Rheingau covers only 3% of Germanys total land mass with less than 3.000 ha under vine. Wineries are dotted across a rather short stretch of land following along the Rhine river, up and down from where the Rhine meets the Main river. Coming from the west and moving eastwards throughout the region, Rheingau evolves from a dimpled landscape to steeper hills.
With old monasteries and castles as well as beautiful vineyards in between, Rheingau is very popular among tourists. The past and the present come together in a lovely way and you can clearly see that when making stops at the viewpoints Niederwald Monument, Schloss Johannisberg, the Hallgartener Zange via Oestrich-Winkel and Bubenhäuser Höhe.
Rheingau, with its regional capital Wiesbaden less than 50 km southwest of Frankfurt, is renowned for its Rieslings, which make up close to 80% of total wine production. Great Rheingau Rieslings are acclaimed for showing both elegance, refinement, bright acidity, opulent fruit, richness and even hints of spice.
Another hallmark from Rheingau is the Spätburgunders, making up a little over 10% of wine production. Similarly, to the Rieslings – which are a bit heavier than their Riesling counterparts from Mosel – the Spätburgunders are also generally more robust showing more dark fruit flavors than those from neighboring German wine regions.
Climate and soils
Winters in Rheingau are rather mild and summers generally quite sunny and warm. In the winter vineyards benefit from good rest under the cold wind cover provided by the Taunus Hills, north of the Rhine. In the summer the Rhine river reflects additional sun onto the vineyards, at the same time, the rivers waters prevent a build-up of too much heat.
Riesling vines thrive on the dry south-facing sunny slopes of Rheingau. A long ripening period produces fruit – and wines – that show fine acids and as well as wonderful aromas. The perfect recipe for great Rheingau Rieslings.
Considering its’ small size Rheingau offers winemakers an abundance of soil types, including chalk, sand, gravel, quartzite and slate – not to forget widespread limestone deep in the soil. Deep limestone suits vines well because of limestone’s water retention capabilities – a good encouragement for vines to shoot deep roots during their search for water and nutrients.
The mother of Spätlese
Spätlese wines are made from grapes that are picked quite late in the harvest. Late in the harvest grapes are fully ripe, more intense and the kind of grape (great) quality that winemakers are looking for when crafting high quality full-bodied wines. Spätlese can be dry or off-dry – but generally shows a good balance of sweetness and acidity.
A great Rheingau Spätlese will give you an orchestra of intensity and elegance, as well as lovely acidity to curb the sweetness combined with a fleshy fruit sensation with notes of apple, pear and honeysuckle.
Records show that it was the Cistercian monks at Schloss Johannisberg that crafted the first Rheingau Spätlese in the area.
I thought Mosel was the most famous wine region in the world for Riesling?
Many do – and Mosel Riesling attracts a lot of attention in the world of wine (and with good reason) – but it is just as relevant to argue that the global recognition of German wine initially grew out of Rheingau, more particular Spätlese winemaking at Schloss Johannisberg some 900 years ago.
Beyond Riesling and Spätburgunder what else should I be looking for in Rheingau?
Well, there is not a lot else to focus on for wine lovers. Rheingau is almost exclusively Riesling – in many different styles and quality – as well Spätburgunder. Spätburgunder from Rheingau is not made in as many different styles but the quality varies much from estates producing wines for the larger world markets and those independent craft winemakers producing wines that reflect their land, tradition and passion to make the best expression of the grapes as possible.
Müller-Thurgau and Weißburgunder cover less than 2% of vineyards in Rheingau. Dornfelder, Grauburgunder, Kerner, Dunkelfelder, Chardonnay, and Ehrenfelser, all together cover less than 1%.
Rheingau wines and food
Try a Rheingau dry Riesling with lighter meals, the sea, eggs and white meats. Go for an off-dry with Indian and Asian cuisine – and a sweet Rheingau Riesling is your friend of choice for cheeses and desserts. A Spätburgunder pairs perfectly with hearty and rich foods such as roasts and game – as well as a light delicate steak tartare and grilled salmon.
Landscapes, history, the past and the present coming together – also in wine.What are the most popular grape varieties in Rheingau?
Riesling and Spätburgunder.What types of food works well with wines from Rheingau?
Rheingau dry Riesling for lighter fares. Off-dry with spicy Indian and Asian cuisine. Sweet for cheeses and desserts. Spätburgunder for as roasts and game, steak tartare too.