The Rheingau region of Germany, a short drive or cycle ride west of Frankfurt, produces some of the best wines in the country, especially Rieslings. However, because wine production is small many won’t be found even in other parts of Germany, let alone overseas. The small town of Rüdesheim is doing its bit to spread the word, though, by introducing Wine Time! This self-guided walk gives you a passport to visit four of the town’s vinotheks, or wine shops, with vouchers to sample two wines in each one.
Though it has a population of fewer than 10,000 people, Rüdesheim is one of the most popular tourist spots in Germany, second only to Cologne Cathedral. Partly this is due to the Rhein cruise ships that call in constantly, and as I try to weave my way through the crowds to find the first vinothek on the map that comes with my wine passport, I pass Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Brits, Americans and the rest of the united nations that cruises seem to attract.
Fortunately for me they all seem to be playing follow-my-leader, and not one of them has a wine passport. I make my way to Georg Breuer, a wine shop run by the vineyard of the same name. The shop is bright and cheerful, with a stylish grey and turquoise interior. Its shelves are filled with their own balsamic vinegars, mustards, wine jellies and, of course, a wide range of wines given that the vineyard is only 33 hectares, in the extreme west of the Rheingau.
‘Our land is on steep slopes,’ the nice lady behind the counter explains, ‘so we have to do everything by hand. You can’t get the machinery up there. So, would you like to try the wine?’
The first tasting is always the winemaker’s choice of house wine, and the second is one of your choosing. She offers me a generous splash of one of their Terra Montosa Rieslings, the name appropriately meaning Steep Earth and going back to the first written record of wine being produced in this region, in 1074. It’s a crisp and flinty white, and I decide to try a contrasting Riesling dessert wine, which turns out to be intensely floral on the nose and tasting of honey.
She takes me out back to show me the wine cellar, across a cobbled courtyard where Leo the winery dog is tied up and getting excitedly tangled in his lead. ‘He loves going to the vineyards,’ she says.
A 5-minute walk away is the Hotel Zum grünen Kranz, with its own wine shop just along the street, the Weingut Nägler. The owner of both, Ralf Nägler, is busily pouring wine for a stream of visitors, but manages to find time for everyone.
‘We are the oldest winemaker in the town,’ he says proudly, ‘in the 8th generation of my family. I have five children so I hope someone will take it over from me one day!’
The vineyard is only 8 hectares and most of their wine is sold in the shop or in the hotel. I try a 2013 Riesling which is so bone dry there’s almost no scent, just a hint of cut grass maybe, but the taste is an interesting combination of flinty crispness and peachy sweetness. At the far end of the shop there’s a dispenser where you can fill a glass, or whatever container you bring in, with blackberry wine, blueberry, quince, plum, elder, raspberry, peach or strawberry wine.
It’s another short walk to the third vinothek, Allendorf, close to the banks of the River Rhein. Here there’s a definite appeal to the cruise ship trade with bottles and t-shirts both bearing the slogan: Save Water Drink Riesling. It’s €7 a bottle so I try some, and it’s a little thin, pleasant enough without being outstanding, while the second wine, another Riesling, was totally different. It was medium-dry but tasted surprisingly of gooseberry, a slightly tart fruity taste not unlike a Sauvignon Blanc.
Allendorf claims to be the oldest winemaker in the region (as opposed to in the town, a fine distinction), dating back to 1279. So what makes their wines different? ‘If you like it, you make it like you like it,’ is the reply.
Before the Wine Time finale I first visit the Rüdesheimer Schloss Wine Hotel, which has six rooms made out of wine barrels. Well, they’re barrels that have been double-lined as untreated barrels would collapse if they dried out. The rooms are ridiculously cosy and cute, the barrel like a 6ft-long gypsy caravan, where you sleep, though at the rear is a modern extension with a bathroom.
Finally I stagger to the Drossel Kellerei, where, in an interesting twist, they have Riesling wines bottled in the same year but from different terroirs, so you can taste the difference the soil and growing conditions make. Indeed, the first is fruity, a second from a different vineyard is mustier and a lot drier, even though they’re both dry wines.
So if you’re of the opinion – as I was – that all Rieslings taste the same, I recommend having a fine old Wine Time in Rüdesheim.
A Wine Time passport currently costs €12.50 and includes eight tasting samples. For further details see:
All photos (c) Donna Dailey