If you are looking for fine German wine and food, consider the Mittelrhein region of southwestern Germany. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local Riesling Kabinett.
The Mittelrhein is castle country. It starts just south of the former West German capital of Bonn and follows the Rhein River for about 60 miles (100 kilometers). The area was named a World Cultural Heritage site in 2002. It contains some of Germany's steepest vineyards, in effect some of the steepest vineyards in the world. This is a problem; the shortage of farm workers who are willing to break their backs on these slopes is probably the major reason that Mittelrhein vineyard acreage has shrunk almost by half in the last forty years. This region now ranks 11th out of the 13 German wine regions for vineyard area and 12th for total wine production. About three quarters of its wine is Riesling, quite a good sign. In fact, after the Rheingau region, the Mittelrhein has the highest percentage of Riesling in Germany. Less than 2% of Mittelrhein wine is low-quality table wine, almost 60% medium-quality QbA wine, and almost 40% higher-quality QmP wine. The yield per acre is also one of the lowest in Germany, which is also a good sign.
Koblenz, population slightly over one hundred thousand, is a real river town. It is situated on both banks of the Rhine River and on the Moselle River. The rivers' meeting point is known as the Deutsches Eck (German Corner). In addition to these two magnificent rivers there are three mountain ranges and a third river, the Lahn not far away. The name Koblenz means confluence or merging rivers.
Koblenz recently celebrated its two-thousandth anniversary. During the Middle Ages Koblenz took advantage of its strategic location to control both Rhine and Mosel trade. Most of the city is situated on the west bank of the Rhine. On the east bank, facing the city, is Festung Ehrenbreitstein, Europe's largest fortress after Gibraltar. This fortress sits on a mountain four hundred feet above the river. No wonder that the site has been fortified for over three thousand years. We are happy that Festung Ehrenbreitstein was not destroyed as it passed from one country to another during many wars. It now hosts a youth hostel and a museum.
Among the old town sights to see are the Pfaffendorfer Bridge, the Weindorf, a wine village constructed in the 1920s for a giant German wine exhibition, the Rheinanlagen (Rhein Gardens), a 6 mile (10 kilometer) river promenade, and the mid-Ninth Century St. Kastor Kirche (St. Castor Church) which, shortly after its foundation, was the site of the Treaty of Verdun that divided Charlemagne's empire into what would become Germany and France. The Schaengel is a famous statue of a boy who spits water.
Before reviewing the Mittelrhein wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Hinkelsdreck (Chicken Liver Pate). For your second course enjoy Wildschwein Sauerbraten (Wild Boar Sauerbraten-Marinated Meat). As a dessert indulge yourself with Feigenmus (Fig Puree).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed Toni Jost Riesling Kabinett 2004 9.5% alcohol about $20
Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. From the little-known-in-our-market Mittelrhein region comes this superb Riesling. There is pronounced varietal character here with special emphasis on peach, apricot and floral notes (particularly lilac). It is off-dry with very good fruit notes surrounded by crisp acid tones. Light- to medium-bodied, this long-finishing wine would be an excellent match for Thai spicy noodle dishes, crab legs or scallops in a saffron cream sauce.
My first pairing was with a commercial chicken pot pie perked up by a spicy Jalapeno-based salsa. The wine was quite acidic and lemony with some taste of apple as well. The wine was very flavorful; a little bit went a long way. Frankly this Riesling was too good for such a pedestrian meal. Dessert was a slice of top of the line chocolate mousse cake that suffered somewhat by being too sweet. The cake was too sweet for the wine. I had the feeling that the wine and the cake were fighting. In the end the wine emerged as the winner; it was only a little injured.
My next trial involved a home made barbecued chicken marinated in a sweet and sour Thai sauce. The side dish was a specialty of the local supermarket, roasted potatoes cooked in chicken fat, reheated in foil on the barbecue. Yummy. To complete the meal I barbecued Portabello mushrooms and slices of red pepper. The entire meal was a great match for the Reisling. The wine was light (but far from weak), refreshing, and pleasantly acidic. I loved the meat's grease - I removed most but not all of the skin. And I loved the way the wine cut the meat's grease. The Riesling's fruit intensified when matched with the sweet barbecued red pepper. I tasted a lot of apple and lemon.
The final meal consisted of an omelet with tasty local Asiago cheese, green and black Greek olives, and grape tomatoes. The wine had a gossamer quality and an excellent balance of acidity, sugar, and fruit, mostly lemon. That was the wine. It overwhelmed the omelet, which essentially added nothing to the mix in spite of the relatively strong cheese. Not surprisingly the wine did better with the acidic grape tomatoes than with the salty olives. As is my policy, I never blame the wine for an unorthodox food pairing that just doesn't make it. I finished the meal with a high-quality but oversweet chocolate ice-cream bar. The sugar weakened the wine and made it taste sour. But I waited a few minutes and finished the final sips without any food. And this wine was as good as it had ever been.
I paired this wine with two imported cheeses, a German Edam and a French Camembert. The Edam was soft and buttery. In its presence the Riesling was pleasantly acidic with a lot of fruit. The French Camembert was probably past its prime. At the first sip, the Riesling seemed a bit weaker than in previous tastings, but later on the wine managed to hold its own.
Final verdict. I am really a fan of this wine and plan to buy it again. However, I won't want to waste its power and delicacy on pairing it with the wrong foods.
Levi Reiss has authored alone or with a co-author ten computer and Internet books, but to tell the truth, he would really rather just drink fine French, German, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the time being he can eat and drink what he wants, in moderation. He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his new wine, diet, health, and nutrition website www.wineinyourdiet.com and his global wine website www.theworldwidewine.com.