If you are looking for fine German wine and food, consider the Rheinhessen region of southwestern Germany. You may find a bargain, and I hope that you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local red Dornfelder. Rheinhessen is a relatively small area, sometimes called the land of the thousand hills, nestled between the Rhine and the Nahe Rivers. It already was known for its wines in the days of Charlemagne. To some extent it is famous or infamous for Liebfraumilch, to be reviewed in another article in this series.
It is the German region with both the largest area planted in wine grapes and the highest wine production. Rheinhessen alone claims over a quarter of the German wine acreage and wine production. It is also produces the highest percentage of generally low quality table wine, coming in at almost 12%.
More than 60% of Rheinhessen wine is middle quality QbA wine, and a bit more than 25% is higher quality QmP wine. About seven of eight bottles contain white wine, but the percentage of red wine is increasing. The most widely grown varieties are the German hybrid Mueller-Thurgau and Silvaner. The usually higher quality Riesling represents about 10% of the total production. Dornfelder is the most widely planted red grape variety.
The marketing materials, quoted below, present one viewpoint of this German-bred grape. Mainz has a population of about eighty thousand. It is one of the centers of the German wine trade. It is the state capital of Rheinland-Pfalz which is the only German state government with a wine minister. The city is built on the site of a two thousand year-old Roman citadel.
In this part of the world two thousand years is a short time; a local museum contains three hundred thousand year-old artifacts. In season the Marktplatz (Market) and Höfchen (Little Courtyard) buzz with farmers selling their wares on Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday. Check the exact dates for the annual Sektfest (Sparkling Wine Festival) held in late May or early June and then Johannisnacht, another wine festival several weeks later. Other sites to see include the Dom (Cathedral of St. Martin and St. Stephan) which broke ground shortly prior to the turn of the first millennium.
Because of seven fires most of the Cathedral is newer, dating from the Eleventh to the Thirteenth Centuries. The cloisters contain a museum of religious artifacts. Right near by is the Gutenberg Museum. Other local museums are devoted to the Middle Ages, Roman warships, art, plants, animals, and fossils. If all this touring makes you thirsty for more than knowledge visit the Kupferberg Sektkellerei (sparkling wine cellars), the deepest on earth. There are several concert halls, theaters, night clubs, and wine bars.
Not far from the city are the Mainz Sand Dunes, a tiny area home to plants and animals rarely seen in Western Europe. Before reviewing the Rheinhessen wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. Start with Zweibelkuchen (Onion Pie). For your second course enjoy Haxen und Bratkartoffeln (Pork Hocks and Home Fries). As a dessert indulge yourself with Frankfurter Kranz (Buttercream Cake).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price. Wine Reviewed Rappenhof Dornfelder Trocken 2004 13.0% alcohol about $15.50 Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. Dornfelder is a cross, bred in 1956 by August Herold. In its genealogy, the grape claims every important red vine grown in Germany.
Fortunately, it has inherited most of the positive attributes and very few of the negative. The wines are deeply coloured, velvety in texture with hints of floral. Slightly off-dry, this example gives good aroma replays on the palate.
Serve with Wiener schnitzel. Now for the review. (By the way, I found its color more of a dark rose.) My first pairing was with a barbecued, marinated rib steak with potato patties, potato wedges, and a commercially prepared eggplant and tomato side dish. The wine was very short with moderate fruit when imbibed with the meat and potatoes.
It almost seemed to disappear in the presence of the fairly powerful eggplant dish. The next tasting involved a cheeseless broccoli, mushroom, and zucchini quiche with mashed potatoes. The Dornfelder tasted sour and I sensed some sort of strange fruit in the background. I finished the glass with beer nuts. The wine was fairly flat but its sourness disappeared.
The final meal consisted of meatballs in a tomato sauce with rice and green beans. The wine became a bit rounder than before but was still ever so short and seemed like an alcoholic fruit juice. The initial cheese pairing was with a French goat cheese that really resembled a Camembert. While the wine was a bit flat it did taste lightly of black cherries. Then I went to a Swiss Gruyere.
The Dornfelder became somewhat more robust but the fruit was less distinctive. I finished the bottle with a local, fairly sharp Asiago cheese that I prefer to its presumably more authentic Italian cousin. Finally a decent pairing; the wine was pleasant. Final verdict. I had no intention of reviewing two Dornfelders one right after the other. But we don't get many of them in our neck of the woods so I figured why not give it a try.
There certainly won't be a third round in the near future. I fail to see why such a grape should cost more than many better grapes from German and other countries. Of course, if I had liked the wine.
Levi Reiss is the author or co-author of ten Internet and computer books. In his spare time he enjoys drinking fine Italian or other wine, especially when paired with the right foods and good company. He teaches various and sundry computer classes at a French-language community college in Ontario, Canada. His global wine website is www.theworldwidewine.com and his Italian food website is www.fooditalyfood.com .