Open main menu

GERMANY, Wines of. The wine-producing area of Germany is limited chiefly to those parts watered by the Rhine and its tributaries, the Moselle, the Nahe, the Neckar, the Main, and several smaller streams, so that the terms Rhine wine and German wine may be considered almost synonymous. Bonn, in Rhenish Prussia, and Freiburg, in Baden, mark approximately the northern and southern limits of the grape culture. Both red and white wines are produced, but those known to commerce are, with a few exceptions, white. The red varieties are mostly of inferior quality and are consumed within the country. All are distinguished by their comparative freedom from alcohol, which barely exceeds 12 per cent., and at the same time by their durability, the finer growths frequently retaining their excellence for half a century or more. Liebig attributes their distinctive character and bouquet to the free acid which they contain, and their valuable hygienic properties to the tartar present in them. To this cause he ascribes the immunity enjoyed by persons dwelling on the Rhine and the Moselle, and indeed by all who use German wines, from calcareous complaints. The most favored and celebrated viticultural district in Rhineland is that known as the Rheingau, a strip of territory about 15 m. in length, and not exceeding 3 m. in width, lying between the Taunus range of mountains, in Nassau, and the right bank of the Rhine. It extends from Walluf, just below Mentz, to Lorch, 6 m. below Bingen. The river, after following a northerly course for many miles, turns abruptly at Mentz to the west, in which direction it flows as far as Bingen, when it again turns northward. Having thus a southerly exposure, and being protected from the north winds by the mountains behind it, and from the southwest winds by a range on the west bank of the Nahe, with the further advantage of having the rays of the sun reflected from the river directly upon its slopes, the Rheingau affords a site for vineyards unequalled perhaps in Europe, and has a climate peculiarly favorable to the production of the fragrant and delicate wines for which the district is famous. In connection with the Rheingau may be considered the neighboring district of Hochheim, on the north bank of the Main, about 4 m. from Mentz, and from the first syllable of which is derived the name, hock, by which all Rhenish wines were once designated in Great Britain and the United States. The vineyards of Hochheim have a southerly exposure, and are essentially an easterly continuation of those of the Rheingau. The vine appears to have been cultivated throughout this whole region as early as the 6th or 7th century, but to the monastic foundations established there during the middle ages belongs the credit of discovering and perpetuating the system of viticulture which has brought its wines to their present high degree of perfection. During the religious and civil conflicts which disturbed Germany from the 16th century to the end of the Napoleonic wars, the most famous vineyards gradually passed from the hands of the monks to those of the dukes of Nassau, the princes of Metternich, or less distinguished proprietors. In the latter half of the last century many new vineyards were planted by persons of means from Mentz, Frankfort, and other neighboring cities; and by the conjunction of capital with intelligent labor the Rheingau has become the most highly cultivated wine-growing region, perhaps, in the world. Within a comparatively recent period the discovery has been made that the Riessling grape, which yields the bouquetted wines, develops its finest qualities only when in a state of over-ripeness, without concurrent acetification. This has led to a complete reform in the treatment of the wines in the cellar. While formerly young wine required from ten to twenty years to ripen, it is now perfected in from three to five years, with a perceptible improvement in quality. In like manner the large casks previously used, to diminish to the utmost the loss by diffusion and evaporation, have been discarded, as they were found to be impediments to the quick maturation of wine by diminishing the surface accessible to oxygen. The vineyards of Hochheim lie about three quarters of a mile from the banks of the Main, above which they are elevated 100 ft., and embrace an area of between 700 and 800 acres. The finest wine is produced on the estate known as the Dechanei, or deanery, eight acres in extent, which has an admirable exposure. The Stein, a continuation of the Dechanei, yields wines which are sometimes said to surpass the best products of the Rheingau. These vineyards, formerly the property of the dukes of Nassau, now belong to the emperor of Germany.—Entering the Rheingau proper, we find a famous series of vineyards extending from the village of Elfeld to Asmannshausen. In the centre of the district, on a gentle eminence half a mile from the Rhine, lies the estate, about 46 acres in extent, of Schloss Johannisberg, a name long associated with the choicest products of the Rhenish vines. It yields a white wine, which in respect to fulness of taste and richness of bouquet has been called “the finest and most powerful drink on earth.” Johannisberg was originally a Benedictine abbey, founded in 1106, which, after various changes of ownership, became in 1815 the property of the emperor of Austria, who bestowed it upon Prince Metternich, with whose descendant it now remains. Notwithstanding the limited area of the estate, the soil varies considerably in different parts, which are marked off by stakes with numbers affixed; and the cultivation and the vintage are especially adapted to each part. A similar practice prevails in other celebrated vineyards of the Rheingau. Great care is exercised in the selection of grapes for the press, the first picking, or Auslese, of over-ripe fruit yielding the highest quality of the wine of each year. The quantity of wine annually produced has varied from 25 pieces of 240 gallons each to 60 pieces. The wines of inferior quality, produced in poor years, are sold by auction immediately after the spring racking, and only the select qualities are kept in the cellars of the estate. At the age of four or five years they are bottled, after which they greatly improve in bouquet. The largest yield was in 1857, when 60 pieces, or 14,400 gallons, realized at auction $60,000. The difficulty of obtaining genuine Schloss-Johannisberger is very great, and large quantities of spurious wine are sold under the name. The first quality has been known to command from $5 to $8 a bottle; but the auction wines are much less valuable, and sell for from $250 to $1,000 the piece, according to the qualities they possess for mixing.—Next in reputation to the Johannisberger wine, if not its equal, is that produced on the estate of Steinberg, which until 1866 was the property of the dukes of Nassau, but in that year passed into the possession of the crown of Prussia. The Steinberg is a hill 3 m. from the Rhine, the vine-growing portion of which occupies an area not exceeding 60 acres, enclosed by a massive wall of masonry. This, with the mountain barrier in the rear, effectually screens the vineyard from chilling or injurious winds. The estate, which once belonged to the wealthy cloister of Eberbach, includes also a farm of 450 acres, maintained for the sole purpose of producing the manure necessary for the vineyard. The latter has various undulations and hollows, by which it is divided into districts yielding different qualities of wine. The soil is heavier than that of the Schloss Johannisberg, and on this account in warm seasons the ripening of the grape is not as a rule effected before the latter has reached its full maturity. The opposite result is often witnessed in the Johannisberg vineyard. Thus, during the years 1857, 1858, and 1859, which were exceptionally warm, the Steinberg wines showed a marked superiority over those of the Johannisberg. The discovery that the over-ripe grapes yield the best wine was made on this estate about 50 years ago, and since then the vintage has always been very late. In ordinary years there are two or three selections of grapes, from the first of which is made the best wine, the rest hanging 10 or 15 days longer. The annual product of the estate varies from 14,000 to 20,000 gallons, valued at $350 to $3,500 the piece, the latter price being paid for the choicest cabinet wines only. The Auslese of certain exceptionally fine years has sometimes sold in the cask as high as $5 a bottle. The ordinary qualities, like those of the Johannisberg wine, are sold annually by auction.—Scarcely inferior to these wines are those produced on the Rüdesheim-Berg and Hinterhaus, which have a southerly exposure, and lie so near the Rhine that the reflection of the sun from the surface of the river greatly facilitates the ripening of the grape. The vineyards, comprising an area of about 300 acres, divided among a number of proprietors, are terraced from the base to the summit of the hills, and yield wines of considerable body and fine bouquet, the best qualities of which are high-priced. A short distance below Rüdesheim is Asmannshausen, which yields the only good red wine of the Rheingau. This is produced from the black Burgundy grape known as the pineau noir, whence the wine is often spoken of as a species of Rhenish burgundy. It has a soft and exceedingly delicate flavor, but like the higher class of burgundies suffers from transportation. The wines produced on the estates of Marcobrunn, Hattenheim (first growth), Gräfenberg (first growth), and Geisenheim-Rothenberg, also rank as of the highest quality, and in favorable seasons command enormous prices. Of the second growth of the Rheingau produce, the most esteemed varieties are the Johannisberg-Claus, Vollraths, and Rauenthal-Berg. Among the third growths may be mentioned Hattenheimer, Winkel, Hallgarten, Rüdesheimer, Geisenheimer, Erbach, Elfeld, and Lorch, which may be regarded as the ordinary wines of commerce. In good seasons, and when the best grapes only are selected, these latter growths sometimes reach a high degree of excellence, and command a correspondingly high price.—The banks of the Rhine from Asmannshausen to Coblentz are thickly planted with vineyards, but the situations being for the most part unfavorable, little or no wine of first-rate quality is produced on this part of the river. But in the valley of the little river Ahr, which enters the Rhine about 20 m. below Coblentz, is grown a pale red wine, called the Ahr-Bleichart, having certain strengthening and astringent qualities, and an agreeable burgundy flavor.—Rhenish Bavaria or the Palatinate produces an immense quantity of wine, the yield in favorable seasons reaching 16,000,000 gallons, which is noted for its medium good quality, its purity and freshness of taste, and its cheapness. While never approaching the wines of the Rheingau in bouquet, it not unfrequently surpasses them in richness. The vineyards occupy a fertile, undulating plain, somewhat elevated above the valley of the Rhine, and bounded on the west by the Haardt mountains, a northerly continuation of the Vosges range. About 25,000 acres are under cultivation. The wines of the first growth are Rupertsberger, Deidesheimer, Wachenheimer, and Forster; of the second, Ungsteiner, Dürkheimer, and Königsbach.—Rhenish Hesse produces wines partaking of the qualities of those of the Palatinate and of the Rheingau. Well known growths are the Liebfrauenmilch, produced in and around the convent garden of the Liebfrauen-Stift, near Worms, an agreeable middle-class wine of fine bouquet; the Scharlachberger and Feuerberger of Bingen and its neighborhood; and the wines of Laubenheim, Bodenheim, Oppenheim, Nierstein, and Selzen, several of which have considerable local reputation, and are often substituted for wines of the Rheingau. The district of Oberingelheim produces much red wine, resembling burgundies of the second and third class, from Burgundy grapes. The produce of the Nahe is nearly related to the middling growths of the Palatinate.—The Bavarian wines, grown in Lower Franconia, in the valley of the Main, are distinguished rather for their body and strength than for their bouquet, and are mostly consumed within the country. The only varieties exported are those produced in the neighborhood of Würzburg, where about 4,500 acres are under cultivation. The best vineyards are the Leiste and the Stein, the products of which are of fine quality and very expensive. Both are situated on the Main, and the former is principally owned by the king of Bavaria, who stores the wine made from the estate in the cellars which underlie the royal castle of Würzburg. In these cellars are more than 280 large casks, some having a capacity of 2,500 gallons. Though considered in the last century indispensable to the proper ripening of wine, they are now but little used. The Leiste wine of good, quality is mostly carried to Munich and drunk at court, and only a small quantity enters into trade. The Stein wine, which is also very celebrated, is sold in short-necked bottles of a peculiar shape, called Bocksbeutel. Much of the wine passing under this name in England and the United States is the product of the Palatinate, which at Mentz and elsewhere is put into bottles of the shape of the Bocksbeutel and sold as Stein.—In Baden a large quantity of third or fourth class wine is produced, the best growth being the white Markgräfler and the Affenthaler, a light, agreeable red wine. The great tun in the castle of Heidelberg was formerly filled with a wine grown in a district known as the Bergstrasse, which commences at Zwingenberg, in the province of Starkenburg, and follows a range of hills to Heidelberg.—More than half of the wine grown in Würtemberg is produced in the valley of the Neckar, and though not of high grade is agreeable to the taste and wholesome. From its changeable color it is termed Schiller.—The general character of the wines grown in the valley of the Moselle is that of thin Rhine wine. They are lighter and less spirituous than those heretofore described, and are noted for an aromatic flavor, which, however, is said to be generally communicated to the wine by mixing with it a tincture of elder flowers, called also the “essence of muscatel,” because it resembles the concentrated flavor of the muscatel grape. Messrs. Thudicum and Dupré, in their “Treatise on the Origin, Nature, and Varieties of Wine” (London, 1872), say: “It must be declared with emphasis that there is not a grape of muscatel grown upon the Moselle fit for wine making; that there is not a single barrel of wine made there which naturally has the muscatel flavor; and that all the wine having the flavor which imitates it is made up with tincture of elder flowers.” The better sorts are highly esteemed in Germany for their supposed medicinal properties. The wines held in highest repute are the Brauneberger and Scharzberger, the latter grown on the Saar, a tributary of the Moselle; and scarcely less noted are the Zeltinger, Graacher, Dun, Piesporter Auslese, Josephshoff, Berncastel, Grünhausen, and Scharzhoffberger. The area under cultivation comprises about 23,000 acres, yielding in favorable seasons 160 gallons to the acre.—About 50 years ago sparkling wines were first manufactured in Germany at Esslingen and Heilbronn, from the Neckar grape; and the process has since been so successfully carried on that these wines may be considered in some degree the rivals of champagne. Upward of 2,000,000 bottles of sparkling Moselle and sparkling hock are annually made at Hochheim, Mentz, Coblentz, and other places, much of which, by means of false labels, is sold as champagne, and readily passes for such. The process of manufacture is precisely similar to that employed in making champagne. (See France, Wines of.) The seasons of 1871, 1872, and 1873 were the most disastrous known to German viticulturists.