Thursday, 9 October 2014

Drinking It Up On The Mittelrhein

I’ve just come back from a week long holiday to a truly beautiful part of the world, the UNESCO world-heritage Rhine valley (Mittelrhein). It features some glorious views and walking routes, as well as the legendary Loreley rock face where a forlorn, young girl with beautiful golden hair reputedly threw herself off the cliffs in anguish at her lover’s betrayal (excellent fodder for epic German opera). Importantly for me, however, it is also an important area involved in producing German wine; something which I am rather partial to.

In terms of a wine production area, it is fair to say that the Mittelrhein isn’t an internationally famed area. A lot of the region’s wine tended to be used for making into German Sekt (sparkling wine, often made from Riesling); however some of the producers in the region have been upping their game and are now producing wines that are worthy of taking note.

It sits between such vaunted sites as the Mosel, the Nahe and the Rheingau and to my mind has elements of all of them in its wine, but lacking in renown or name there are some bargains to be found.

The best sites for wine production in the region are Oberheimbach, Bacharach and Boppard; fortunately the route on our holiday took us right through all of these areas (not entirely a coincidence).
Importance of Wine
Best cupboard ever
The Mittelrhein really has only two industries, wine and tourism. We were there to sample both. The importance of wine, culturally, to this region was emphasised for me by this wine box that we encountered on our trip. With a sign saying “Sesam öffne dich” (Open Sesame) on the cupboard which opened to reveal a number of 250ml bottles of local wines with an encouraged donation through an honesty box of €2.50/bottle.

We took a bottle of 2013 Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) from nearby Kaub (after paying the donation, of course) and enjoyed the bottle on a rocky outcrop not far from the Loreley viewpoint; a very welcome service for the thirsty traveller.
The Wines
In advance of my trip I looked at my trusty Gault und Millau Weinguide (a really handy guide that details all of Germany’s wine producers by region and ranks them and their wines) for some information on the area.

I picked out a couple of producers who looked to have something of interest and that we were going to be passing by on our route. I contacted these producers and found that they were very accommodating and helpful when it came to organising a tasting with them.

The first producer that we visited was Toni Jost in the quaint and picturesque town of Bacharach, where wooden-beamed buildings flank cobbled streets.

We were presented with samples of eight different wines in all and I must say that we were very pleased with what we tasted. Interestingly, Weingut Jost also has a site in the Rheingau (Wallufer Walkenberg) as well as their site in Bacharach (Bacheracher Hahn), so we started by trying a selection of their entry level Riesling Trockens from 2012 and 2013 and contrasting the styles between the Rheingau and the Mittelrhein.

What was apparent to me in contrasting is that there was greater poise, clarity and minerality in the Rheingau wines, but that the Mittelrhein wines were a touch more outgoing, with more floral notes. Our guide through the tasting agreed with us and said that in general they feel that the Rheingau wines are better food wines and that the Mittelrhein wines are better for simply enjoying on their own on a sunny afternoon.

A selection of the wines that we tried from Weingut Jost
Two wines that we tasted really did stand out for me. The first was the 2013 Bacharacher Hahn Riesling Kabinett Feinherb (€9.80/bottle from the producer), which was very nicely balanced with stone fruit notes (apricot) and a pleasingly long and poised finish – 8.5; 

The second was the 2011 Bacharacher Hahn Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel (€25.00/bottle from the producer), which was intensely aromatic with honey and tropical fruit flavours and an intensely pervasive finish – 9.0. 

They make the Goldkapsel wines when they have too many grapes of sufficient quality to make Beerenausleses (BAs) and don't want to bring down the price. We bought a bottle of this second wine, I did ask to sample their BA but they didn’t have a sample bottle open – so we just bought a bottle instead. If I were a patient man and I had a cellar (which I’m not and I don’t) then I would be looking to cellar this BA away for at least ten years. Instead I’ll probably drink it at Christmas with my family – I’ll report back later on this!

The second tasting was at Weingut Matthias Müller where we found that our tasting session with Marianne Müller was augmented by a group of twelve German wine enthusiasts on a wine trip themselves. This made for a very lively and enjoyable session.

The wines from Weingut Müller mostly originate from the Bopparder Hamm, one of the more dramatic curves of the Rhein creating a series of south and south-westerly facing vineyards that amazingly benefit from the sun reflecting heat from the river itself onto the vines.

We made our way through quite a number of wines...
One particularly fascinating aspect of the tasting was comparing two of their wines: Bopparder Hamm Mandelstein Riesling Spätlese and the Bopparder Hamm Ohlenberg Riesling Spätlese, both were from 2013, both had 12% alcohol, both had 11g of sugar, both had 9g of acidity (the Germans do love their wine statistics) - so on the surface of it these wines seemed to be as similar as could be.

However when tasting them they were completely different – the Mandelstein didn’t exude much fruit at all, but was rather herbal and had decent body to it; the Ohlenberg, conversely, was very fruity (citrus and tropical fruits) and had a nice bright acidity to it which gave for a long finish.

I slightly preferred the former rather than the latter, but what this demonstrated for me is the capacity of Riesling to reflect variations in terroir so clearly.
My two favourite wines from the tasting were firstly, the 2013 Riesling Spätlese Bopparder Hamm Mandelstein Edition MM (€12.50/bottle from the producer) which was again a wine characterised by minerality. There were warm, tropical fruit notes on the palate, but there were also herbal and mineralic notes to it too – it seemed to have everything. 9.0.

Secondly, the 2013 Riesling Auslese Bopparder Hamm Feuerlay (€16/bottle from the producer), which had an intriguing nose that was still bright and fresh, on the mouth it had tropical and honey notes coupled with an appropriate amount of acidity to keep the wine in check; very poised, 9.0.

I really was impressed with the tastings that I had at both of these Weinguts - the standard of wines was excellent and as you’ll be able to see from above the price-tags for the wines were very reasonable. I must thank my hosts from families Jost and Müller for their hospitality and patience with me (my German is pretty good these days, but I am by no means fluent, yet…)

Best of the Rest

I’d like to add a couple of honourable mentions for some other memorable wines that I tried.

Firstly a 2013 Riesling Spätlese Trocken from Weingut Weingart (Ohlenberg, Boppard) which was subtly imbued with fruit (peach) and hay notes, but on the mouth was lovely and balanced, showing some great finesse; I think this was my favourite dry wine of the trip - 8.5.

Secondly, there was a very interesting 2013 Blanc de Noirs Feinherb from Weingut Jürgen Stassen (Oberheimbach) which was a white wine made from Pinot Noir grapes; it was rather pleasant with cherry notes prevalent – 7.5.


I tried some wonderful wines whilst I was in this glorious part of the world and ate some very good food (I will be posting on this on my other site in the next few days). For more information on German wines, I'd recommend checking out Wines of Germany who have an excellent website with plenty of resources and information.

I'll leave you with one more shot of the beautiful Rhein...
The town of Bacharach

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