Wine Trip to Germany
Exploring the Nahe region — By Raul Diaz
I visited the Nahe region in Germany last week thanks to a kind invitation from Wines of Germany. The trip was truly amazing! We had several lectures from top speakers, multiple tastings of high quality wines (around 150 wines in total), explored the vineyards and also had the chance to talk directly with really inspiring winemakers.
Germany is one of the most northerly wine-growing countries on the planet. The growing season is very long, providing a fantastic balance of sunshine and rainfall. The grapes ripen slowly, offering great fruit flavours, refreshing acidity, natural residual sugar and lots of minerality coming from the soils.
The key to understanding wines coming from this place is to think about “Cool Climate”. German wines are normally low in alcohol, light body, with lots of aromas and fruit character. These elements are essentials when we want to have fantastic food and wine matching!
Today, German wines are strong players on the world stage, especially in the UK. Riesling and Spätburgunder are available by the glass in the majority of good restaurants in London. Dry styles of wines have really made a huge impact in the last few years. The entire perception of German wines is changing very rapidly due to their delicious taste, elegant structure and more accessible wine labels.
This beautiful country has 13 regions, that possess a long viticultural tradition for more than 2000 years! German producers have a deep commitment to their wines and their history. They focus on producing high quality wines, respecting the environment with passion in the vineyards, and using the most advanced technology in their wineries.
Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Spätburgunder
Riesling is Germany’s top white grape variety. For me it is simply the best white grape variety in the world! First records of the grape dates from the 15th century. Germany is responsible for more than 50% of the global wine production, with 23.440 hectares of vineyards.
It’s almost impossible to find another white grape that can show so much ability to produce outstanding wines made in different styles, from dry to extremely sweet. Riesling is easy to recognize for its finesse, high acidity, complexity and longevity. Another chapter altogether is it’s incredible capacity to match with many different types of food; including the challenging Asian cuisine and the delicious and vibrant South American cuisine.
Typical Rieslings can offer you a range of flavours, from very green apple and citrus fruit, going through stones fruits all the way to tropical mango and passion fruits. And it’s always good to know that Riesling will give us a sublime touch of honey, especially when there is some botrytis involved in the winemaking process.
Pinot Blanc - Weissburgunder
Germany is the biggest producer worldwide with 4.794 hectares! This grape is a mutation from Pinot Gris which is also a mutation from the good old Pinot Noir! Can you believe it?
This grape needs warm sites to grow in order to express the different terroirs from the best sites. It’s relatively neutral in terms of aromas. However, Pinot Blanc has good structure and less acidity than Riesling. This grape can cope with warm sites and overall is not difficult to grow. It’s not unusual to use oak barriques for high quality wines to produce medium to full bodied wines.
A typical dry Pinot Blanc has fresh acidity, delicate fruit aromas of apple, pear, apricot and pineapple.
Pinot Gris - Grauburgunder
Pinot Gris is one of the finest varietals that you can find in this country. Germany is the second biggest producer worldwide after Italy with 5.627 hectares. In the past, it was known as Ruländer (current synonym). This grape is a mutation of Pinot Noir.
Pinot Gris is growing rapidly in Germany. This grape needs warm sites with deep soils and enough water supply. It’s a semi-aromatic grape variety and is susceptible to noble rot. Pinot Gris is vinified in stainless steel tanks, large oak casks and in small barriques. This grape offers a variety of styles from a very light, dry ‘Pinot Grigio’ type wine with medium body and refreshing acidity, to a richer, full bodied, oak aged ‘Ruländer’ wine, that can have some botrytis.
Typical flavours of Pinot Gris are almonds, pear, dried fruits, raisins, pineapples and citrus fruits. If there is oak treatment, a delicious creamy/buttery texture will be present.
Spätburgunder - Pinot Noir
Spätburgunder is Germany’s finest red grape variety. First records of the grapes dates back to the 8th century! Religious orders were responsible for the expansion of Pinot Noir from Burgundy into Germany during the middle ages. Germany is the third largest producer of Pinot Noir in the world with 11.783 hectares.
Since the 1980s, there has been a lot of development and research done to improve the quality of the wines. The aim was to obtain smaller berries, intense varietal character, great colour and lower yields. The combination of Dijon clones and German clones has been very successful in order to produce wines that can reflect the exquisite diversity of soils.
Winemaking techniques are producing dramatic improvements in the wines. Most of the winemakers have several options when it comes to vinification; like how many stems they use, cold maceration, different temperature of fermentation and maturation with oak using German and/or French wood.
Typical Spätburgunders can offer a range of colours from light ruby to garnet red. These wines have a smooth and velvety texture with low tannins, mild acidity, floral aromas, red fruits and a long finish.
Exploring the Nahe region
Nahe is located between the Mosel and the Rhine. It is a medium size wine- growing region that is punching above its weight if we compare it with Rheingau, Mosel, Pfalz or Rheinhessen. The temperatures are mild. It’s very dry and the conditions for wine-growing are excellent. A long ripening season enable the grapes to grow slowly in order to concentrate their exquisite flavours, great structure and refined aromas.
The region is blessed with an immense variety of soils. In Nahe, you can find more that 180 different types of soil. It’s the most diverse region in Europe! Slate, quartz, schist, porphyry, coloured sandstone, vulcanic, clay, loam and so on. It’s amazing to think the endless combinations of complex soils that the winemakers have here to produce their wines. This is something truly unique about Nahe. You can produce a sublime wine made of let’s say…..Riesling grape in a particular vineyard, and literally produce another top wine using the same grape, 50 metres away from the first vineyard, and the taste of the two wines will be extremely different.
The steep slopes are another trademark of the region. They provide great conditions to produce top quality wines but at the same time the harvesting is a huge factor when it comes to the financial side of the wine operation. Several winemakers mentioned this factor as their biggest challenge. It is very emotional to see this because the quality of the wines are so high that sometimes we forget how hard is to actually produce them!
Meeting the Winemakers
I had the chance to meet several winemakers from different backgrounds and ages. They all share a common aim: to produce the best wines in the world, that reflect their terroirs and traditions. The idea of heritage, family and old ways are very present. But at the same time there is a strong focus on a modern approach. It’s a real combination of both worlds.
Georg Rumpf — Weingut Kruger-Rumpf
We tasted 14 wines from this producer. It was the first tasting of the trip so a lot of expectation was in the air. We had flights of 2 and 3 wines in order to see how the same grapes can express themselves in such a different fashion depending on the terroir and the winemaking techniques that had been used to create them.
These wines were very elegant and precise with high levels of acidity. The fruit character was present all the way through. I couldn’t stop thinking about food when I tasted them. This is a great indicator for me. We had the chance to taste the estate line, the Grosses Gewächs, Spätlese, Auslese and also a fantastic Kabinett. This is a family business like the majority of companies in the Nahe. Georg and his father take care of the wine operation and his mother looks after a beautiful restaurant which is located very near the winery.
My favourite wine - 2015 Münsterer Rheinberg Riesling Kabinett
Rainer Schneider— Weingut Stein
Visiting Weingut Stein was amazing! We had a really pleasant walking tour from one village to the next, in order to see the different vineyards and terroirs. Rainer was talking about his region with passion and in particular about these plots of land. It was very exciting to see the connection between the vineyards and the final wines. Old vines are very precious in order to produce wines with an intense concentration of flavours and the right level of acidity. The down side of this is that you have to be extremely careful with the vines because any mistake can cost you badly. We tasted 12 fantastic wines!
One aspect that really impressed me was the modern labels of this producer. Normally, a lot of people still think that German wines are boring and difficult to read. It’s true, there are some of them around, but most of the producers in Nahe are keen to present their wines in modern and attractive ways. Today, is all about getting the message across in a friendly and uncomplicated fashion. I really love these labels!
My favourite wine - 2014 “Wolf” Riesling, feinherb
Jakob Schneider — Weingut Jakob Schneider
It was really refreshing to see how this family take care of their business. We tasted 12 wines in a cool way. Jakob was very keen to show us his vineyards, the soils and also to taste the wines “on the road”. We walked from the winery to the vineyards with his wife and his baby girl. It was great to see how early the passion of wine starts in this family!
We explored the vineyards, checked the soils and tasted some superb wines while we were walking. It was easier for me to understand the different soils now. Slate, quartz, schist, porphyry, coloured sandstone, vulcanic, clay started to make sense, especially when I tasted the wines from those particular soils. It continually amazed me; the fact that Riesling in particular can be so dramatically different within 30–40 metres distance from one vineyard to the next.
My favourite wine — 1995 Niederhäuser Felsensteyer Riesling Kabinett
Peter Linxweiler— Weingut Hahnmühle
After I visited several young winemakers I met the great Peter Linxweiler. He has a stunning winery in the middle of a compact valley, with really steep slopes and the river very close. The winery is located in a 700 year old site that started as an ancient medieval mill. You could feel the sense of tradition here. Weingut Hanhmühle was a pioneer in the region in terms of ecological certification in the 1980s. Also, they are one of the only producers that use the grape Traminer for their wines in combination with Riesling.
We tasted 10 wines in this winery. The purity of the flavours combined with a precise winemaking create some unbelievable wines! The addition of Traminer is something unique. We tasted a sparkling wine made from this grape and a couple more made with Riesling. The texture of the wines was very elegant with a refreshing acidity and really long finish. The wines were reflecting the different terroirs in a top form.
My favourite wine — 2014 Cöllner Rosenberg Riesling + Roter Traminer
It’s hard sometimes to summarise in a few sentences how you feel after such a great trip. German wines are something truly unique. I know that this can sounds as a cliche but in this country and in particular in the Nahe region it’s real. This area is blessed with a great climate, incredible diversity of terroirs, it has a strong focus on family business, and they use the latest technology in the vineyards and in the winery.
There is a deep sense of commitment when it comes to making great wines. Embracing the old ways is important as long as you combine them with a modern approach. The production of drier styles of wines with low alcohol content, pure fruit character and attractive labels is really putting Nahe on the map when it comes to wines, both in Germany and abroad.
I left the region with a fantastic, positive feeling! I am totally converted and I will promote the Nahe wines from now on with passion. To be honest, it’s not hard to fall in love with such delicious wines, remarkable winemaking and cultural heritage.