Rhine and Rhone: Wine Regions of Germany Rhine
Germany’s most famous river, which flows south to north and then east to west, is the centre of its most famous vineyards – or of all of them, if those of the tributary Mosel are also included. The region has a long and proud wine history, which is remarkable because these vineyards are situated so far north. The vineyards are comparatively small and production is carried on under difficulties, because of the climatic risks; but modern vinification enables at least moderately good wine to be made in years which before might have proved disastrous. The great grape of the region is, as might be expected, the Riesling. At the famous estates, it can produce wines of remarkable bouquet, fruit, subtlety and delicacy in certain years. But other grape varieties, including the Sylvaner and Miiller-Thurgau, are now used. Rhine wines can also be among some of the most expensive wines in the world when wines of specific qualities (see Germany) are concerned. Many pleasant regional wines are also made, for immediate or short-term drinking. All are bottled in elongated bottles of brown glass.
The greatest region is the Rheingau, on the north bank between Lorch and Hochheim. The latter, incidentally, is supposed to have given the name hock to the English language. The Rheingau wines are very aristocratic, delicate (sometimes difficult for beginners to appreciate) and often endowed with a gentleness that makes them easily overwhelmed especially when they are served with food. At their finest, they should only be served with very simple foodstuffs. As far as the sweeter wines are concerned, they should be served quite alone, or possibly with fine fruit. The important names are: Eltville, Erbach, Geisenheim, Hallgarten (nothing to do with the well-known U.K. Shipper), Hattenheim, Hochheim, Johannisberg, Kiedrich, Kloster Eberbach, Ostrich, Rauenthal, Rtidesheim and Winkel. Some of the most famous estate-owners are: Schloss Rheinhartshausen, Graf von Schonborn (who owns part of the Marcobrunn site), Graf Eltz, and Freiherr Langwerth von Simmern (at Eltville), Prince von Lowenstein and Karl FranzEngelmann (at Hallgarten), Furst Metternich (Schloss Johannisberg), and Graf Matuschka-Greiffenclau (Schloss Vollrads), but there are many others. The important viticultural school at Geisenheim is also an influential owner and the State Domain, which is the most important single proprietor in Germany, owns properties in the vineyards of Riidesheim, Hattenheim, Assmann-shausen (where some red wine is made) Eltville, Erbach, Hochheim, Kiedrich, Rauenthal and Steinberg.
The vineyards of the Rheinhessen, one of the largest wine regions of the Rhine, are on the west bank of the river and behind it, before it turns westwards near Mainz. Both red and white wine is made here, but it is the whites that are most widely known. The most important parishes are: Bodenheim, Guntersblum, Laubenheim, Nackenheim, Nierstein and Oppenheim. There are few great estates like those on the Rheingau, and in general the wines, though they can be very good, seldom attain quite the quality of the finest of the Rheingaus. The red earth of the Nierstein vineyards in particular makes wines that come to maturity comparatively quickly, possessing a fullness, and slight softness that makes them usually immediately appealing, if perhaps a little lacking in finesse (see soil). The most famous vineyard of the Rheinhessen is at Worms in the south of the region, where the wines of the Church of Our Lady, the Liebfrauenstift, enjoyed a great vogue at one time – although in fact they are not usually as fine as some of the other wines. This church gave the name Liebfraumilch to the well-known blended wines widely sold for export today.
There are numerous other vineyards around the Rhine, many making wines that are pleasant to drink when one is on the spot and quantities that are used for blending. The whole subject of Rhine wines is complex, on account of their delicacy and individuality; and anyone wishing to know more should consult one of the specialised reference books listed in the Bibliography.
The wine region that extends from just south of Lyon, in the east of France, southwards down almost to Avignon, along the banks of the River Rhone. Red, white and rosl wines are made, although possibly the reds and roses are the best known. The most northerly region is the Cote Rotie, which is divided into the Cote Brune and Cote Blonde; then there are the vineyards of Condrieu and Chateau Grillet. Next, around the twin towns of Tain-Tournon, there are the vineyards of Hermitage, Crozes-Hermitage, St Joseph, St Plray, Cornas, with Clairette de Die produced nearby. Finally, spread out towards the mouth of the Rhone, lie the vineyards of Beaumes de Venise, Chateauneuf du Pape, Chusclan, Gigondas, Lirac, Vacqueyras, Tavel and others. Many produce both white and red wines. A variety of grapes is used, the most important being: Syrah, Grenache, Viognier, Roussanne, Marsanne, Clairette, Pkpoul, Mourvedre, Terret Noir and Ugni Blanc. Legislation permits the use of a number of these, plus others, in many of the wines.
Rhone wines were very popular in the 19th century in Britain and, before legislation restricted the abuse of nomenclature, many Burgundies were said to have gained their reputation because of being laced with the more robust red wines of the south. But fine red Rhone is quite different from Burgundy. Even allowing for the difference in the grape varieties, the sun-baked vineyards make full-bodied, assertive wines, some capable of attaining nobility with age, and most giving great pleasure even if they seldom prove very subtle. The whites are full, dry and very ‘baked’ in flavour; the roses (of which Tavel is possibly the most famous in the world) are also large-scale in character, with pronounced bouquet and a rounded, dry, but full taste. All these wines are becoming of increasing importance to the winedrinker, because their prices have not yet risen as sharply as those of Burgundy, although they are more expensive than they were.
Vintages in this sunny region are seldom very varied, and the wines – except for the finest reds – tend to be ready for drinking and at their best fairly soon after they are made, although all will soften with time. Many, such as those simply sold as Cotes du Rhone, may be listed without a vintage date. In general, the reds are good accompaniments to any dish requiring something full-bodied and fairly assertive, such as big roasts, grills, spiced casseroles of meat, and game. The whites will partner most meat dishes, but can be rather overwhelming for delicate fish dishes, though they go well with piquant fish stews, or anything strongly flavoured with herbs. The roses are robust enough to go with many meat dishes, even of a strongly flavoured sort, or cold or picnic food, and also with fish dishes, even with mayonnaise. Most of the Rhone wines will also partner pasta and, of course, any regional recipes, such as Provencal or Nicpise dishes.