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Germany: Wine Tasting and a Light Show in Riesling Wine Country

Germany: Wine Tasting and a Light Show in Riesling Wine Country
Helen Hokin: On a recent trip to Riesling wine country, the late summer sun shone in full force warming the ripening grapes and the hearts of anxious wine growers concerned about the unusually rainy summer and potential damage to their delicate crops.
They need all the help they can get in this precarious business, from Mother Nature, and with just three weeks until harvest it looks like she might have finally come through.
Given the volatile and weather-dependent business of wine, particularly in this northern grape-growing region, it is astonishing to think that some of the local wine-growing families have been seamlessly producing for the best part of 700 years, and perhaps even longer.  
I mull this thought over as I swirl and sniff a glass of Riesling inside a wine shop owned by the 28th generation of the Allendorf family here in the medieval town of Rudesheim. They are one of several participants from the surrounding Rheingau growing region taking part in a promotion called ‘Wine Time’, a walking tour of the town’s wine shops designed to encourage visitors like me to get tasting, and presumably buying, the local wine.
For seven centuries, the Allendorf  family have proven themselves to be successful custodians, nurturing then handing down to the next generation, some 70 or so hectares of vineyards. It's a mixed blessing of an inheritance, I think: a gift wrapped in prestige, blood, sweat and tears.
Judging the Allendorf wine entirely by its cover, I’m drawn to a bottle with a contemporary hand-drawn label inspired by the wild flowers and butterflies that dwell amongst the estate’s organic vines.  This 2013 ‘Meira’ is a limited edition medium-dry Riesling named after the
Germany: Wine Tasting and a Light Show in Riesling Wine Country
Reiner Flick
family’s daughter.
On the palate the wine offers light, clean minerality. I leisurely finish the glass while perusing the rows and rows of Rieslings on display, wondering if one can possibly taste any different from the next. I finish my glass, get an inky stamp in my little folded Wine Time pass card, and move on to the next shop listed on my tour.
Whoever was behind the idea for the Wine Time pass must have been having a laugh when they thought of sending unsuspecting tourists drinking in wine shop after wine shop over rough cobbled streets.  
Along my trail, through wending streets of half-timbered medieval houses, I had my pass stamped several times and most notably at a place belonging to the winemaker, Georg Breuer, for a powerful glass of full-bodied and honeyed Terra Montosa 2012. It was to me in such contrast to the dry Allendorf that it might have come from a different grape all together.
Imagining myself drinking the fine Terra Montosa along with a sliver of foie gras, a chunk of blue cheese or maybe a fragrant Thai green curry it was all seeming  near perfect until our host interrupted my thoughts to insist our tipple was  really begging for another two years, at least, to open up and properly deliver its full force. I’ll never get my head completely around wine.
Just over the road inside the Drossel Kellerei, I sipped my next glass, a Roseneck 2010. Floral, crisp, dry and easy-drinking it was again, in sharp contrast to the one that came before, putting paid to my suspicions that all Rieslings tasting the same. Since this was the last stop and final stamp on my card I bought a bottle to drink back home.
Which might have been a mistake; at least according to Reiner Flick, the owner of the Joachim Flick estate and the next stop on my grand Riesling tour.
Reiner Flick stands waiting to greet me in the doorway of a cavernous cellar on his rolling estate in the heart of Strassenmuhle wine country. In shined shoes, fitted shirt and manicured nails he has an air of efficiency and business about him. I follow him down into the cellar for a tasting of his take on Riesling wine.
“ Have you ever discovered a really good wine on holiday and loved it so much that you bought whole cases of  it to drink back home?” he asks the group.  Everybody nods, and I think immediately of my recent purchase from Drossel Kellerei.
“And then have you noticed that when you open it and drink it in completely different surroundings that it somehow doesn’t taste the same as it did on holiday?" We nod in unison again.  “That’s because wine tastes differently according to the surroundings you’re in, and I’m going to show you exactly what I mean by that right now.”
Flick pours glasses of his Joachim Flick Classic 2013. Instructing us to take a sip but hold it in our mouth without swallowing, he skips excitedly over to the lights and flips a switch. The room turns blue. “OK, so what’s happening?” He glances eagerly round. There’s a consensus  - we’re experiencing the wine primarily at the sides and back of our tongue. It is light and acidic and dry. He nods his head in approval then runs back to the light switch, warning us not to swallow our mouthful just yet. With another flip of the switch the blue light turns red. “So now what’s happening?” In collective astonishment we guinea pigs agree again that the wine now appears to be creeping forward caressing the taste buds towards the surface and front of the tongue.
Effectively, the wine tastes sweeter under the red light than the blue.
Flick claps his hands, delighted with the outcome and snaps the lights back to normal.
Recent research, he explains, has found that wine differs according to the environment you happen to be drinking it in, meaning that what you drink on a sunny Al fresco terrace overlooking the beach might not be quite what you bargained for once you crack it open in front of a log fire on a winter evening back home.
I wonder if I should try and get my money back on my souvenir tipple.
It is only 23 years since the Flick family got going in the wine business, but he comes across as an old-hand and yet something of a trailblazer at the same time. And it’s not just his energy, it’s his optimism. Take the weather for example: unlike his peers, he views the elements as something to be harnessed and exploited.
The climate now, according to Flick, compared to 20 years ago, is at its optimum for cultivating the Riesling grape. For him, climate change is also an opportunity to experiment with new grape varieties and hopefully broaden the scope of production.  He has started venturing off-piste with red varieties. That would have been unthinkable a generation ago.
To finish, we try a Joachim Flick Victoria 2013. It’s a new riff on an old, old wine which was first produced and named in the mid 19th century in honour of Queen Victoria’s visit to the Hochheim region. It’s lively and full of fruit - citrus and orange peel and white peach and scarily easy to drink, I find.  Flick is pleased with his revamped Victoria line and certainly, owning a 150-year-old label must help in some way to ingratiate a relatively recent arrival to the wine world into the old establishment.
Flick takes a sip of the very wine he sent the Royal Family last year on the birth of Prince George and I swear I saw his feet leave the ground.  “It’s fireworks,” he claims triumphantly.  
Places to Eat and Drink in the Frankfurt Rhine Main Area
Take a walking history tour of this imposing medieval abbey through cloisters and shadowy crypts complete with stone vaulted ceilings before sitting down to lunch. The abbey’s restaurant sprawls across a raised terrace offering a dramatic view of the abbey below. Food is traditional German but with a lighter touch and changes with the seasons. The autumn menu includes deer goulash, roast rabbit with rustic, chewy spelt pasta and chanterelles in a cream and herb sauce.  Try the Kloster Eberbach wine produced on the estate for centuries since the monks first saw it as a way to derive income for the abbey.
Der Andechser im Ratskeller
Paleo afficionados will be in their element here where it’s all about the pig, the ox and the cow. Flintstone-esque portions deliver heaping plates of pork knuckle still on the bone, sausages every which way and cold glasses of foaming beer.
Rudesheimer Schloss
The restaurant sources local ingredients such as trout, duck, cheese and wild boar which, according to the owner, is hunted and shot in the family-owned vineyards before it devours the grapes.  Standout dishes include Riesling cheese soup followed by pork loin with porcini mushrooms and spelt noodles. The charming al fresco dining area with Hansel and Gretel-like carved wooden tables and cushioned benches scattered amongst trees is a tranquil delight until a cruise ships comes in to dock. On ship nights passengers arrive in their rowdy hoards to dine and do the Macarena simultaneously. Ask in advance if it is a cruise night, or go at lunchtime.
Restaurant Weinegg
Set amidst the rolling vineyards of Hochheim, this imposing manor house and restaurant offers sparkling wine produced from its own estate. Vibrant salads with seared scallops in a delicate wasabi sauce is a typical starter, while a fish dish of lightly-cooked perch with a salty rasher of crisp bacon and wilted spinach are lovely and make perfect pairings for the accompanying glass of fizz, not to mention light relief from the usual meat-heavy menus that abound in the region.
Helen Hokin travelled with the Frankfurt Rhine-Main tourist board
She stayed at the Hotel Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof
The Wine Time Pass is available at all participating shops and from the Rudesheim Tourist Information Officeand costs 12.50 Euros.
To buy good Riesling in the UK visit The Winery
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