While Frankfurt may not be “wine central”, it is just an hour (some less, some more) train ride to numerous wine regions. Mainz is only 30 minutes away. From Mainz, it is easy to reach some of the best German wine regions, including Rheingau, Nahe, Mosel, Pfalz, Baden and Rheinhessen. And Rieslings are what made the region famous for wine. The Rhine Valley is a UNESCO World Heritage site. And though I have passed through here many moons ago, I am most anxious to do some wine tasting here. I must admit that my wine palate has changed since the Seventies!
Just know that “Rhine wine” is not regulated and does not imply a geographic location. In fact, in the US, any white wine under 14% is also considered Rhine wine. The Rhine River forms the backbone of Germany’s wine growing region. Rhine wine refers to any wine produced along the Rhine River, which runs through Germany, and Alsace, France. Most of the wines are medium dry white wines, leading to the very generic term, Rhine wine or better yet, Rhine-inspired wine. You may remember a once popular wine, Liebfraumilch, once Germany’s top exported wine, a mild, and sweet white wine.
But today’s wine here exhibits a wide variance in taste and sweetness. The two most common designations are Kabinett, and Auslese. Kabinett are harvested earlier, tend to be lighter, crisper, and less sweet. Auslese are sweeter, harvested later, and higher in alcohol content, often made with grapes affected by noble rot. Then there is Spatlese, but balanced, semi-sweet, crisp and refreshing, harvested later. Experts say you can taste the terroir, of the land where the grapes were grown. I have not reached that level of discrimination.
Four main grapes are used to make wine here:
- Riesling, the most famous grape grown here in the Rhine, and though reputed to be sweet, can be used to make dry wine. May have acidity and minerality.
- Muller-Thurgau, a cross between Riesling and Silvaner, with strong notes of peach.
- Gewürztraminer, more popular in Alsace, full-bodied, intensely aromatic white wines.
- Pinot Gris, though originating in Burgundy, popular in Alsace for rich dry wines.
Dessert Rieslings are also a big deal here. They even have three categories of dessert Rieslings:
- Beerenauslese, late harvest, noble rot, characteristic bouquet, low alcohol, but sweet and age well. Barely tolerable for me.
- Trockenbeerenauslese, intensely sweet and rich late harvest dessert wines made from noble rot.
- Eiswein, made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine, concentrated flavor, high sugar, low alcohol. Too sweet for me.
Six popular brands, perhaps found in the US:
- Dr. Loosen (great name)
- Joh. Jos Prum
- Jost Family (180 years)
- Matthias Muller (300 years)
One little town I remember with great memories is Rudesheim, along the Rhine. My buddy, Russ and I were taking a ferry drown the Rhine. Your Eurail pass allowed unlimited river ferries as well back then. We could wait to get off, drink beer in the biergartens, eat some schnitzel, and pass out back on the deck of the ferry. Little did I know these gartens were also called Weingartens! Anyway, Rudesheim might very well be the cutest little town I have ever seen!