Category Archives: German wine

More Thoughts from Germany

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Mosel SpatleseAs I said in my last Bristol Wine Blog, we’ve just returned from a few days in Germany visiting the famous wine regions of the Rheingau and the Mosel. Of course, we sampled some of the local product which, in general, was made from Riesling. Not surprising given that almost 80% of the Rheingau and well over half of the Mosel vineyards are planted with that single variety.

Riesling has long had a poor reputation in the UK but that comes, in the main, from the bargain-basement German bottles which customers associate with Riesling but are usually some inferior variety such as Muller-Thurgau. So, set any preconceived views on one side; there are some real treasures to be discovered.

Riesling is a grape with naturally high acidity, a trait accentuated by being grown in relatively cool climates. To appreciate it at its best, the key is to find a wine where the acidity is balanced with just enough sweetness – I’m not talking about a dessert wine but one that just off-dry. The word to look for on the label is ‘Spätlese’. Made from grapes picked a little later than the usual harvest and therefore with a higher sugar content, these typically are allowed to reach between 8% and 10% alcohol before the fermentation is stopped. This leaves a few grams per litre of sugar to give that balance I mentioned earlier. Sadly, many of the wines we tasted are not available in the UK but Majestic have a good example: Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium’s Mosel Trittenheim Apotheke Spätlese (£9.99).

But, we didn’t just taste Riesling. We stayed in the village of Assmannshausen on the Rhine which is one of the few there specialising in red wines. They even hold a ‘Red Festival’ each year to celebrate, ending with a display of fireworks all in red. The grape they grow is known there as Spätburgunder, to the rest of us, it’s Pinot Noir. Not cheap and even more difficult to find in the UK than good Riesling, but if you see a bottle from there, it’s well worth trying.

The Steepest Vineyards

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DSCN1357We’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.