With 3,200ha under vine, Rheingau constitutes merely 3 percent of all vineyards in Germany, but reputation-wise, it is arguably primus inter pares (first amongst equals) and the spiritual home of Riesling. Ranked sixth in size, Rheingau is larger than only the “Mini Five” of Saale-Unstrut, Ahr, Sachsen, Mittelrhein and Hessische Bergstraße. Nearly 80 percent of its vineyards are planted with Riesling, and the region is peppered with aristocratic and monastic estates.
Rheingau stretches from Hochheim on the Main to Lorch on the Rhine (German: Rhein), but 90 percent of its vineyards are situated in the western part, namely the 30km between Wiesbaden, the capital of the Federal State of Hesse (German: Hessen), to Rüdesheim, where the imposing Niederwalddenkmal commemorating the Unification of Germany is located. Premium south-facing vineyards here are protected by the Taunus mountain range, and moderated by the river.
Rheingau is generally warmer and contains more clay than Mosel, hence the imaginary battle of masculinity vs femininity is set, with Rheingau, Gevrey-Chambertin, Pommard, Pauillac, Barolo and Sauternes pitted against Mosel, Chambolle-Musigny, Volnay, Margaux, Barbaresco and Barsac. Rheingau has always been the more expensive region for German wine because: i) the name is time-honoured; ii) labour cost is not low, Hesse being one of the only three Federal States that contribute more to the Federal budget than it receives, alongside Bavaria (German: Bayern) and Baden-Württemberg; and iii) merely 20 minutes away from Frankfurt by car, Rheingau wine is in high demand in surrounding affluent areas.
Rheingau was the first region in Germany to have its own vineyard classification system, back in 1994. As opposed to Erste Lage in other regions, it still retains the Erstes Gewächs title. Its sphere of influence goes well beyond the region, as Hochschule Geisenheim University along with Staatsweingut Weinsberg in Württemberg are the Oxbridge of German wine education, with its alumni reaching every corner of the country and indeed the world.
The first written record of the Allendorf family dates back to 1292, when a Kraft von Allendorf was buried – tombstone still stands – in the Basilica of Kloster Eberbach, which is still making fine wine. In 1773, Philipp Anton Allendorf established the wine estate, which remained family-owned ever since. A VDP member-estate since 1999, the 75ha Weingut Fritz Allendorf – Georgshof is now co-owned and -managed by brother and sister Ulrich Allendorf und Christel Schönleber as well as their families.
One of Rheingau’s most revered and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s favourites, Winkeler Hasensprung possesses layers of loess clay and gravel soil, hence the wine’s remarkable depth. Bright citrine with gleaming golden reflex, the regal nose reveals pomelo, mirabelle, verbena and crushed rock. Buttressed by abundant acidity and steely minerality, the multi-layered palate unveils grapefruit, pineapple, lemon curd and rock salt. Full-bodied at 13 percent, the rounded entry continues through an urbane mid-palate, leading to prolonged finish. A marble statue of a GG Riesling.
Now an Erstes Gewächs vineyard but not as clearly classified back then, Geisenheimer Kläuserweg is characterised by calcareous loam, sand and gravel. 1973 was the fateful year in which the Günter Guillaume Affair broke, leading to the resignation of Willy Brandt, Chancellor of West Germany and Nobel Prize winner. It was a time when the West Germany football team reigned supreme, captained by Franz Beckenbauer; and when sweetish whites and rosés were in rude health… All this is now history, recounted by this time capsule from Allendorf’s Schatzkammer (treasure chamber).
Translucent copper with ochre-vermillion reflex, the haunting nose effuses fig, sultana, cinnamon, apple strudel and salted caramel. Underpinned by spirited acidity – still evident – and suave minerality, the evocative palate emanates loquat, dried persimmon, ume soup, rhubarb pie and crushed rock. Medium-sweet – it has become backward – and medium-bodied at 9.5 percent, the weightless entry evolves into a harmonious mid-palate, leading to a memorable finish.
Saturated citrine with rich golden reflex, the enchanting nose oozes lemon, apricot, guava, honey and crushed rock. Anchored by buoyant acidity and crystalline minerality, the delightful palate radiates lime, nectarine, mango, sweet ginger and kerosene. Fully sweet and full-bodied at 9 percent, the creamy entry persists through a vibrant mid-palate, leading to a moreish finish. An irresistible nymph of a wine.
Matured in barriques made of European and American oak. Bright garnet with cardinal-ruby rim, the floral nose presents raspberry, cranberry, cinnamon, sous bois and violet. Braced by generous acidity, silky tannins and clean minerality, the gracious palate furnishes blackberry, cassis, clove, balsam and geranium. Medium-full bodied at 13 percent, the berry-laden entry carries onto a poised mid-palate, leading to a balanced finish. German Pinot Noir on the ascendant. Jacky I.F. Cheong
To be continued…
Jacky I. F. Cheong is a legal professional and columnist. Having spent his formative years in Britain,
France and Germany, he regularly comments on wine, fine arts, classical music and opera.