PREMIUM

Regional profile: Rheinhessen

Anne Krebiehl MW meets a group of energetic young winemakers committed to breaking free of the region’s volume-based past, while revealing great terroirs beyond its already-famed Roter Hang…

Jochen Dreissigacker’s story exemplifies Rheinhessen’s wine revolution. His modern, new winery finished in May 2018 is visible from afar. Built into the vineyard to exacting standards, it cost millions. It is site potential and confidence made manifest.


Scroll down to see Anne Krebiehl MW’s top-notch dozen from the Rheinhessen


Dreissigacker, still under 40, remembers a time when punters recoiled from Rheinhessen at wine tastings, so tainted was the region with its image of cheap, indifferent, high-volume wines. The only wine worth tasting would be from the Roter Hang, or Red Slope – a dramatic escarpment along the Rhinefront.

But Rheinhessen’s hinterland? ‘Nein, danke.’ To a degree this was justified – and climate change was a decisive factor. An official guide book, Die Rheinweine Hessens, published in 1927, shows that while viticulture was widespread and central to the economy, there were only two spots where Riesling ripened reliably: on the famous Red Slope and in the Scharlachberg, a south-facing quartzite slope in Bingen. The rest of Rheinhessen was often too cool to ripen Riesling fully each year.

 


Rheinhessen: 10 names to know

Roter Hang

Fritz Ekkehard Huff, Nierstein-Schwabsburg

Christine Huff, her Kiwi husband Jeremy Bird-Huff and her father Fritz Ekkehard farm 8.5ha in Nierstein and Schwabsburg with choice parcels in Pettenthal and Orbel. She is one of the young stars at the Roter Hang, making wines that combine effortless lightness and wonderful, aromatic depth.

Gunderloch, Nackenheim

Johannes Hasselbach joined this quality stalwart on the Roter Hang after a time in accounting. His family was famous for its off-dry and nobly sweet wines from the Rothenberg vineyard, but Johannes makes predominantly dry wines which always seem to have an appealing scent of petrichor. His work in channelling the heat in the vineyard is exemplary.

Kühling-Gillot, Bodenheim

Carolin Spanier-Gillot & Hans-Oliver Spanier

Carolin Spanier-Gillot’s parents managed to assemble a great portfolio of sites on the Roter Hang and she went about expressing it. Today, the wines are made by her husband Hans-Oliver Spanier who runs his equally great Battenfeld-Spanier estate on the limestones of the Wonnegau, employing spontaneous ferments, large old barrels and long ageing on gross lees to bring out salty, intense expression.

Wonnegau

Bianka & Daniel Schmitt, Flörsheim-Dalsheim

This young couple have struck out to make unconventional, skin-fermented and amphora-aged wines and do so with utter precision and devotion, and a particular knack for creating expressive blends. With 16ha biodynamically farmed vineyards, they are more famous abroad, and do more trade, than at home.

Keller, Flörsheim-Dalsheim

While Julia & Klaus Peter Keller’s G-Max Riesling is too rare for ordinary mortals to get their hands on, simply everything that the Kellers produce is worth buying – and surprisingly affordable. Their Rieslings are crystalline, their Pinot Noirs dreamy and expressive. If you can get your hands on a Scheurebe Kabinett, buy it for its sheer, exuberant exoticism.

KF Groebe, Westhofen

Fritz Groebe is the quiet man of the Wonnegau. His wines are made in a very time-honoured, slow fashion in an old vaulted cellar beneath Westhofen. Nothing is hurried, nothing is loud, the wines just are. They are serene and pure and made to last. His 8.5ha include parcels in Aulerde, Morstein and Kirchspiel. Great value.

Liebfrauenstift, Worms

Wilhelm Steifensand is a descendant of PJ Valckenberg, who in 1808 bought the vineyards once tended by the Capuchin monks of the Liebfrauenstift. The Valckenberg trading company popularised the original Liebfraumilch in the 19th century and paved the way for the pale imitations that swept the world in the 1960s and ’70s. Steifensand sold his share in 2015 but retained the original vineyards in Worms with the aim of restoring this Riesling to its historic glory. The 11.5ha are farmed organically.

Wittmann, Westhofen

Philipp Wittmann

Philipp Wittmann’s parents were already ahead of their time with organic farming, and Philipp introduced biodynamic methods as early as 2004. Since he took over fully in 2007, the estate has climbed to Germany’s top with pristine Rieslings from the best sites in Westhofen. Wittmann also buys in additional fruit for his affordable 100 Hügel label.

North & West

Knewitz, Appenheim

Tobias (left) & Björn Knewitz

Since brothers Björn and Tobias Knewitz took over their parental estate in 2009 they have earned deserved plaudits for their brilliantly pure, snappy and bright Rieslings. They farm 20ha mainly of calcareous loams and marls on limestone bedrock around Appenheim. Great value.

Wagner-Stempel, Siefersheim

Daniel Wagner has put this ruggedly beautiful area on the map with his steely, pristine, uncompromisingly thrilling Rieslings grown in the volcanic ridges of rhyolite and melaphyr. He describes it as ‘undiscovered and wild, hard to farm but compelling’. Certified organic since 2008. Best vineyards Heerkretz and Höllberg


See Anne Krebiehl MW’s top-notch dozen from the Rheinhessen


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