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Dry Riesling - Germany's Best Kept Secret

You wouldn't be alone in assuming German Riesling is for the sweet tooth's amongst us, but with a recent visit to the home of German Riesling we discovered it's not all sweet after all!

German Riesling has battled a bad rep over recent years – not least because of the deliciously sweet wines that are often produced there – but having recently spent a glorious few days in the Nahe region of Germany where Riesling is king, I was delighted to find that there’s so much more to this legendary grape than meets the eye.

A short 90 minute flight to Frankfurt followed by an hour transfer and you’ll find yourself in a whole different world – one with vibrant green forests and vineyards as far as the eye can see, steep slopes filled with bursting vines dotted among charming hamlets full of cobbled streets and stone buildings that look like they’ve jumped out of a picture book – Hansel and Gretel immediately springs to mind.

Founded in 1100 and serving as a border between Prussia and Bavaria, the region spent 20 years under Napoleon’s rule and is a place of immense political history. The wine making economy also dates this far back with locals producing wine not only to make a living but as an alternative drink to the dirty water - made sweet with honey and thinned with water to allow vast quantities to be consumed, it apparently fared better for their health.
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From the 1850s the wine economy was highly invested in with an abundance of vineyards planted over the following 100 years – it would become apparent over my trip that a majority of wine producers in Nahe are family businesses, plenty of which are third or fourth generation and date back to this boom.

I realised just how serious these guys are about their wine when for our first evening we were hosted by none other than the German Wine Queen herself (pictured below, middle). A coveted position that goes to only the most passionate of women, a new queen is crowned each year and spends her time spreading the good word of German Riesling (among other grapes) across the globe. Both Katarina – the current Queen - and the numerous other members of wine royalty that we met over the trip come from generations of wine making families and are fiercely proud of the region – as seems to be the case with almost everyone we encounter in this beautiful part of the country.
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After a lavish welcome feast at the local Vinoteka, a cooperative which showcases around 50 local producers, we are up at the crack of dawn the next day to hike the local trails that give us a panoramic view over the Nahe river and its vineyards. We learnt of the geology of the area, magma rock 200 million years old that creates the highest rock steep wall between the alps and Scandinavia and gives a spectrum of 180 soil types from grey slate through to volcanic rock, and how Riesling is the best grape to capture the minerality and nuances of the different terroir and bring it into your glass.

Following a scenic draisine ride (note – we were doing the cycling, this was to be a very active wine tour) passing through lush green farms and woodland and corn fields edged with wild berries and apple trees, we took a guided walking tour around the picturesque village of Maisenheim. A unique town full of medieval turrets and crooked timber houses straight out of a Bavarian fairy tale, it is most notable for having never been destroyed by war. Walking, cycling and history ticked off it was now time for the real fun to begin… the wine tastings.

Over the course of the afternoon we visited the architectural masterpiece that is Gut Hermannsberg – where the fresh and dry sparkling Riesling with which we began and the 1989 creamy gem to finish were the biggest surprises – followed by the celebrated vineyards of Jakob Schneider who, along with his wife Laura, took us on a stunning walk where we enjoyed the fruits of their labour in the relevant vineyards to get a real taste of the impact of the different terrain. We finished off the day with a dinner hosted by legendary winemaker Hermann Dörnhoff, who aside from treating us to a selection of some of the finest Rieslings the country has to offer, regaled us with tales of his life in wine since his first vintage in 1971 (which happens to still be his favourite) with glistening eyes and a mischievous smile offering up excellent nuggets of wisdom such as “after a long day in the sun, Riesling can bring you back to life”. Perfect.
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After a much needed sleep we started the next day with another morning activity – this time a barefoot walk through the country which called for us to cross the icy Nahe river itself. The rest of the day was spent in a joyous haze of sunshine and Riesling, tasting the delicate wines of K. H. Schneider at the banks of the river, an astonishing portfolio from Laura Weber – who at 25 is making waves in the industry with her forward thinking and experimental approach to wine – over a lunchtime BBQ cooked by her wine maker father in their historic family home.  Our last stop took us on a fascinating tour and tasting with iconic female winemaker Luise Freifrau von Racknitz, whose family are long term key holders to the monastery ruins of Disibodenberg and manage both the foundation and a globally renowned wine brand from the medieval site.

Our final evening was spent at the home and restaurant of Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, where once again the hospitality was unparalleled as winemaker Georg hosted us for a wonderful evening filled with fantastic wines – including a sparkling rosé that went down far too easily in the setting sun – alongside a family style feast of fresh and simple ingredients expertly prepared and matched to the wines on show.

A couple of days in this glorious place and I’m most certainly now a number one fan, it’s hard not to be with such passionate winemakers sharing their wide variety of wines that, owing to the different terroirs, methods and scope for ageing, show the unexpected variety that the grape can give.

Nahe - a secret spot for Germany’s best Riesling, full of stunning landscapes and even a spa town with salt springs to bathe in - honestly, who doesn’t like wine and spa?