Germany’s Rheinhessen growing region lies in a valley of rolling hills, bordered on the west by the Nahe River and on the north and east by the Rhine.
This 20-by-30 mile area between the communities of Worms, Alzey, Mainz and Bingen is the largest of the German winegrowing regions, and its production is second only to that of the Pfalz.
Thanks to the varying soil types and microclimates, many grape varieties are planted, including the area’s three traditional white varieties — Muller-Thurgau, Silvaner and Riesling — as well as new crossings.
Muller-Thurgau is a pleasant, flowery, delicately fruity wine with a subtle nutmeg aroma that continues to be well represented on local wine lists. Silvaner produces wines of the finest quality (Pradikatsweine), a mildly acidic white with aromas of fruit and meadow herbs — making it the perfect accompaniment to fish dishes and asparagus. Riesling was established in Rheinhessen in the 15th century. The steep, heat-retaining hillsides of the river valleys provide ideal growing conditions for the variety.
Many of Germany’s aromatic, early-ripening new crossings were bred in Rheinhessen by Professor Georg Scheu, after whom the Scheurebe grape is named. The region also is the birthplace of Liebfraumilch, the soft, mellow white wine originally made from grapes grown in vineyards surrounding the Liebfrauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, in Worms.
Dornfelder is the most frequently planted red variety, and the area around Ingelheim is known for its noble, full-bodied Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) wine.
Rheinfront and Rheinterrasse are names given to the vineyards on gentle slopes directly facing the Rhein (Rhine) near the town of Nierstein. There, some of the finest wines in Germany are produced, especially from the Riesling grape.
There already were admirers of Rheinhessen’s mild, agreeable, fragrant wines during the Carolingian period. Charlemagne, who had a fortress at Ingelheim, was one of the earliest promoters of these elixirs.