Rheinhessen - Big is Beautiful Again
Thursday, February 14, 2019 in News
Once the also-ran of German wine, Rheinhessen has emerged in the new century as ‘one of the top regions in the world for dry white wines’. Adrian Read reports.
It may be the largest of Germany’s 13 major wine regions, but as far as perceptions of quality are concerned, Rheinhessen has long been overshadowed by others, especially the Rheingau, tiny in comparison, and by the Mosel.
But a new, younger generation of winemakers is revitalising Rheinhessen.
So much so that the Riesling-specialist Stuart Pigott (jamessuckling.com) - under the heading ‘Rheinhessen Comes of Age’ - was able to say that ‘...today (September 2017) Rheinhessen is one of the top regions in the world for dry white wines’.
Pigott says the ‘Jungwinzer’ of Rheinhessen saw the region’s poor reputation as an opportunity rather than a problem and created ‘...a winemaking revolution and a no less important leap in the professionalism of vineyard cultivation’.
Among the leaders is Thörle (pronounced ‘turler’, to rhyme with ‘curler’), a family estate that can trace its origins back more than 300 years, although the label has been effectively reinvented under brothers Christoph and Johannes Thörle, who took over in 2006.
Langton’s is proud to import Thörle wines to Australia, beginning with a range of dry Rieslings from the 2016 vintage.
The domaine is at Saulheim, in the north-east of the region. Mainz is the nearest city. Johannes Thörle is winemaker, with brother Christoph running the business. Parents Rudolf and Ute remain involved, Rudolph in the cellar and mother Ute in marketing. The family owns 15 hectares in the Hölle, Schlossberg and Probstey vineyards - three of Saulheim’s best.
All are farmed organically, with a move to biodynamic viticulture on the near horizon. Soils are varied, with light clay, limestone, red sandy loam and even flint and schist. Dry Rieslings from the limestone-rich soils often show a distinctive, almost salty mineral character.
In the cellar, what the vineyards provide is handled with minimum intervention - natural yeast fermentation, mainly in stainless steel, with perhaps 10% in barrel, with some skin contact, and up to six months on lees for enhanced texture.
The single-vineyard Rieslings - Schlossberg, Hölle and Probstey - are the flagship whites, with Pinot Noir (Spätburgunder) strongly emerging as a flagship red.
Langton’s is focusing initially on dry Rieslings, with tiny quantities of just a couple of ‘sweeties’ for those who know and love them.
Brothers Johannes & Christoph Thörle
The 2016 Schlossberg Riesling - with 96 points from Pigott - made it into James Suckling’s Top 100 German Wines (2017), and the Hölle (95 points) and Probstey (94) were not far behind. Thörle’s village and regional dry Rieslings gleam with freshness.
What makes these Rieslings so special?
Pigott says: ‘...the best examples from 2016 have an impressive concentration, they rarely topped 13% alcohol and have a stunning freshness. Terroir lives in Rheinhessen and the geological diversity of the region strongly marks the wines.
‘Loess (a chalk-rich wind-borne material deposited during the last few million years) may be the most common soil type, but there are plenty of vineyards with a limestone-based soil that give wines with a “chalky” character reminiscent of Chablis’.
Fresh, precise, stony and minerally, are the most common descriptors, with fruit characters ranging from pear and melon through to lemon, with notes of spice and honey.
Watch this space. Next on the agenda will be Pinot Noir, plantings of which are up 72% (to 2016ha) in Rheinhessen since 2000.
Pigott again: ‘A handful of producers are making serious wines from this grape, but in our tastings only Thörle blew our minds. Taste the 2015 Probstey or Hölle to find out how this region could also have a great Pinot future.
‘However, when it comes to dry whites, with the deep and refined 2016 vintage, Rheinhessen has come of age!’
Pairing Trocken Riesling with food
Rheinhessen produces Riesling that’s characteristically aromatic, showing citrus and crisp acidity. With that in mind, lean towards fat, and protein. Pork dishes will revel in a Riesling pairing but take care with sauces and spices. The milder end of the spectrum will allow you to still enjoy the fragrant aromatics of the wine. Cheese, too, follows the same rules with Riesling. While the higher acidity will cleanse the palate, pairing with a bolder blue will make the wine feel more functional. Remember, pairing is about elevating both the food and the wine. Almost the full gamut of seafood will sing in the company of Rheinhessen Riesling. From scallops in ginger and soy to fish n’ chips, it’s more difficult to find a seafood pairing that doesn’t work with Riesling.