Mittelrhein (literally: Middle Rhine) is one of the few UNESCO World Heritage Sites that are simultaneously wine-producing regions, other prominent examples being Douro (Portugal), Tokaj (Hungary) and Wachau (Austria). With merely 450ha under vine, Mittelrhein is, along with Sachsen and Hessische Bergstraße, one of the three smallest wine-producing regions of Germany. By comparison, Gevrey-Chambertin AOC alone possesses just over 400ha.
If Rheingau is the elder brother and Mosel the younger sister, it would be fair to describe Mittelrhein as the middle child, whose wine combines both elegance and potence. Resembling an elongated ribbon along the Rhine between Bingen am Rhein and the former West German capital of Bonn, the Mittelrhein region stretches some 120km, or 100km as the crows fly. It neighbours the prolific Rheinhessen in the south and Nahe – another, significantly bigger, region with a veritable claim for being the middle child of German Riesling – in the north, while the Ahr and Mosel rivers flow into the Rhine through Mittelrhein.
The breathtaking beauty of Mittelrhein, whether Wagnerian (Das Rheingold?) or Beethovenian (Symphony No. 6?), turned out to be a double-edged sword for viticulture and winemaking. Due to a thriving tourism sector, Mittelrhein has actually lost more than 50% of its vineyards in the last 50 years, while Germany as a whole was enjoying a viticultural renaissance. Indeed, tending to vines and harvesting grapes from steep slopes up to 60% inclination – comparable to Mosel – is far less cosy than working in the tourism industry.
Difficult terrain means that Mittelrhein’s yield per hectare is amongst the lowest in Germany, after Sachsen and Saale-Unstrut, both of which are located in former East Germany. Meanwhile, more than 2/3 of vineyards in Mittelrhein are planted with Riesling, proportionally surpassed by only Mosel and Rheingau. Consequently, precious little of Mittelrhein’s wine is exported overseas.
A quality-driven family-owned smallholding, Toni Jost of Bacharach is one of the leading producers from Mittelrhein. With Cecilia Jost, graduate of the prestigious Hochschule Geisenheim, as winemaker, Toni Jost in now run by the 6th generation. The family has been vintners for more than 180 years, during which it has acquired a quasi-monopole of Bacharach Hahn, one of the most venerable vineyards of Mittelrhein. Of its 15ha of prime vineyards, about 1/3 is actually situated in Rheingau. A founding member of the Mittelrhein VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter) since 1987, Toni Jost is also a member of the Rheingau VDP since 1989.
Toni Jost Bacharacher Hahn Riesling Trocken VDP Große Lage 2013
From Mittelrhein. Bright citrine with sunshine reflex, the fragrant nose offers lemon peel, bergamot, sea shell and white flowers. With copious acidity and saline minerality, the fleshy palate delivers lime peel, grapefruit, rock salt and citrus blossom. Medium-bodied at 12.5%, the citrusy entry carries onto a lively mid-palate, leading to a fruity finish.
Toni Jost Bacharacher Hahn Riesling Trocken VDP Großes Gewächs 2012
From Mittelrhein. Luminous citrine with radiant chartreuse hues, the intricate nose presents grapefuirt peel, lemon, peach pit, crushed rock and orchard blossom. With generous acidity and stern minerality, the potent palate supplies pomelo peel, bergamot, apricot pit, bouquet garni and rock salt. Full-bodied at 14%, the dense entry persists through a steely mid-palate, leading to a composed finish.
Toni Jost Wallufer Walkenberg Riesling Trocken VDP Großes Gewächs 2012
From Rheingau. Brilliant citrine with light golden reflex, the enchanting nose effuses grapefruit, pineapple, wet stone, crushed leaf and frangipani. With animated acidity and pristine minerality, the urbane palate emanates lime, mangosteen, garden herbs, sea shell and jasmine. Medium-full bodied at 13%, the fresh entry continues through a vivacious mdi-palate, leading to a focused finish.
Toni Jost Martinsthaler Rödchen Spätburgunder VDP Große Lage 2011
From Rheingau. Dark garnet with ruby-purple rim, the frisky nose furnishes blueberry, cranberry, dark chocolate, black truffle and violet. With bounteous acidity, silky tannins and clear minerality, the succulent palate provides blackberry, mulberry, rooibos tea, wild mushroom and iris. Medium-full bodied at 14%, the berry-laden entry extends to a vibrant mid-palate, leading to a tangy finish.
To discover the well-kept secret of Mittelrhein, contact Mr Martin Palmer; W: www.finegermanwines.hk; E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Jacky I.F. Cheong is a legal professional by day and columnist by night. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France, and Germany, he regularly writes about wine, fine arts, classical music, and politics in several languages