouquet, a tender peach smell with striking, lively acidity -- dare one say the best of all white wine varietals in the world. Here, in the northern wine-growing region near 50 degrees of latitude, the Riesling finds the ideal relationship between soils and climate. Here, it can remain on the vines for a long time and take up the mineral flavor from the ground, important conditions for fruit and maturity of the wine made from this variety.

The harvest of a vintage begins in the Rheingau rarely before the 15th of October, often extending into late November (Spätlese or late-harvest). Importantly for the maturity of the Riesling, is a warm autumn that provides the necessary sugar production in the grapes. One specific feature can be, on this occasion, the infestation of the grapes by the fungus Botrytis Cinerea. If the infestation happens, as desired, with ripe grapes and proper water evaporation, it will concentrate the other contents of the grapes, so that high-quality wines can be won. Even without without this "noble rot," Rheingauer Riesling still produces favorable fruit. The wines retain much of extracted minerals. Their alcohol content is not as high (mostly between 9 and 11.5% by volume). The Prädikatswein (formerly Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP)) wines and Kabinett wines have striking dry and medium dry versions, easy to drink, a preferred companion to most foods. And, some are able to age with striking results. In 2010 a Hessische Staatsweingüter Kloster Eberbach/Rheingau: 1943 Steinberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese (0.7 liters) saw its hammer price at auction of 8.568,00 € (Euros - about $12,000 US).

Edited and retranslated from: http://web.archive.org/web/20140819213257/http://www.weingut-dr-naegler.de/rheingau_e.htm -- see also http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prädikat

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