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Germany's Rheingau 'the noblest'

Special to the China Post--The Rheingau, while small, is Germany's most prestigious wine-growing region. Hugh Johnson, in his majestic book The World Atlas of Wine, describes the Rheingau style of wine, at its best, as “the noblest in Germany.”

Riesling is the dominant grape, representing 80 per cent of all plantings. A tasting of rieslings from the great 2012 vintage in London highlighted the international launch of a new labeling system under the VDP banner. VDP stands for Verband Deutscher Pradikatsweinguter, or association of German wine estates. Its symbol or logo is a stylized eagle holding a bunch of six grapes.

To the novice wine drinker, German wine laws and labels can be daunting. Think of VDP as the most prestigious association of Germany's best winemakers. Its members “are obliged to maintain an unwavering commitment to quality,” according to the Wine and Spirit Education Trust in London.

Wines made under the VDP system use their own labeling terminology trademarked to the VDP, and do not form part of the national German wine law. Nonetheless, VDP stands for excellence.

The best vineyards under the VDP system are known as “erste lage,” which effectively means they are the best vineyards in Germany. The best dry white wines from these vineyards are labeled as “grosses gewachs,” usually abbreviated as “GG.” If you see “GG” on a label it means you are encountering the best rieslings in Germany — think of them as the equivalent of the grand cru wines of Burgundy.

Rheingau refers to a small section of the Rhine river that produces superbly age-worthy wines. The Rhine river mostly flows north south trough Germany. But for about 20 kilometers it runs east-west before resuming its northerly course.

This means the vineyards of the Rheingau, on the northern bank of the river, face the south and receive lots of sun. Combined with protection from the Taunus hills, this provides superb conditions for growing grapes. We must remember that Germany does not have as much sunshine as many new world wine regions like Australia or Chile.

Rieslings from Rheingau were once considered the best wine in the world. Two hundred years ago, these wines fetched the highest prices of any wines in the world — higher than Burgundy or Bordeaux or Champagne. But then the world lost interest in this grape variety. Rieslings are sometimes described as heavenly for wine lovers but heartache for wine marketers because the world seems to prefer other white varieties like sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio, based on the fickleness of fashion.

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