Greetings from the Rüdesheim Wine Majesties
since the wine Festival in August 2015 the wine queen Eva Störzel (17) with two princesses aside is greeting the visitors of Rüdesheim. The wine princesses Friederike Nägler (17) and Mariett Schmoranz (18) and Eva are all from Rüdesheim wine growing families.
Winegrowing in the Rheingau and in Rüdesheim
Knowledgeable authors on the subject of wine are frequently left grasping for superlatives. The English writer Hugh Johnson calls it the „best winegrowing region on the Rhine“ and Frank Schoonmaker‘s „Encyclopaedia of Wine“ goes even further: „In the opinion of many experts, this is the most important winegrowing area in the world“. They are talking about the Rheingau, which with a planted area of around only 3 000 hectares, is one of the smallest winegrowing areas in Germany.
Geographically, the Rheingau is a two to three kilometre wide strip of land along the River Rhine that extends downstream from the mouth of the River Main at Wicker to the village of Lorchhausen 38 kilometres away. The area offers the perfect climate for growing wine, as brotherhoods of winemaking monks discovered here many centuries ago. This section of the Rhine is broad, almost resembling a lake in places, and reflecting the sun‘s light upwards onto the south facing slopes. To the rear, the woods of the Taunus hills offer protection against the perils of cold northerly winds.
The climate of the Rheingau provides outstanding conditions for growing grapes: an average temperature of 9.9°C, 1,643 hours of sunshine and just 536 mm of annual rainfall. The excellent climate is complemented by an extraordinary diversity of soils: slate, quartzite, sandstone, gravel and loam leave their marks in the richly nuanced terroirs of Rheingau wines. Winemakers in the Rheingau are highly trained. Almost every independent winemaker in the Rheingau has completed an apprenticeship and training as a winegrower‘s assistant, master winemaker or winemaking engineer. The winemakers themselves take responsibility for preserving the area‘ s essential traditions (and, in particular, of the classic Riesling and Spätburgunder grape varieties) while also remaining open to new approaches and advances in cellaring. The environmental awareness of the Rheingau‘s wine producers is well above average and also deserving of recognition.
There are a total of 380 winemakers in the region marketing their own products. Most are familyrun companies tending vineyards of between four and eight hectares. There are also three local cooperatives and around two dozen large wine estates (between approx. 10 and 50 hectares). These export a considerable proportion of their production and thus contribute to the fame and reputation of Rheingau Riesling throughout the world.
Winemaking has a long history in the Rheingau, which extends back to Roman times. Around 1900, a sickle shaped Roman knife for cutting vines was found in a building trench close to the Brömserburg castle in Rüdesheim (it can now be
seen in the Wine Museum housed in the Brömserburg castle). It proves that the locals were already harvesting grapes and making wine here in the third century A.D. in accordance with the recommendations of the late Roman Emperor Probus. Further archaeological evidence was discovered in Merovingian-Franconian graves alongside Oberstraße in Rüdesheim, namely wineglasses placed there as religious grave goods. The Emperor Charlemagne, who frequently resided in his palace in Ingelheim and knew the Rheingau
well, is rumoured to have recommended planting the finer Orléans grapes here due to the propitious climate. However, the archbishops of Mainz were responsible for the expansion of winegrowing to its current area between the 10th and 14th centuries. These princes of the church promoted the clearing of forests along the Rhine in order to plant vineyards. The first documentary evidence of winegrowing in Rüdesheim dates from the year 1074. Many monasteries and aristocratic families also took a prominent and influential role in the expansion of the wine industry. They dedicated themselves to achieving the best possible quality and were interested in the development of new and better methods in making, cellaring and marketing wine.
All German wine predicates originate in the Rheingau and could only be used for wines of exceptional quality. For example, the term „Cabinet“ was already well-known over 250 years ago to describe good vintages made from exceptional grapes, these wines being stored in „cabinet“ cellars. Spätlese, Auslese and their more noble relatives, the Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese, were also discovered in the Rheingau. They continue to be considered specialities, which cannot be grown in large quantities every year.
The earliest references to the cultivation of „seczreben riesslingen“ relate to the Rheingau and date from the year 1435. Riesling has been the most highly prized variety in this district on the banks of the Rhine ever since and now covers 84 percent of the total vineyard area in the Rheingau – no other winegrowing region in the world grows such a high proportion of Riesling.
Although other varieties would be capable of producing greater yields, they have never been able to establish a firm hold in the Rheingau. After all, the Riesling grape‘s zestiness and elegance, its characteristically delicate peachy bouquet and crisp acidity mark it out as possibly the best white wine variety in the world. Here, in the northerly winegrowing regions around the 50° parallel, the Riesling grape finds the ideal soil and climate. The long ripening season allows the grapes plenty of time to absorb minerals from the soil giving the wines exceptional fruit and body.
The wine harvest in the Rheingau rarely begins before 15 October and often continues late into November. Riesling requires a warm autumn to allow the grapes to develop the necessary sugar content. One special factor at work here can be the infection of the grapes by the fungus botrytis cinerea. If the grapes are infected when ripe, as the winegrowers wish, water evaporates and the remaining contents of the grape are concentrated enabling the harvest to be transformed into highly coveted Prädikatsweine (superior quality wines).
Yet even without the assistance of this „noble rot“, Rheingau Riesling has many enthusiasts due to its clean, zesty and fruity style. The wines have high levels of extractives and hence concentrated flavours. Their alcohol content is usually not very high (approx. 9 - 11.5% vol.). Both dry and medium dry Qualitätsweine and Kabinettweine (quality and cabinet wines), in particular, are growing in popularity as accompaniments to food due to their distinctively light and refreshing style.
The black Spätburgunder grape is to red wine what the Riesling is to white! In
France, it is known as the pinot noir. In the Rheingau, Spätburgunder is a genuine speciality and is grown over an area of approx. 160 hectares, mostly on the steep slopes surrounding Assmannshausen. The earliest reference to Spätburgunder in Germany dates from 1318; the grape was probably brought to the Rheingau by Cistercian monks from Eberbach and the first evidence for its cultivation dates from 1470. Certainly, this red wine variety has been growing in Assmannshausen since at least 1507. „It is highly prized and has
even greater strength than the red wines of Burgundy,“ wrote one wine researcher in 1829. Although Spätburgunder from the Rheingau is undoubtedly
among the best red wines in Germany, it is lighter, softer and more velvety than its richer, fuller-bodied and more alcoholic French counterparts. The small, ripe, dark blue grapes produce wines of a lighter colour with a restrained, delicate flavour, a warm and elegant style and pleasing level of acidity that also ensures they can be stored for many years. With time, the wine becomes more fiery and grows in complexity. Occasionally, it is also produced as a rich and refreshing Weißherbst (rosé). The finesse of Rheingau Spätburgunder is also partly due to the relatively low yields.
In Germany, it's hard to find a festive occasion at whichyou won't see people celebrating with a good glass of Sekt (sparkling wine). The quality of the Sekt depends primarily on theuse of high-quality base wines with a full aroma andwell-balanced taste. Only wines produced from the finest grape varieties are selected by the cellar master to beturned into high-quality sparkling wine. The art of 'enhancing'the finest Rheingau wines in this way has been practised in our region for 150 years. Enjoyed as an apéritif, with a meal or at any time of day - Sekt represents the very essence of enjoyment and zest for life!
Seasonal wine taverns
The most typical way to enjoy wine and sekt in the Rheingau is at one of the
many seasonal wine taverns. These are easy to spot by the bouquets and brooms hanging outside, but opening times are often restricted due to the four-month serving period. To find out when you can enjoy home-grown regional wines accompanied by Handkäs mit Musik (small cheese marinated in a vinegar and onion sauce) and spundekäs (well-seasoned cream cheese), please refer to the section "Opened wine taverns". In contrast to these seasonal wine taverns, the wine rooms run by various wineries are open to visitors all year round.