I always find it hard to convince wine lovers to try German Rieslings – so many people still think of them as being nasty, sweet and all tasting like cheap Liebfraumilch. The truth may be the complete reverse but, sadly, the reputation remains. And, if German whites are a hard sell, how about their reds? In fact, did you even know that Germany made red wine? Give yourself a big pat on the back if you said yes and a bonus mark if you’ve ever tasted one!
We visited Assmanshausen on the Rhine last year, one of the few villages in Germany dedicated almost exclusively to red wines. They are made from a grape called Spätburgunder locally (we probably know it better as the Burgundy variety, Pinot Noir) and we loved what we tasted so much that I’ve been looking out for them ever since.
Given what I said in the first paragraph, they’re not going to be on every UK wine merchant’s shelf but, again, the Wine Society has come up trumps with a delicious example from Martin Wassmer (£12.95).
He has vineyards in the Baden region in the south of Germany where the climate is milder than much of the country and seems to suit the tricky-to-ripen Pinot Noir grape perfectly. The example we tasted had the typical earthy, farmyardy nose that mark out so many good Pinots. It was quite light bodied and relatively low in tannin but with lovely savoury flavours and an intense plummy fruitiness. Really drinkable and moreish, this would partner duck, turkey or chicken beautifully or even lightly chilled on its own.
And once you’ve tried a German red, have a re-think about their whites, too: a good quality dry Riesling (look for the word ‘Trocken’ on the label) is a real delight and about as far from the dreaded Liebfraumilch as it is possible to imagine.
We’ve just returned from a few days in Germany visiting the famous wine regions of the Rheingau and the Mosel. Of course, I’d seen lots of pictures of the area and read plenty about it, but this was my first visit and I was truly amazed by what I saw. Wherever I looked, there were vines clinging to impossibly steep hillsides – some up to 65% elevation. How can people possibly work those sites? And why do they choose to plant there?
The answer to the first of those questions may be obvious: with great difficulty! There are posts at the top of some of the vineyards that workers can tie ropes onto and let themselves down to prune the vines or harvest and, in some of the more high-tech places, you find miniature monorail systems that run up and down the slopes to carry the grapes to somewhere slightly more accessible.
But why plant on these slopes? The area is at the northern-most boundary of where wine grapes will ripen properly so growers have to take every opportunity to help the vines. Using south-facing slopes gives better exposure to the sun and protection from cold north winds. The slopes mean that rain drains quickly so that the vines’ roots are in warmer, dry earth and frosts roll away down the hillside; also much of the ground itself is comprised of decomposed slate which acts like a storage heater and holds the heat.
Even with all these advantages, growers still need to choose a variety that will survive the bitterly cold winters. And, for most, the one that works best is Riesling. It’s a grape that many in the UK avoid but, for me, apart from the very cheapest examples, it’s a variety that can produce some remarkable wines. I’ll tell you more about them in my next blog.
We travelled with Railtrail Tours Ltd. For more information about this and other tours they run, go to http://www.railtrail.co.uk.