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Germany's Rheingau region: so good, wine was named after it

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The Rheingau is not a particularly large wine region – it makes up only 3% of the total vineyard area of Germany – but it is a profoundly important one. Historically, the Rheingau was a cornerstone of German winemaking. It is here, outside of Schloss Johannisberg, that the magic of the noble rot, Botrytis, was first discovered. Rheingau is a land devoted to riesling – nearly 80% of all grapes planted in the region are of that grape. And it comes in every degree of sweetness, from the increasingly-popular dry form to incredibly sweet dessert wines built to age for decades.

 

Modern winemaking began in the Rheingau in the 12th century, when Cistercian monks began producing in the region. For many years riesling was so firmly connected to the region that it was known throughout the world as Johannisberg riesling – after what is now St. John’s Mountain. In the 19th century, German wine was known in Queen Victoria’s court simply as hock, a shortening of the local place-name Hochheim. Many of the great varietals of Germany originated in the area, created at the Geisenheim Research Institute.

 

The climate in the Rheingau is relatively temperate, with winters not nearly as cool as some neighboring regions. The extreme south-facing slopes where the river bends produce some of the best terroir for riesling in the world, and hundreds of tiny vineyards dot the hillsides.

 

Exploring the Rheingau is a wonderful experience. The region depends heavily on wine tourism, and there are dozens of exceptional, small-production wineries open to public tasting. One of the region’s most popular attractions is the Radwanderweg, or Rheingauer Riesling Bike Trail, on which visitors can ride around the countryside, stopping at boutique wineries as they go. The riesling of the Rheingau have a crisp acid, and a full, deep flavor – in contrast to the delicate wines of the Mosel. Some of the most well-known names in quality German wine come from the Rheingau: Marcobrunn, Schloss Johannisberg, Jesuitgarten, Langwerth von Simmern, and more. Others to look out for include Nonnenberg, Robert Weil, Georg Breuer, and August Eser. In terms of vintages, the best recently have been 2001, 2005, and 2009.