Rhine Wine????

crystaladwDecember 18, 2006

I just purchased some Rhine Wine and have no idea what it is. I have not opened it yet and wanted to know if anyone is familiar with it? I am looking for a semi-sweet or semi-dry wine that is light and fruity.

Any suggestions?

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Some of my absolute favorite wines are the light white wines from the German Moselle region. Very light, semi-sweet or semi dry, just delicious and refreshing. I buy "Schmitt-Sohne" Liebframilch (an INCREDIBLE value-priced wine!) For something a little more sophisticated, try the Kabinett or Zeller-Schwartz-Katz.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2006 at 4:51PM
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Don't know if you're still reading, but the Rhine is Germany's most famous region. Most of the grapes that they grow there are riesling, which is a white grape, but they do grow a few others. Typically the wines are not put in oak barrels, so they won't have any of those vanilla or cocoanut notes that some wines do (e.g. Kendall Jackson chardonnay). Riesling is a very acidic grape, sometimes having hints of pineapple, peaches, mangoes, grapefruit, or apples, among other things. It is perhaps the greatest white grape of all.

Germany has had a string of great vintages, so anything you pick up has a very good chance of being very good.

There are different regions along the river and its tributaries, so you may see names like Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Nahe, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer (soon to become just Mosel), or others. Those refer to the specific regions, like Napa, Sonoma, etc. There will also be the name of a producer, say Marcus Molitor, JJ Prum, H. Donnhoff, etc. And there will be the name of the vineyard as well.

So you will see something like Muller-Catoir Gimmeldinger Mandelgarten Riesling Kabinett. That tells you it is a wine by Muller-Catoir, with grapes from the Gimmeldinger Mandelgarten (almond garden), which is the vineyard name, and it is a kabinett level riesling.

Now for the tricky part. The Germans grade their wine on the amount of sugar in the grapes at harvest. As the grapes ripen, the sugar levels go up. But so does the risk of birds, frost, rain, etc. And the grapes start to shrivel a bit, so there is less juice. Consequently the prices go up.

At the lowest end, you have Qba. Then you have Kabinett, which has a slight bit of residual sugar at harvest, not much. Then Spatlese, which may even include botrytized grapes (those with what is called "noble rot"). Then Auslese, which will definitely include them, then Beerenauselse, and then Trockenbeerenauselese (TBA). I doubt that you have the latter as it is likely to be well over $100 a bottle and people usually know it when they have one.

The wines get very sweet at the top end, especially the TBAs, but because the grapes are so acidic, the sugar is balanced and you don't just get syrup.

But - those categories describe the grapes at HARVEST, not the wine after fermentation. The winemaker determines what kind of wine he is going to make. So he may produce a Kabinett and not ferment it completely dry - i.e. leaving some residual sugar in the wine. His neighbor may pick his grapes at Spatlese level, which has higher sugar at harvest, but he might then ferment to complete dryness. Thus, his Spatlese can taste less sweet than the Kabinett, although people expect the reverse. Remember of course that what we taste as sweet may not be - the taste of fruit is sometimes confused with sweetness.

Most of the Rhine wines will be fruity. Look for something that says "Trocken" or dry, to find those with less residual sugar. Those that say halb troken are "half-dry", so will have some RS.

Hint - in 2005, the Spatlese wines are spectacular.

If your wine is dry, have it with pork, chicken, veal, etc. If sweeter, try it with Indonesian or Chinese food, blue cheese, or pate.

Finally, the wines are so well-priced, that it is hard to go wrong if you are spending $12 - $20. During the 70s, there was a great deal of Black Cat (Schwartz Katz) or Blue Nun or Liebfraumilch produced. It was kind of like white zinfandel in the 80s. Huge industrial production, no regard to quality, awful stuff, and when fashion changed, the German wine industry was basically ruined for about 10 years. They have come back however, happy to say.


    Bookmark   January 8, 2007 at 2:44PM
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Excellent synopsis, rosesinny!

You are right about the bad rep German wines got in the 70's with Blue Nun and Black Cat and the rest. It is hard for me to recommend German wines to people, still after all these years, people are leary of German wines.

They don't know what they are missing. I sort of like that - if they aren't popular the price stays low!

    Bookmark   March 10, 2007 at 8:21PM
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Yep. Some are still great bargains. And I talked to Raimond Prum last week, who is the current head of the JJ Prum estate. I was mistaken. I had always thought that auslese had to have botrytis but that is not actually a legal requirement; it is just the way things normally turn out.

Anyhow, he, like many producers, is making a top-end dry wine - Grosses Gewachs, or Erste Laghe. He has a 2005 dry auslese that is fantastic. All of the characteristics of a great auslese but with a super clean finish. I'm asking for a bottle to put into a tasting I'm doing of the 2005 GGs. It's definitely worth picking up if you see it anywhere.

    Bookmark   March 12, 2007 at 1:48PM
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Your posting was very clear and helpful. My wife and I are taking a Rhine River trip in October (from Basel to Amsterdam) and are researching the wines of the various areas we will be travelling through. Boy, do I remember Blue Nun and "Mother's Milk!" Thinking about them still gives me a headache. Thanks for your information.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2011 at 10:53PM
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