Springtime in southern Germany is a fickle season, a mix of rainy and sunny days. Inevitably though, fluffy white clouds soon blow in, making everything fresh again. As Tom and I boarded the plane in Porto, the weather forecast was for gray skies dappled with raindrops. Thankfully, the sun had popped out when we were ready to visit Germany’s Rheingau wine region. Ours was an ideal day trip in every way!
Location, location, location
Mainz is one of the oldest cities in Europe, founded in the 1st century AD. Its layered history includes a Celtic settlement, a Roman garrison town and regional capital, and a long stint as Germany’s religious center. The city was an economic powerhouse and shipping hub for centuries. After being nearly destroyed in World War II, Mainz rebounded. It became a university town, a center of diversified industry, and an influential media center.
Mainz is located on the Rhine River, 40 kilometers southwest of Frankfurt-am-Main. The city’s wine-growing and producing activities date back to the Romans. Today, the city is a popular destination for river cruises and wine tours in Rheinhessen and beyond.
Germany’s wine capital
The Romans brought wine cultivation and production to this region, but it’s what has happened since the late 1980s that turned Mainz, Germany, into Germany’s wine capital. The city sits amid Rheinhessen vineyards that are blessed with the fossil-laden terrain of an ancient seabed and protected from wintry blasts of cold by the low arc of the Taunus mountains.
Across the Rhine, on the river’s northern banks, most of the Rheingau vineyards are south-facing, as well. The region’s wine-making traditions date back to the Middle Ages, and local abbeys and aristocratic estates such as Schloss Johannisberg, and Schloss Vollrads.
German wine culture
Weinstuben, Germany’s traditional wine taverns, are friendly venues uniting locals and visitors. At Rote Kopf, we were fortunate to join other diners at a Stammtisch, or communal table, tasting Spundekäs and other local specialties. We had such a good time that we returned for a second round of the tavern’s Gemutlichkeit, the warmth, friendliness, and good cheer that is a hallmark of Germany’s wine culture.
Into the Rheingau
The Rheingau is home to rustic villages, and numerous abbeys, palaces, castles, and churches. Its 3,000 hectares of vineyards clamber across the gentle slopes, benefitting from mild winters, warm summers, and diverse soils. Riesling is king here, although other grape varieties are also represented. The prestigious Giesenheim University’s Department of General & Organic Viticulture offers degree programs and conducts research in climate change and resource management.
Medium-bodied Rieslings from the Rheingau wine region pair well with many foods or can be enjoyed on their own. These wines’ minerality, acidity, and citrus notes are appropriate for regional dishes such as Speckkuchen (Hessian bacon pie), Spundekäs (a spiced cheese spread from Mainz), or Riesling soup.
On tour with BottleStops
We visited the Rheingau on a chilly spring day blessed with sunshine. Our guide was Jerome Hainz of the award-winning BottleStops. He is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable ambassador for German wines. One of BottleStops’ popular day-tour itineraries proved to be an enjoyable way to learn about the Rheingau—its wine-making history and the variety of wines now produced, and an introduction to a passionate winemaking family.
Our first stop was Kloster Eberbach (Eberbach Abbey) The abbey was founded by Cistercian monks who arrived from Burgundy in the 13th century and set up shop on the Rhine’s northern shore. They planted vineyards in terraced fields to their best advantage, making the most of sun and terroir. Equally important, they also barrel-aged the wine they produced and established distribution points along the Rhine. These activities effectively spread the word about improved-quality wines through commerce.
A stroll around the grounds helped us appreciate the influence the place would have had in bygone times, although restoration works obscured some of the monastery’s architecture. Impressively ginormous wine presses in the former refectory gave a glimpse into medieval wine production and shipping methods.
After a walk through the complex and a peek into the treasury—where top wines are still stored—we sampled the Rieslings that put the region on the world’s wine map. We tried four Rieslings, each from a different terraced parcel. Our favorite of these was Steinberger Riesling ‘aus dem Cabinetkeller’ Trocken 2017.
Our second stop was at Vinothek Rheinwelt, a showcase for wine producers along a 200-kilometer stretch of the Rhine, from Worms to Königswinter. The Vinothek’s unique setting in Rudesheim is the historic brandy distillery of Asbach Uralt, now repurposed for wine tasting. Here, wine producers from Rheingau, Rheinhessen, and Mosel regions offer more than 150 wines for tasting. Tasting rooms are built into the former distillery’s glass-tiled storage tanks. Visitors use tokens to obtain wine samples from specially constructed wine dispensers.
The sheer number of wines here challenges visitors unfamiliar with the region’s wine. Although posters in each tasting room provide maps and background on the wine producers, it was our discussion with Jerome that helped us select wines to fit our taste preferences. After visiting several tasting rooms, we took a break to enjoy a light lunch of cheese and charcuterie in the Vinothek’s dining area. Afterwards, we returned to the tasting rooms to try a few dessert wines.
The technology in place at Vinothek Rheinwelt allows visitors to sample a much wider variety of wine than would otherwise be possible. We pooled our tokens to sample 12 very different wines. One we found to be exceptional was Kloster Eberbach’s Crescentia Assmannshäuser Höllenberg Spatburgunder Trocken 2019. Tasting Bischofliches Weingut Pinto Noir Trocken 2018 took us back to our summer visit to Rudesheim a few years ago.
Weingut BIBO Runge
Our final stop of the day was in Hallgarten, where we visited Weingut BIBO Runge. The small family winery was born of a passion for the grape and the quality of the wines that can result. Our host, Monika Eichner, described the production of skin-contact, vegan Rieslings and the methods her husband, winemaker Markus Bonsels, uses to produce award-winning wines.
“Good wine needs time”
At BIBO Runge, hand-harvested grapes from small parcels around the village produce skin-contact, vegan Rieslings. The winery also makes an excellent sparkling wine using spontaneous fermentation. We sampled the Reisling ‘Provokateur’ Rosé Sekt Brut 2021, with its dose of Pinot Noir. It was among the very best sparkling wines we tasted on our trip!
ProWein 2023 introduced the topic of no- and low-alcohol wines as a trending theme for the wine and spirits industry. BIBO Runge’s line of no-alcohol wines took top prizes at the trade fair. After Monika described the process of producing these wines, we can better appreciate the difficulty of achieving a high-quality result.
Sustainability matters at BIBO Runge and features in every aspect of wine-making. As member of FAIR’N GREEN, the winery is working to keep its CO2 footprint as small as possible. Markus and Monika also aim to help introduce a Germany-wide deposit system for wine bottles.
If you go
Boutique BottleStops wine experiences include guided tastings, city walks, and vineyard hikes, as well as personalized tours. Tom and I joined a personalized BottleStops tour in Rheinhessen, which gave us a chance to delve more deeply into German wines and meet winemakers in that region.
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We were guests of BottleStops and winery partners for our day in the Rheingau. Thank you!