Rheinhessen (wine region)
Rheinhessen (in English often Rhine-Hesse or Rhenish Hesse) is the largest of 13 German wine regions (Anbaugebiete) for quality wines (QbA and Prädikatswein) with 26,444 hectares (65,340 acres) under cultivation in 2008. Named for the traditional region of Rhenish Hesse, it lies on the left bank of the River Rhine between Worms and Bingen in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. Despite its historic name it is currently no longer part of the federal-state of Hesse, this being the case since the end of WWII. There have been several unsuccessful attempts to legally reunite the former wine growing districts of Mainz on the hessian side during the post-war area. Rheinhessen produces mostly white wine from a variety of grapes, particularly Müller-Thurgau (4.320 ha), Riesling (3.769 ha) and Silvaner (2.467 ha), and is best known as the home of Liebfraumilch, although some previously underrated Rieslings are also made, increasingly in a powerful dry style.
The wine region is member of the Great Wine Capitals Global Network.
The Rhine forms the eastern and northern boundary of the region, with the Nahe River to the west and the Haardt Mountains to the south. The Palatinate wine region lies to the south, the Rheingau lies across the Rhine to the north, and the Nahe wine region to the west. Known as the "land of the thousand hills", the terrain is undulating with vineyards mixed with orchards and other forms of farming. Its larger towns include: Mainz, Worms, Bingen, Alzey, Nieder-Olm and Ingelheim.
In general the wines are best nearest the Rhine, where the soils impart more complex flavours. The best known area for white wines is the so-called Rhine Terrace (Rheinterasse; sometimes Rhine Front, Rheinfront) between Oppenheim and Nackenheim, which by itself is bigger than the whole of the Rheingau. A part of the Rhine Terrace, between Nackenheim and Nierstein is known as the Red Slope (Roter Hang) because of the presence of red slate. The main red grape area is around Ingelheim, in the north of the region opposite the Rheingau.
When the owners of Stadecken-Elsheim the Counts of Katzenelnbogen first cultivated Riesling in 1435 they called the wine from this part of their county the Wine from the Gau. At the Congress of Vienna in 1814/15, Louis I, Grand Duke of Hesse, was awarded with Rhenish Hesse as compensation for the loss of his Westphalian territories. As a result, he amended his title to "Grand Duke of Hesse and by Rhine" and the name of the region was created.
Liebfrauenmilch is named after the Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Worms, which also was the name of a good and famous vineyard. Later, Liebfrauenmlich was used as a name for a semi-sweet wine style produced in several German regions, and became responsible for much of the erosion of the German wines' reputation on the export market. The most famous Liebfraumlich brand, until they changed their classification, was Blue Nun which was created in 1921. Today, no quality-oriented top producer in Rheinhessen would dare to produce a Liebfrauenmilch for fear of their reputation.
On the 26,444 hectares (of Rheinhessen's vineyards as of 2008, white grape varieties account for 69%. After a period of increasing plantations of red grape varieties the balance between red and white varieties has been more stable in the last few years. Müller-Thurgau (usually labelled Rivaner when vinified dry), the prime ingredient in Liebfraumilch, is still the most grown with 16.3% of the area, although it has decreased significantly. Riesling, currently at 14.3%, has been increasing in the last few years. Among the red varieties, Dornfelder is the most planted at 13.0%, and it was Rheinhessen's second-most planted variety for a few years before being overtaken by Riesling in 2008. Silvaner at 9.3% is also widely planted, although it also has decreased significantly. Although in decline, Scheurebe at 3.9% has a special connection to the region since Georg Scheu bred it at the Alzey Research Institute in the region.
The most cultivated grape varieties, by area in 2008, were:
In the past, most of the wine had been cheap white wine that was off-dry to semi-sweet. The response to Liebfraumilch falling out of fashion was to market "Rheinhessen-Silvaner" as a dry wine, which wasn't a great success in regard to the export markets. Some dessert wines are made.
Since more young winemakers get their oenological education at the renowned University of Applied Sciences in Geisenheim, the quality increases year by year. Nearly all styles of wine may be found, old fashioned as well as new techniques. Due to the competitive qualities at the yearly VDP wine market of the Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter held in Mainz, not all requests for the 2006 harvest could be granted.
Rheinhessen is divided into the following three districts (Bereiche):
In the northwest, towards the Nahe river; Scharlachberg is an important vineyard. In the town, one of the most renowned Liebfraumilch, Black Tower, is created by the Reh-Kendermann winery.
Source of most of the interesting wines of the region, and home to a third of the Riesling. The Roter Hang (red slope) in the north of this area lies on a sandstone that is reputed to give the best wines, to the south the soils become deeper.
This district is situated around Worms.
Notes and references
- German Wine Institute: German wine statistics 2009/2010
- Wein.de (German Agricultural Society): Rhine-Hesse, read on January 2, 2008
- Wein-Plus Glossar: Rheinfront, read on January 24, 2013
- Rheinhessen, The History of the County of Katzenelnbogen and the First Riesling of the World
- Landwirtschaftliche Bodennutzung - Rebflächen - Fachserie 3 Reihe 3.1.5 - 2008 [Agricultural land use - Areas under vine]. Wiesbaden, Germany: Statistisches Bundesamt. 2008.
- Becht, Monika: Weinland Rheinhessen. (German) Frankfurt: Societäts-Verlag 2005. ISBN 3-7973-0936-8
- Mangold, Matthias F.: Rheinhessen im Glas. (German) Offenbach: Höma-Verlag 2006. ISBN 3-937329-14-5.
- Priewe, Jens: WEIN DIE NEUE GROSSE SCHULE (German) Zabert Sandmann 1997 ISBN 3-932023-02-1
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Vineyards of Rheinhessen.|
- winedoctor.com Good overview of the region, concentrating on the Rhine Terrace.
- Rheinhessen: Rediscovered German Wine Country, Color Magazine, May 2011
- (en) German wines
- (de) Rheinhessen wines
- (de) Wineries, Companies and wine festivals in Rheinhessen
- (en) list of Rheinhessen vineyards