Germany: Nahe

In many people’s view, the Nahe forms a golden triangle of quality with the Rhine and the Mosel and its Rieslings can age effortlessly for 30 years or more. Considered to be plump, rich and firm, often spicy from seams of iron-rich red slate. Some people say earthy. Classic, fine, age-worthy wines from historic sites.

Gut Hermannsberg (Niederhausen)

“Legend” is a much, possibly over-used word in the wine world, but sometimes no other word will do. The former Prussian State Domain, the vines it overlooks – the Schlossbockelheimer Kupfergrube – and its monopole vineyard, the Niederhauser Hermannsberg, are the stuff of legend.
The Domain was started in 1902 using convict labour and plenty of earth-moving, rock-shaping dynamite by Forester Hoepp who persuaded the reluctant Prussian State to build a new wine domain in the Nahe. The region’s vital fruit and oak sales had collapsed and Hoepp, who was a strong supporter of “Naturwein” (the new concept of wine as a natural product), believed that winemaking should be encouraged. He proposed that the new domain should be operated as a “model vineyard”; improving the quality of winemaking in the area and raising the reputation of German wine generally. He was convinced that the location and geology were perfect for vines. Subsequent decades proved him to be correct.
After a long golden era peaking in the 1960s and 70s, the estate’s fortunes and reputation slipped in the 1980s and 90s – without good reason perhaps. If you can pick-up some of the still delicious 1989 Spatlese or Auslese (and they are still around), snap them up. (22.05.15 – found some. Sorry, all gone!)
The estate was bought in 1998 by the Maurer family, who had made their fortune selling potatoes to German supermarkets. The talented Christian Vogt was brought in to make the wine. We visited and bought a few times in the mid 2000s. The estate was on the up again but Erich and Tilly Maurer decided to retire and sold in 2009. Their daughter Gudrun continues to work at the estate. Christian Vogt moved to Karthauserhof in the Ruwer.
The new owners, Dr Christine Dinse and Jens Reidel, a wealthy wine-loving couple from Hamburg with a background in banking, have invested generously in every area of the estate. They have an excellent young winemaker plucked from the Pfalz, called Karsten Peter. Dr Christine has written a very thorough and readable history of the Domain and the striking new label is a reworking of the original design from the early 1900s.
How are the wines? Striking. Bold. Full-throttle. Exploding with deep, layered minerals and surging with freshness. Brilliant.

Sinss (Windesheim) UNDER CONVERSION

There is an eye-catching stand-alone hill not far from the Autobahn in the Nahe. The village is Windesheim. We always thought that there must be someone making good wine there. Turns out the answer was right under our noses.
We met Johannes Sinss at the same time we met Gerrit Walter, back in 2009, when they were both at Wine Uni in Geisenheim. Johannes did internships at Williams-Selyem in California and Wairau River in New Zealand before heading straight back to work in the family winery. Our Berlin friend Ursula Heinzelmann had some of Johannes’ latest Rieslings when we saw her last month. We were so taken by them that we visited asap.

Johannes’ Riesling trocken is a blend from parcels of vines on the hill (some red sandstone, some slate) and some from the other side of the village. It’s vinified in a split of large old oak barrels (classic German Stückfässer) and in steel tanks. It often has a gently wild, yeasty nose and at 11.5% is pleasantly low in alcohol.

Johannes must’ve been paying attention during his internship at Williams-Selyem, (Pinot Noir specialists in the Russian River Valley near Healdsburg, California). Over the past few years Johannes has eased off picking late to try to bring the alcohol levels down. “It’s all about tasting the grapes – looking for ripeness without over-ripeness”.
His Spätburgunders are bright, ripe, with pretty fruit and some adult tannic structure. The basic is aged in 70% old oak barrels, 30% steel tanks. Unfiltered and without fining (that’s the clarification process).
We also adored his Windesheimer Spätburgunder 2014 – up several notches, it has a beautiful, haunting, almost fragile perfume and silky mouthfilling texture.

von Racknitz (Odernheim)

Top Mosel growers Clemens and Rita Busch had asked two times running “have you tasted at von Racknitz recently?” No, not recently. “You have to go there, the wines are getting really good!” So we looped through the Nahe to check them out. Formerly belonging to a historic cloister, the estate has a long history traceable back to Hildegard of Bingen back in the 1100s. There have been ups and downs though the centuries to the point where the winery was on the brink of collapse in 2002. Enter Matthias Adams, former CFO of Tech company Infineon Germany. Then in his late 30s he decided he wanted a career change, jacked-in his high-powered job and spent a year walking around the Black Forest. A friend at a large consultancy firm phoned him up and said, “there’s a job come in, it’s too small for us. Can you take a look at this winery, see if there’s anything you can salvage?” What no-one could have foreseen was that Matthias and Luise von Racknitz would fall in love and that together they have turned the estate’s fortunes around.

Luise takes care of the cellar and their two small boys, Matthias looks after the books and their vines. In addition to the lions’ share of Kloster Disibodenberg (which used to belong to the cloister), they have parcels in the great historic Nahe vineyards of Niederhauser Klamm and Hermannshohle, and the less well-known Schlossbockelheimer Konigfels, where local old-timers say the snow always melts first. Luise didn’t quite understand why Matthias had to buy the parcel in Traiser Rotenfels over 20kms away.  It’s the one piece of Rotenfels at the bottom of the red cliffs, right next to the Traiser Bastei and gives a completely different minerality to their other wines. Opulent, dizzy, almost tropical.

“What’s in those big old barrels Matthias?”
“Er, nothing.”
“Are they empty?”
“Er, no.”
“Are they filled with water, to keep them in condition?”
“Er, not exactly.”
“So, what’s in them?”
After an exciting Riesling tasting, Matthias was showing us the old cellar with gleaming new stainless steel tanks, when we spotted a row of big old fuders, the classic old oak barrels that you see in Germany.
“So, what’s in them?”
“OK, it’s an old red wine of my father-in-law’s. It’s Schwarzriesling (Black Riesling) – Pinot Meunier.”
Intriguing. Pinot Meunier is used in France as one of the main three grapes in Champagne. You don’t often find it bottled separately and, even more rarely, as a still red wine.
“Would you like to taste it?”
“Yes please.”
Fascinating to find Pinot Meunier in the Nahe, also to find a very mature, very drinkable stash. After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing Matthias and Luise agreed to bottle a fuder for us and let us choose the labels. Mature Pinot Meunier from the Nahe? Oh yes.

Jakob Schneider (Niederhausern)

Spicy, dry Rieslings by Jakob Junior. Strictly speaking, his name is Jakob Schneider, not to be confused with his Lederhosen-wearing dad, Jakob Schneider. Junior has just finished at Germany’s top wine college Geisenheim and has come back buzzing with energy and ideas about how he wants the wine to taste. As long as he still makes some sweet wine for his Grandmother, his parents are quite happy to let him loose in the cellar and on the small parcels of vines around the village of Niederhausen. He’s whizzing around on his tractor, meeting us, running around the cellar, doing his thing – dry, exotic Riesling, fizzing with savoury minerals drawn from the deep red, iron-rich slate.

Schafer-Frohlich (Bockenau)

Tim Schafer-Frohlich’s parents are slightly bemused by the steady flow of foreign merchants and journalists through their door in this rural corner of the Nahe. Still firmly in his twenties, Tim is playing at the top of his game. Confident with his use of wild yeasts, which many growers find difficult and unpredictable, Tim makes real “terroir” wines – wines with a clear sense of where they are from. With parcels in steep slopes overhanging the village of Bockenau, heavy with volcanic Porphyr stone and the more spicy iron-rich slate vineyards of Schlossbockelheim down by the river, the wines are tingly, nervy, limey and exhilarating.

Schlossgut Diel (Burg Layen)

Larger-than-life Armin Diel is well-known around Germany – imposing, opinionated and often controversial. He was co-editor of the most influential annual German Wine Guide, the Gault-Millau. He is a frequent contributor to German wine and food magazines and has done much to raise the standard and profile of German wines on the international stage. Not everybody’s cup of tea, but we like him. He also makes some delicious wines with the help of his daughter Caroline and his Kellermeister, Christophe Kern, who comes from a winemaking family in Wehlen on the Mosel.
The Diel family founded their estate in Burg Layen south of Bingen in 1802. They now have 16 hectares on one south-facing slope which embraces Pittermanchen, Goldloch and Burgberg. Although Riesling forms the heart of his collection, Armin believes great wines can also be made in the Nahe with Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.