The Home of King Riesling
The global reputation of the German white wine community has its roots in the Rheingau, home to both the wine-making estate of Schloss Johannisberg and the village of Hochheim. Both names have been adapted around the world as synonyms for Riesling (such as Johannisberg Riesling and Hock).
The Rheingau is one of the most geographically specific wine regions on the planet with the Rhine (Rhein) River running on the south side and the Taunus Mountains along the north. It is an area best known for its small viticultural sites, amazing landscape and perfect microclimate for the delicate Riesling and Pinot Noir grape varietals.
To truly appreciate the intricacy of a Rheingau Riesling or Pinot Noir, you must try them first hand. Rheingau Riesling yields elegant wines with a refined, fruity aroma and pronounced acidity that are extremely distinct in flavor. Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder, as the Germans call it) wines have a velvety rich medium body, with a soft round nose and smooth texture, as if spun silk meets wild berries.
The Rheingau is situated along a small stretch of the Rhine River between the mouth of the Main River at Hochheim and the mouth of the Wisper River at Lorch. Although the Rhine runs south to north through most of its course, the Taunus Mountains force the river to turn west for about 28 miles creating an ideal sunward-facing slope that is sheltered by the mountains.
At 50 degrees northern latitude, the Rheingau is situated relatively far north for a wine growing region. The vineyards are all located on the hills along the river facing south to absorb an optimal amount of sunlight per day. The river also intensifies the sunlight like a mirror during the day and mediates temperature changes between night and day, making the Rheingau an ideal environment for growing grapes.
The region begins east of the town of Wiesbaden on the gentle slopes of the villages of Hochheim and Flörsheim and continues west of Wiesbaden to the village of Assmannshausen. Moving from east to west, the dimpled landscape of the Taunus Mountains evolves into progressively steeper slopes along the banks of the River. A cruise on the river from its widest expanse at the village of Hattenheim takes you through many picturesque towns with hillside castles all the way to the village of Lorchhausen. At Lorchhausen, the river narrows leading up to famous Loreley Rock and the Rhine River Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The region begins east of the town of Wiesbaden on the gentle slopes of the villages of Hochheim and Flörsheim and continues west of Wiesbaden to the village of Assmannshausen. Moving from east to west, the dimpled landscape of the Taunus Mountains evolves into progressively steeper slopes along the banks of the River. A cruise on the river from its widest expanse at the village of Hattenheim takes you through many picturesque towns with hillside castles all the way to the village of Lorchhausen. At Lorchhausen, the river narrows leading up to famous Lorelei Rock and the Rhine River Gorge, a UNESCO World Heritage site.
The region is easily accessible to visitors due to its proximity to the Frankfurt airport and offers great dining, sightseeing opportunities, as well as a year-round calendar of cultural and gourmet food events.
The Rheingau is a quiet, beautiful region that is rich in history and tradition. Modern wine-making began in medieval times and was documented and expanded by monks at Eberbach Abbey (Kloster Eberbach), which was founded in 1136 and was one of Germany's most important monasteries. The monks brought in Pinot Noir rootstock from Burgundy and also planted the local noble Riesling grape.
The discovery of late harvest wine is also attributed to the Rheingau region, where a messenger arrived late at the monastery of Johannisberg in 1775. The messenger was supposed to give permission from the Bishop of Fulda to begin harvesting. According to legend, he was robbed during his journey, which was the reason for his late arrival.
At the time, the Bishop controlled the harvest and as a result of his messenger’s delay, the entire harvest was postponed. When the messenger finally arrived, the grapes had started to shrivel and become moldy. With great concern that the vintage was lost, the grapes were harvested in an attempt to create a simple table wine. Much to everyone's surprise, the final product turned out to be singular and delicious. Today, the mold on the grapes is known as botrytis or noble rot and is a beneficial fungus that gives dessert wines a distinct flavor.
The persistence and skill of the vintners, superior quality and precise production methods guaranteed German Riesling a place among nobility. Most notably, Queen Victoria's enthusiasm for Hochheim's wines contributed to their popularity in England, where the term "Hock" became synonymous with German Riesling.
The Geisenheim Enological Institute
The Rheingau is also home to the Geisenheim Enological Institute, a world-renowned oenological research and teaching institute that has been significant to the extraordinary technical improvements made in German viticulture.
Founded in 1872 by Heinrich Eduard von Lade, the school was created as a primary research institute for viticulture and stands as a top institute in the world for enological studies. Today’s state of the art facility plays a major role in the study and improvement of the science of winemaking.