Take me to the river… (Deutscher wein part 1)


Someone get this guy a spit bucket! Das Schängelchen (The Spitting Boy) fountain in Koblenz.

This is the Rhine?

First impressions can be a bitch. And my initial experience on the legendary Rhine river was just that.

After spending some time and having a blast in the city of Cologne, I decided to get on the water and have a taste of the romantic Rhine. Problem was, either my expectations were way too high, or the river was having the aquatic equivalent of a bad hair day. I hopped on the KD/Kölner- Düsseldorfer boat for a two-hour round trip of the areas surrounding this great city. Armed with cameras, a half-bottle of cold weissburgunder (pinot blanc), and a heightened sense of excitement, I scurried on board and grabbed a seat on the upper deck with a clear view of my surroundings.

Sadly, the scenery on this part of the Rhine is just as Bryson had described Cologne— dismal. Heading north from the city center, we saw industrial areas, industrial construction, industrial barges, and industrial looking people sunning and swimming along both its banks. We crossed under a couple of highway bridges. As a bonus, we got a glimpse or two of the local graffiti along the way.

When we got back to the dock, I disembarked with a sour expression and seriously deflated impression of the river. How could this magical city have such an unremarkable stretch of the Rhine? I knew I was still far from the parts of the river where majestic castles and steeply lined vineyards paint the landscape, but this didn’t bode well for future excursions.

*    *    *

First impressions are also deceiving, and as we all know, you should never judge a book—or a river—by it’s cover. In fact I write this post from inside a train, heading back to Koblenz along the Mittelrhein, where I can look out onto the Rhein and breathe a sigh of relief.


You can see wine country via land or water.

After pouting about my first river ride, I decided to head down to Koblenz, another historical and important city along the Rhine. It’s also a “crossroads” of sorts, where the Rhine and Moselle meet, and where I decided to base myself for trips into wine country. And it was here, that I met the multi-lingual Mattina, one of the kindest, most helpful, and friendliest people I’ve met here. She helped me decide where to go, how to get there (and back), gave me coffee, English guide maps, and a sense that I was in control of everything. Which is quite the feat. A very warm and appreciative danka, gracias, grazie, thaIMG_3403nk you, my friend. May your own travels begin again soon and bring you much happiness.

The trip along the Moselle started off great, as I boarded our river boat to the sounds of traditional German music, and the smell of fresh coffee and Frühstück (breakfast) foods. After about a couple of hours on the water, though, it was time  to get in the mood- bring on the riesling!

If Merlot is the Rodney Dangerfield of wines (“I don’t get no respect…”), than riesling has got to be the (insert misunderstood person– Michael Jackson? TO?) of wine. It’s so misunderstood, many people claim they don’t care for it because it’s too sweet. In fact, riesling is a grape that has naturally high acid, which combined with its intense minerality and fruit, makes for some of the finest white wines in the world.

The problem many people have is their introduction to and sole experience with this wine is in the form of new world riesling, which often lacks that natural acidity and minerality. And this leads, of course, to a quick and unfair judgment. You can probably guess where this post is heading…

IMG_3426Here on the Moselle, the riesling is particularly “edgy” with sharp acidity, bright, zippy fruit in the mid-palate, and a lively finish. They’re beautiful wines, really, and great with pork, chicken, and seafood dishes. And it’s the river here that helps keep the fruit so well balanced; steeply planted vineyards lined-up along the riverbanks allow the fruit to receive fairly consistent temperatures throughout the growing season, as well as cooling breezes off the water. The water also helps prevent frost from settling onto the vines, and acts as a source of extra sun by way of reflection off the water. It’s an amazing, naturally symbiotic relationship between the vines, particular soil types, and river. This is German terroir at its very best.


A land and water love affair

*    *    *

I stopped off in the charming little storybook town of Chocem, where the local wine brings the crowds. And boy does it bring ’em. Walking along the main strips in the old section of town (really, though, aren’t they all old?), was slow moving and combined with the rain and mass of umbrella-wielding tourists, getting from point A to point B was challenging at best. Luckily, there are many, many wine tasting rooms representing local vintners for you to duck into in case you get tired of the slow march.

IMG_3422 First stop, Zum Kapuziner, a sweet little indoor/outdoor wine bar where the local producer Bernkasteler Ring is featured. I opted for tastes of their dry (trocken) Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese rieslings.

It’s important to mention here that these terms are NOT indications of how sweet the wine will be. This is a misconception. The Auslese I tried was in fact dry, dry, dry, yet full-bodied and rich. All in all, a fantastic riesling with an expansive and lingering finish of ginger, lime, and apricot. The best way to think of these terms is in the quality and ripeness of the fruit, which particular grapes were picked and when, which can certainly mean a sweeter, lower alcohol wine, but not necessarily.


I also tasted a feinherb riesling. “What the heck is feinherb?” I thought. Apparently this is a traditional term which can indicate a halbtrocken, or half-dry, style. In the states, we would call this “off-dry”, and although this wine was a touch softer and fruitier than the classic trocken style, it still had amazing mineral/slate element to it that balanced out all that ripe nectarine flavor.

From there it was onto the cellar tasting room of Walter J. Oster, where I would taste some of the “big guns”: Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and of course, Eiswein. You can now forget about all that dry talk– though still indications of quality, these are Germany’s finest dessert wines, made from individually picked out, late harvest grapes (Beerenausleser BA), grapes that are naturally dried out from botrytis or noble rot (Trockenbeerenauslese or TBA), and grapes that have froze on the vine (Eiswein or ice wine). They were all excellent, and the ’99 TBA, with its flavors of lemon peel, honey, golden raisins, etc., etc., was out of this world.

IMG_3451What makes these wines so special is not how rich, sweet, or decadent they can be, though they’re definitely all of that. Like the Dead-heads would proclaim, it’s all about the acid. These wines still retain a good degree of acid to compliment all that natural sugar, giving them an extra dimension- not to mention lifespan- that many other dessert wines fail to achieve. (ps- these wines are NOT table wines, and are meant for AFTER dinner. Are you listening, Eva and Dale??) And if there were one of these I had to choose, it would be the TBA. If you’ve had a good Sauternes, you’ll know why I picked this…


*    *    *

Heading back to Koblenz after a full day in wine country, I can’t help but feel a little foolish for making a knee-jerk reaction to the river. Tomorrow, I’ll head down the Rhine to the Rheingau region where hopefully even more golden treats await me. And if I encounter any ordinary, less than idyllic areas along the way, I promise not to judge so harshly this time around… so long as the wine is good.

With many more rivers to cross and always good cheer,



~ by Jared on July 21, 2009.

6 Responses to “Take me to the river… (Deutscher wein part 1)”

  1. Finally you met someone who can spit farther than you!

  2. …Is that a challenge?

  3. Yup.

  4. Careful about those Deadhead slurs, although most if not all were into the balance, they were not all into acid.

    • … DARK STAR!! Don’t like that one? How about “One More Saturday Night”? Or maybe “Dire Wolf” (always liked that one). Too many goodies to re-call. I know you probably know ’em all!

      No slurring going on there, I promise (except maybe in my speech from one too many glasses of kolsch), only good fun. Long live Jerry!

      Hope you and the family are all great, my friend.

  5. […] It’s a fairly small sized region in terms of total acreage, but more riesling is grown here than anywhere else in Germany. Not surprisingly, this noble varietal thrives here, benefiting from its position between the Tanus forest, which protects it from the cold, harsh winds of the North, and the Rhine, which has its own list of advantages, described in Deutscher wein part 1. […]

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