“Wine–enjoyed in moderation–heals and comforts with its strength and warmth.”
These words from the 11th-century Benedictine nun Hildegard von Bingen ring true year-round in Germany’s Rheingau winegrowing region. During summer, though, they resonate more than usual in the spa town of Wiesbaden. Each August, the beautiful little city sets up the “world’s longest wine bar” in its historic center. The Rheingau Wine Festival in Wiesbaden has been a summer highlight for decades, showcasing the wines and culinary specialties of the area’s vintners and food producers.
A tasting event to remember
The Rheingauer Weinwoche (Rheingau Wine Week) began in 1976 as a promotional event by the winegrowers of the Rheingau region. Today, it is Europe’s biggest wine festival, attracting more than ten million visitors annually. For ten days, wineries from Wiesbaden and the Rheingau present their wines and sparkling wines.
Each August, the festival transforms Schlossplatz, the square in front of the Wiesbadener Marktkirche (market church), and the Dern’sches Gelände into a winetasting destination. Entertainment on three stages provides a harmonious backdrop, and offers a range of music styles. The music for the festival is primarily classic rock and jazz, with some bluegrass, folk music and Latin beats thrown in. The ambiance of Rheingauer Weinwoche is mellow, and the pace unhurried.
Rheingau Wine Festival foods
More than 100 wine and food stalls offer still and sparkling wines, and sweet and savory dishes to enjoy with the wine. Grilled specialties include sausages, Rheingau vintner’s roast, and Rheingau barbecued ham. With so many wine and food stands, it’s easy to make an evening of it. Festival foods range from savory, cheesy plates to fish dishes and dessert crepes.
Wines from Rheingau and beyond
My husband and I visited the festival a few summers ago, and as soon as we arrived, we felt right at home. We joined groups of friends and families getting together over a glass or two of Riesling (and I spotted a couple of beers, as well). We made the rounds of the festival’s stands, sampling wines from the region’s key wine villages. Several of the full-bodied Rieslings had strongly pronounced minerality. Most were dry, even a bit sour. Some were crisp and refreshing, ideal for pairing with the festival’s Flammkuchen and cheese plates.
Among the wines we tried, we especially liked Weisbadener Neroberg Riesling. It was mellow, soft on the tongue, with floral notes and a long finish. Winemakers at the nearby Eberbach Abbey produce the wine from grapes grown in a four-hectare plot on the Neroberg hill overlooking Wiesbaden. The vineyard, originally planted in the 16th century by Count Philipp von Nassau-Idstein, was handed down through the Prussian state to the city of Wiesbaden at the turn of the 20th century.
The wine festival includes a stand from Wiesbaden’s twin city of San Sebastián, Spain, where festival goers can try wines from family-owned wineries. When we visited the festival, we tried the wines of the wonderful Bodegas Mitarte from Rioja Alavesa. Their wines feature grapes pressed in ancient caverns using traditional methods. The Mitarte Reserva (2009) was spicy, with notes of toast and minerals, a sublime mouth feel, and harmonious tannins.
A focus on sustainability
Festival planners know that Rheingau winegrowers are struggling with the weather extremes of climate change. Organizers have announced a new emphasis on sustainability for the festival’s 46th edition. Gastronomic stands will not offer plastic tableware and cutlery, and a returnable bottle deposit will be charged to keep the venue clean and free of broken glass. Festival wine glasses are lighter than in the past: less production-intensive and more environmentally friendly.
If you go
- The Rheingauer Weinwoche takes place annually from the second Friday in August for ten consecutive days. Festival tickets can be presented for a voucher, which can then be redeemed for wine at selected vintners.
- A guarded parking lot for bicycles will be available for the first time this year.
- Any time of year, stop at the Wiesbaden Tourist Office and pick up a bottle of limited production Neroberg Riesling, for a unique souvenir of your visit.
- Visit one of the city’s many thermal spas, and experience the curing waters that earned Wiesbaden a place on the European Route of Historic Thermal Towns.
- To make the most of your time in Riesling country, consider leaving the driving to Deutsche Bahn and taking a train to Wiesbaden. If you have time for more exploration, continue onward to little Rüdisheim (via a regional rail partner) at the crook of the Rhine. It is just a half-hour ride–and another world– away.
Want to know more about German wines?
Germany has 13 designated wine-growing regions, with hundreds of wine festivals through the summer and harvest season. If you like what you taste in Wiesbaden, consider the region a German wine “starter kit” and explore farther afield.
Tom and I recently spent a day in the Rheingau with Jerome Hainz of BottleStops, a Mainz-based wine touring company. He helped us learn to differentiate among the region’s many excellent wines. I wonder how much more we might appreciate the Rheingau Wine Festival now, after our guided tasting experience!