In June and July 2016 I took two groups on tour to some of the wine regions of Germany. We were based in Wiesbaden, a picturesque spa city and an ideal base to explore a good number of different areas in a short time. Both tours commenced on Wednesday evening, with a dinner in Wiesbaden, and ended on the following Saturday evening. Most people flew into Frankfurt, many took their German adventures further before or after the tour.
As with all of my tours, on each of the full days of visits we took in at least two wine producers. Across the four days we visited the following regions and wine producers.
Weingut Leitz have been a real success story of the Rheingau region and are flag bearers of top quality Riesling. Jan Schmidt conducted a fascinating tasting of six Rieslings with a great contrast of style. Out in the Kirchenpfad vineyards, with the background of the Germania monument, he gave us a great insight into the terroir of the region and the amazing diversity that exists within a few hundred metres on the incredibly steep slopes.
The historic Schloss Vollrads was a major destination. This amazing castle is steeped in history – tracing back the von Greiffenclau family over 22 generations. Winemaking has been recorded here since 1174. We toured of some of the beautiful rooms of the Schloss and a different wine was awaiting us in each different location: starting a dry Riesling beside the lake, and progressing through levels of residual sugar until we tasted a Spätlese Riesling in what had been the most expensive room ever decorated in Europe – the walls were ‘papered’ with gilded leather. Both groups had a wonderful lunch – the first were there during spargel or asparagus season and enjoyed four different courses with asparagus at the heart of three of them. The second group (only two of whom were vegetarians) enjoyed a superb vegetarian lunch which completely challenged any preconceptions about Germany cuisine.
The Pfalz is often described as a wine paradise – it is Germany’s largest region after the Rheinhessen. With 1800 sunshine hours and only moderate rainfall, it is the perfect location not only for vineyards but also for a wide range of other fruits and crops. At Weingut Von Winning in the historic and beautiful village of Deidesheim we enjoyed a wonderful tour of the historic cellars with a comprehensive tasting of seven different wines that reflected the diversity not only of the estate but of the Pfalz region. Riesling of course, but we also tasted comparative Sauvignon blancs, a variety of reds including some terrific Pinot Noir and a Chardonnay.
At Bissersheim the terrific Knipser estate have their Halbstuck restaurant. Knipser are an amazing family who have done a fabulous job of promoting top class Pfalz wine and have pioneered Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah in the region. I first visited Knipser in 2006 and have never forgotten the experience.
Stefan Braun hosted us in great style. Sitting in the courtyard in brilliant sunshine, we started an epic tour of the Knipser wines. Sekt, whites, rose, reds, late harvest Gewürztraminer……it was truly awesome. After at least twelve wines and a delicious three course meal there were a few white flags being flown.
It was a truly memorable experience and reinforced my views on the incredible quality coming from Knipser.
In the historic village of Piesport we visited the Lothar Kettern estate. Young winemaker Philipp is in charge and clearly has a vision to make some changes about how we perceive wines from the Mosel. We explored the vineyards, and walked down to the river, and tasted a terrific selection of wines outside on the terrace accompanied by a delicious traditional Mosel lunch made by Philipp’s mother.
The Kettern estate are involved in a joint venture with the famous Niepoort family in Portugal, and at both visits we met Daniel Niepoort who has been working on a number of vintages with Philipp, and tasted with him some lovely Niepoort table wines and port.
Our first group visited Weingut Axel Pauly. Winemaker and owner, Axel, took us for a walk and a drive through the vineyards which gave us a unique perspective into how arduous it is to tend these vineyards. Back at the winery we tasted through a great selection of his wines – clearly showing a purity and preciseness that is the Pauly hallmark.
Unfortunately Axel Paul was not available during our second trip, but the group didn’t miss out – we visited Dr Loosen, one of the most famous names in German wine. Its fame is thanks to Ernie, the son of the eponymous Doctor, and from the start Ernie’s focus was on getting away from a traditional German mindset, and exploring wine markets in Asia and America. Over the years he has built a fan base that is worldwide, and we tasted a marvellous cross section of the styles and vineyards.
A sparkling Sekt visit
Henkell is the biggest producer of sekt (sparkling wine) in Germany and it felt like it must be one of the biggest in the world. We visited what looked more like a palace than a winery, and learnt that since founder Adam Henkell had visited Champagne in 1832, the company had been ambitious to bring the pleasure of sparkling wine to as many people as possible. It now owns a portfolio of famous fizz beyond Germany including cavas, proseccos, crémant producers in France and even Gratien & Mayer in Champagne! We explored the building from bottom to top – finishing with a view of the bottling hall where 90 million bottles are produced each year.
In the an airy tasting room where we explored the Henkell range of wines. It took us several goes to understand that every one of the five wines we tasted from this range only cost €5.50 (in Germany), as we really enjoyed their light mousse and soft fruit. I ensured we finished with something more ‘top end’ – the Adam Henkell Chardonnay Brut, made in the traditional method using French base wine.
Stefan Rumpf, the current head of three generations of a family that has been making wine in the Nahe since 1708, guided us through his wines and took the second group up the hill behind the house and into the vines. Sadly torrential rain meant that the first group missed out on the vineyard visit.
His 40 hectares of vineyards are one third loess soil (he demonstrated the crumbly characteristics), one third quartzite and one third slate. Riesling is grown on the quartzite and slate, and on the loess he grows a number of varieties including Silvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. Stefan explained that the local deer population don’t much like Riesling so they tend to raid the other varieties on the lower slopes.
We had a simple, delicious dinner with wines from the Nahe complementing each course, and we cheered Stefan for a wonderful exposition of the region and his wines, we cheered the chef for a fabulous meal, and we cheered Tim for hosting a marvellous trip.
Back to Wiesbaden over a final glass of wine or beer, or in some cases an ice cream, we agreed we had enjoyed the most fabulous wine and food, met many witty, kind and passionate people, and enjoyed the most beautiful surroundings. I think most of us felt we had experienced a revelation of the diversity, complexity and rate of change of German wines, and that this was an exploration to be continued. Not least to continue our efforts to understand the German wine labeling system which we were assured is based on logic, but appears to have more exceptions that prove the rule than rules themselves!
What my clients said about this tour
“I just wanted to let you know how much Simon and I enjoyed the German trip. Good variety of wineries – some big; some small. I was really pleased to go out around the vineyards as it is there that I feel you get to understand what a challenge it is to produce wine at all when nature wants to throw problems at you all the time. I really liked your style; your knowledge and your way of imparting that knowledge.”– Jessica Shepherd, Reading