The New Classics: Why the Rheingau Riesling is Always in Style

During the late 19th century you would be hard pressed to find a more expensive or highly regarded bottle of wine outside of Bordeaux’s classed growths than that of the Rieslings of Rheingau. This gently rolling region, whose southern-facing vineyards sit largely on the right bank of the Rhine and on banks of the River Main, is ruled by the noble Riesling along with the equally illustrious Spätburgunder – or as we might know it better, Pinot Noir. Hochheim and Assmannshausen are just two sites rightly famous for their Spätburgunder, and although Rheingau red used to be fairly pale and sweet, increasing use of barrel maturation has meant the wines have gone through an evolution and become much stronger, darker and long-lived.

In the Rheingau, seven co-operatives receive grapes from around 10% of the harvest each year but much more prevalent is the role of private and state owned estates. Two famous castles, Schloss Johannisberg and Schloss Vollrads have large vineyards holdings but other properties are based around villages, some of which have been producing wine since the 18th century. It is in the Rheingau that Riesling still finds its perfect full-bodied expression, with tight structure and deep and steely stone fruit personality. With age these Rieslings evolve into complex wines with aromas reminsicent of beeswax, honeycomb and spiced dried fruit and can age for remarkable lengths of time.

Rheingau © Balthasar Ress.

Balthasar Ress is one Rheingau winery we added last year to our German portfolio. 150 years old Balthasar Ress set up Gasthof Ress, an inn and eatery in the idyllic village of Hattenheim on the Rhine river, laying the foundation for a long gastronomic tradition as well as the family winery that fourth and fifth generation Stefan and Christian Ress manage today. With Christian at the helm, focus is shifting to sustainability and he has succeeded in certifying all of the property’s vineyards as organic, beginning this process in 2016. With over 50 hectares now certified organic, Balthasar Ress is now the largest organic winery in the state of Hesse. Riesling (90%) and Spätburgunder dominate the vineyards, and as Ress says of production,

“We create fine Rieslings and fine Pinot Noirs for wine enthusiasts worldwide and always follow Balthasar’s maxim: Fein Sei Der Wein!” (fine be the wine!).

In the case of their Von Unserm Riesling, fruit is taken from some of the best vineyards in the Rheingau, fermented in stainless steel and left to rest for 4 months before bottling The term von unserm (‘from us’) on the label carries with it a 150-year-old back-story. At the inn that Ress opened back in the 1870s he wanted to differentiate his own wines that he made from a few vines he had planted on the property from other wines on his menu so he gave them the name von meines, meaning ‘from me’. Since then, every year a wine has been produced that bears this name and today it’s the standard bearer for that varietal from the Ress family winery.

Images © Balthasar Ress.

Kloster Eberbach is another sustainable yet ancient vineyard estate in Rheingau, on the Hessian Bergstrasse (the Hessian mountain road) and the slopes of the Rhine valley. They’ve been making wine here since the 12th century, French Cistercian monks establishing the abbey (kloster) in 1136 and, it’s believed, bringing vines with them from Burgundy. What was initially intended for personal use soon developed into a coveted commodity that secured the future and prosperity of the monastery. At 300 hectares, the vineyards of Kloster Eberbach were at one point the largest in medieval Europe. Today, vines cover almost 230 hectares, of which 33 hectares are in the UNESCO World Heritage Middle Rhine Valley and include unique monopole sites with a worldwide reputation. The walled Steinberg domain is around 900 meters from the abbey and is considered one of the most prestigious and valuable vineyard locations in the world.

EcoStep certified, the winery sources grapes from Assmannshausen, Steinberg and Bergstaßeand has in recent years undergone a great deal of modernisation. The use of screwcaps in place of cork has reduced the risk of spoliage and they have improved quality by adhering to a structure of levels called Cabinetkeller, Crescentia and Gutsweine, intended to help the consumer navigate the sometimes complicated German designation systems and allow them to recognise wines by label, price and quality level. One thing is for sure, Riesling from this region is still terroir-led and wineries like Kloster Eberbach and Balthasar Ress are producing high quality wines with all of the historical backstory but also with throughly modern, ecological sensibilities.

Images © Kloster Eberbach.


Featured image of Riesling grapes at Kloster Eberbach winery © Kloster Eberbach Winery


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