We had been on the lookout for a great Nierstein ever since our beloved St Antony winery changed hands in 2005. A dinner in 2011 at the excellent Schloss Sörgenloch restaurant deep in the Rheinhessen countryside ended in intense conversation with the owner, Thomas. Nierstein? Try this Fritz Ekkehard Huff. Yum. When we phoned shortly afterwards, the daughter Christine said, “that’s amazing, I only dropped a single sample bottle off at Sörgenloch!” Fate. Christine was fresh out of Geisenheim, the top German wine college and was already making bright, minerally, dry Riesling from the red cliffs overlooking the Rhine at Nierstein.
She has had a busy last decade; increasingly taking control of the winery; meeting and marrying Kiwi Jeremy Bird (who came to help with the 2009 harvest and never left); having two babies; working tirelessly in the vines and cellar to create wonderful, finely-judged dry Rieslings from the red cliffs (der Roter Hang) around the town.
Der Roter Hang – the red slate and sandstone cliffs: red from iron oxide, which can often infuse Riesling with some marked spicy and tropical notes.
The town of Nierstein overlooks the Rhine on the strip between Mainz and Worms and historically has always been considered to be in the top band in the hierarchy of Rheinhessen’s vineyards.
Cliffs run from Nackenheim, below Mainz and south as far as Oppenheim. From Nackenheim to Nierstein the cliffs are red. Many of the Grand Cru vineyards directly overlook the Rhine eastwards until the town of Nierstein itself, at which point the ridge curves inland, above the town and westwards to Schwabsburg, the picturesque suburb where the Huff family have lived for generations. This extended slope is full south-facing, enjoying the shelter of a valley and full exposure to the sun.
It is probably fair to say that, difficult as it is to choose, Rabenturm (Ravens’ Tower) is Christine’s favourite vineyard. It is a parcel, the so-callet Filetstück (the fillet piece/best part) within the Schloss Schwabsburg vineyard at the base of old castle ruins. Many of the vines are 50 years old and produce small berries with intense aromas.
Some precious small parcels have been discreetly added to the family’s vineyard holdings including Niersteiner Pettenthal. Winding back in time to the St Antony estate in Dr Alex Michalsky’s day, Pettenthal was always our favourite of their single vineyards. Is it possible that this small 0.25 hectare parcel of 32 year-old vines came from St Antony? Christine suddenly becomes uncharacteristically taciturn and refuses to be drawn. “I can’t say!” Whatever the origin, Christine’s Pettenthal is exquisite.