For the 120 kilometres between Bingen and Bonn, steep vineyard slopes join castles, glorious residences and the famous Loreley rock as the river twists and turns through a landscape steeped in history. The Siebengebirge hills and the Loreley divide the region into two distinct areas in terms of wine classification. The southern section, the Upper Middle Rhine Valley between Koblenz and Bingen, was granted UNESCOWorld Heritage status in 2002 for its outstanding, vineyard-sculpted countryside. Ample motivation for the growers to continue their sterling work on the steep, vine-clad hillsides.
Classic grape varieties take centre stage along the Middle Rhine, whose 460 hectares of vine-clad slopes belie its reputation as a minor wine region. Riesling is the dominant choice here, accounting for more than 70 per cent of the grapes. Its late-ripening, berry-like grapes possess an unrivalled capacity to produce elegant, racy wines with a harmony of bouquet and palate, rich in finesse and nuance. A depth of character that helped Rhineland wines to establish themselves on the world stage. The vineyards also grow wines of the pinot blanc and pinot gris variety, both of which make excellent accompaniments to food. Pinot noir and dornfelder represent the field for red wines, while riesling grapes are also used to make sparkling sekts.
Slate is a defining feature of the soil in the Middle Rhine wine region, where steep, terraced vineyards cling to the valley slopes at precarious angles. The stony ground and rugged cliffs are shielded from the wind and warm quickly in the sun. Steel-blue slate and its darker variety litter the ground and provide the optimum growing conditions for the riesling grapes. It is said that the delicate bouquet, racy acidity and mineral overtones of riesling wines are typical of the Rhineland. North of Koblenz, the soil also contains volcanic stones such as pumice, tuff and loess.
The Rhine Valley has an optimum climate for grapes to thrive, thanks to the current of warm air that drifts in from the south. Riesling grapes benefit most from the mild winters, the early arrival of spring and the long growing season that continues until late autumn. The best years for these exquisite sweet wines have moderate summers with plenty of rain rather than months of baking hot days and cloud-free skies. Even in the coldest of winters, heavy frost rarely settles in the narrow Middle Rhine valley because the water of the river regulates the temperature.
Old-established family vineyards run by young, highly trained vintners are the hallmark of the Middle Rhine wine region. The estates they manage occupy anywhere between three and twelve hectares. The work on the steep, terraced slopes, the vinification in the cellar and the marketing activities all stay in house, too. Many wineries have an adjoining tavern, inn or seasonal wine room. Most Middle Rhine wines are sold independently within the region, and every good restaurant stocks wines from local vineyards.
The people who live in the Rhine valley are outgoing, cheerful and extremely good company. They are proud of their homeland and culture and the region boasts a festival for every occasion. Highlights include the carnival, the Rhine in Flames firework spectacular and the numerous wine and street festivals. Each wine festival has a character all of its own, but you can also go direct to the wineries to watch the vintners at work. Afterwards, why not stay and enjoy the fruits of their labours with a bite to eat. The more the merrier is the Middle Rhine motto!
The Rhine is steeped in myth and legend. There are tales of heroes and dragons and of sunken treasure. True or not – who can really say?