The scenic 50-mile Weinstrasse. (Photo: Deutsches Weininstitut)
By Max Gross
Booze hounds of the world hear “Germany” and immediately bark back, “Beer!”
This is unfortunate. Not that we mean to put down a nice Bavarian weissbier, and we certainly have nothing against being served it by an attractive German in a dirndl, but those who care about a Riesling with the aroma of garlands, or a fruit-and-mineral-rich Chardonnay should take a drive through the wine region of Rhineland-Palatinate on the southwest corner of Germany.
The scenery is some of the most striking in Europe, from the medieval architecture to the lush fertile fields dotted with vineyards to the picturesque hills; the excellent wines (mostly white) are largely unavailable in America; and the food is plentiful and traditional, but with enough new interpretations to keep it exciting.
Snaking through Rhineland-Palatinate is a 50-mile-long Weinstrasse (aka Wine Road) that touches about 130 different villages, each seeming to have vines growing out of the architecture, with dozens of wineries usually having their own vinotheks (wine stores).
Smack in the middle of the region is Bad Kreuznach, a picturesque spa town at the center of the action and home to Korrell winery, a welcoming family-owned spot that has been in the wine business since 1832. Its small tasting room, which opened in 2003, also sells jars of jam and dried pastas.
A selection of wines from Der Kaiserhof.
With patience and care, Pritta Korrell, the owner, or one of the experienced attendants, will explain the three different soils in which their grapes are grown (limestone and chalk; sandstone; volcanic soil). She’ll then pour a 2011 Fruhburgunder J.K. (a pinot noir — one of the few reds) or a 2013 Grauer Burgunder (a pinot gris), which has been fermented in steel tanks (which Pritta will happily show off) and has a fruity nose but not too fruity a taste — which, she adds, would go very well with fish.
Some of the local wineries are more eager to show off the fields where their grapes are grown like the Siefersheimer Kraeuterhexen at the Moebus winery in Siefersheim, which offers a walking tour of their herbal garden nestled among the vineyards (because nobody can live on wine alone).
“This is goosefoot,” says Christine Moebus, the owner, pointing out a small budding plant. “It’s like spinach but softer, and with more vitamins and minerals.” Later that day, the goosefoot will wind up in a gnocchi she serves for her visitors, with a 2013 Moebus Hollberg Riesling. (Siefersheimer Kraeuterhexen isn’t all wine — it offers herbal buffets, wine tastings, and picnics for visitors, and some people will rent out the farm space for weddings.)
Freundstück’s chef Daniel Schimkowitsch.
While many of the wineries have been around for years, and they’re very much a family-run business handed down from generation to generation, there’s certainly a youthful face on a lot of them.
“We’re a new generation of winemakers,” says Martin Braun of Weingut Braun, himself a second-generation winemaker. He runs the business with his brother Michael, and they are part of a group of likeminded young winemakers in 12 wineries called Wine Changes, which started in 2009. Wine Changes “wants to show our wines to the public — some are big wineries, others are small and individual. But we have events all through the year to promote the region.” If nothing else, Wine Changes offers a neat little agenda of wineries to visit and winemakers producing new and interesting wine.
Food is integral to all of this; naturally, there are restaurants to sample the local wares, but there are also kitchens affiliated with winegrowers that invite tourists to get behind the stove and actually make the food they eat with said wine.
Der Kaiserhof is a restaurant and winery started in 1993 that opened a show kitchen in a revamped farmhouse in Guldental, (not far from the winery) where guests are invited to spend the evening cooking, or just sitting around quaffing the different vintages in between courses.
The kitchen is lorded over by Markus Buchholz, the chef and co-owner, a friendly bearded German who is quick to encourage you to drink. When my group was met outside Der Kaiserhof, Buchholz was waiting with open bottles of sekt, or German champagne. “Every good winemaker has his own sparkling wine,” Buchholz says. “I still see some glasses full,” he shook his head disdainfully before we entered the kitchen.
“My best friend is a winemaker,” Buchholz explains. “We got together because he can’t cook, and I can’t make wine.” They formed a partnership to create Der Kaiserhof.
The spread that Buchholz puts out is impressive: there is a salad of arctic char prepared several ways; fresh pea soup with fried salmon wontons; a filet of veal so tender it can be cut with a butter knife. Each is paired with one of the Der Kaiserhof wines: Rieslings and Chardonnays, along with other outstanding regional wines: a 2013 Emrich Schonleber Weissburgunder (a pinot blanc), and a 2011 Donnhoff Cherhauser Brucke Riesling Auslese (another Riesling).
For something where the cooks push you slightly more to perform, you can stop by Fachwerk im Eulengarten, another wine-heavy kitchen that offers cooking lessons where one is schooled in the arts of Rheinhessen tapas in a rustic farmhouse setting.
In between bottles of 2013 Wagner-Stempel Weissburgunder and 2011 Scheurebe, groups are split up into teams and invited to try the region’s culinary staples: There is fleischwurst, which class members slice up into disks, and dip in egg yolks and breadcrumbs to make into little circles of fried bologna. Sausage and zucchini are added to an egg mixture for frittatas. A panna cotta is topped with sugared elderberries.
Naturally, one needn’t actually cook to eat well in Rhineland-Palatinate.
The food at Freundstück is both highly traditional and experimental, such as the egg pasta carbonara in creamy foam, and a slab of halibut adorned with baby shrimp and perfect orange circles of carrots. Did we mention that Freundstück has 500 different wines in its cellar?
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