Why the Rhineland is a must-visit for wine lovers

Whether used to buying wine online or tasting different vintages at events, wine lovers will love exploring the Rhine.

The Rhineland-Palatinate region of Germany produces more than two-thirds of the country’s wines. It covers six of the 13 wine regions in Germany and covers a massive 159,000 acres of vineyards. All of which make it the ideal choice for wine aficionados.

Beautiful Middle Rhine

For the most visually stunning option, choose the Middle Rhine. This runs through a valley liberally lined with castles among Unesco listed countryside. Most of the wines from here are white, with varieties including Rieslings made from the Silvaners grape. This is known as the ‘queen of grapes’ thanks to its delicacy. Among popular reds from the region are the deep red Portugiesers and the drier Dornfelders.

Most cruises down the Rhine sail between Amsterdam and Basel, with loads of stops on the way. A popular highlight is the town of Rüdesheim, which makes its own wine. It’s home to one of the best-known streets in Germany, the Drosselgasse, which is crammed with taverns serving up local specialities.

When you’ve tasted enough of the wines, you can take in a panoramic view of the region’s vineyards via a cable car trip up the Niederwald Monument.

Wagner vineyard

The largest vineyard in the Middle Rhine is the family-run Wagner. You can try wines from the vineyard at the Weinhaus Wagner, which is in Koblenz. This beautiful city sits at the confluence of the Moselle and Rhine rivers.

Further down the Moselle river, you will find Bernkastel-Kues. This has an interactive Wine Museum, which offers virtual flights over the vineyards to interested visitors. You can also taste wine in its old cellars. The Cologne Wine Museum is also worth a visit. It’s difficult to miss, as it has its own vineyard on the roof. It’s packed with more than 40 different varieties of grape and inside, the museum follows the history of wine from the Romans all the way up until the present day.

Wine festivals and events

There are loads of wine festivals along the Rhine, particularly between spring and autumn. The peak season for wine-orientated events is August and September. A highlight is the Bernkastle-Kues festival during the final weekend of August. It’s famous for crowning a wine queen and hosting a spectacular vintners’ parade.

The main festival is called Rhine in Flames, which marks the beginning of the harvest season. Held over five weekends between May and September, it boasts massive firework displays lighting up the river at different locations. Various historic buildings and castles are lit up at night, making for stunning views along the river.

Most organised cruises include regional wines served with dinner, and you can always buy your own and bring back on board along the way. Many cruise providers cater for wine lovers with cruises including talks by experts, guided tastings and loads of visits to cellars and vineyards.

Wine ideas for Christmas gifts

All kinds of alcohol are associated with Christmas. From a glass of fizz to start the day, through to delicious wines with dinner and a tot of whisky for a nightcap. There are parties to enjoy, special dinners to eat and people to catch up with. And, of course, there are gifts to buy.

We may be a couple of months away from Christmas, but it’s never too early to think about gifts for loved ones. Or to put on your own Christmas list! Here are a few ideas that could make someone happy in time for the festivities this year.

A classic with a twist

Moët have a limited edition out this year with their French Art-de-Vivre. You can’t beat a bit of this classic fizz to toast Christmas and the New Year, and this bottle of Moët Impérial Blanc comes with a beautifully designed label. The golden outline of the Eiffel Tower adds a bit of special sparkle and means it’s lovely to look at as well as to drink. A bottle of Moet is opened every single second around the world, so you won’t be on your own if you choose this version as a gift this Christmas!

A South African red

Choose a red wine from the Bouchard Finlayson vineyard in the popular wine region of Walker Bay in the Western Cape of South Africa, for something very special. The principal winemaker is called Peter Finlayson and is known as “the Pioneer of Pinot Noir”, which means his Galpin Peak Pinot Noir 2003 must be good. It’s a deep, rich aromatic red packed with fruit, and it’s perfect served up with the Christmas turkey.

An ideal decanter

Not a wine, but guaranteed to improve it, the Riedel Decanter is the newest version of the mamba decanter. Ideally designed for young, fresh wines, it’s made of crystal glass and is mouthblown in Austria. Each one is differently shaped, and they’re all gorgeous.

A sparkling pudding wine

There’s always plenty of fizz flowing at Christmas. For a special treat, try Ca’del Bosco, Cuvée Prestige. Ideal for wine-lovers looking to try something a bit different, this sparkler has spicy notes of oregano and spearmint mingling with heavier tones of almonds and honeydew melon. The uniquely aromatic flavour profile makes it ideal for dessert.

How to match wine with the weather

While the summer of 2018 has been long, hot and dry, winter is coming. And colder evenings mean staying in with a good film, takeaway and a delicious glass of wine. The most popular wines to savour when it’s chilly outside are full-bodied, rich wines. You want to choose a wine that will warm you up and enhance long winter evenings in front of fireplace. Here are a few of our favourites.

Cabernet Sauvignon

If you’re looking for the ideal red wine for cold weather, a Cabernet Sauvignon is always a reliable choice. People who enjoy bold flavours and a heavier wine will love a Cab Sauv, with rich, fruity, plummy vibe. Some also have a herbal flavour, and others a hint of coffee, toast, dill or caramel. All of these flavours are wintery and comforting. A great food paring for a good Cab Sauv is a juicy, perfectly cooked steak.

Syrah

This red has a deep flavour with hints of coffee, blueberry and cured meats. Its richness goes well with foods like seasoned Shitake mushrooms and lamb. If you’re throwing a winter dinner party, pair lamb with Syrah and surprise your guests with a meal they won’t forget.

Zinfandel

While winter doesn’t normally go with fruity, fresh flavours, you should make an exception for Zinfandel. With its ripe crispness and versatility in pairings and aroma, it’s a great choice. Whether you choose a fruity and fresh lower alcohol version, or a sweet, jammy ripely flavoured version, there’s a Zinfadel for everyone.

It goes beautifully with savoury winter food, including lasagne and pasta dishes. The sweet flavour picks out the flavours of cheese or a chocolatey dessert too.

Petite Sirah

One of the richest wines you can choose and packed with flavour. Petite Sirah is full of dark, plump fruit flavours like cassis, prunes and plum, it mixes really well with chocolate and coffee. It’s a holiday style wine, with hints of Christmas and cold winter evenings.

Chardonnay

We haven’t left out the white wines, which can be just as lovely in the winter. Chardonnay is the perfect wine to go with lots of comforting winter food such as butter mashed potato and stew. Its fruity and dry flavour is the perfect opposite to the richness of the food.

Pinot Gris

Another good winter white, Pinot Gris is ideal for meal in the colder months. The Italian version tends to be more summery, with its crisp and light flavours. The Alsace version has much stronger flavours, which powerfully remind you of both autumn and winter. Lovely with stews all the way through the colder months.

How to spot a corked wine

If you’ve ever tasted a glass of wine that seemed a little ‘off’, but you weren’t sure why, then it could have been corked. Everyone has heard of corked wine, but many people don’t know exactly what it means, or know how to recognise it.

Around 5% of all wine around the world is thought to be corked, which can mean an unpleasant drinking experience for you, and perhaps a ruined meal or two. The first thing to do is sniff the bottle before you taste. If it smells normal, then give it a taste. You’re looking for fresh, strong flavours that are untainted by oxygen or yeast. If it is corked, then you should take it back or inform the waiter and expect it to be replaced. Here’s how to spot whether your wine is corked.

  1. Sniff it

If your wine is corked, you’ll notice an odour straight away. It will smell musty, or reminiscent of wet dog, wet newspaper or damp towels. Your first inhalation is the most reliable indicator, as later sniffs can get used to the smell. Trust your first sniff! Wine becomes corked when exposed to a compound called ‘2,4,6-Trichloroanisole’, more commonly called TCA. This is found in the cork itself.

  1. Taste it

If your wine has only been slightly exposed to a small amount of TCA, the sniff test may not be enough to tell you for sure whether it’s corked. Give it a taste and see whether it seems dull and less fruity than it should be. Some people pick up an astringency from corked wine. A wine that has only been slightly corked can lack taste and smell.

  1. Test it before serving

If you’re eating out, then make sure you’re allowed to taste the wine before it’s served to everyone else. This gives you the chance to send it back if it is corked and order a replacement.

  1. Don’t confuse other problems with being corked

Just because your wine seems a little off, it doesn’t necessarily follow that it’s corked. Other factors could have affected the taste. For example, if the wine is exposed to oxygen it can taste lifeless and a bit vinegary. Maderised wine means it has been overheated and has a flavour tinged with almonds. It’s also possible that the wine was re-fermented, which causes a fizzy sensation and flavour.

What climate change really means for the wine industry

While the shifts in weather patterns has meant warmer weather in England, much to the delight of vineyard owners, winemakers from California to Bordeaux are struggling with climate change.

This summer’s heatwave has resulted in much media coverage of the UK wine industry’s rise, due to bigger crops and better vintages. However, the impact of climate change on the industry as whole is much wider and more complex than some excellent bumper vintages in the south of England.

Future unsure

Realistically, the ramifications of climate change won’t necessarily make the UK better than anywhere else to grow vineyards. The problem comes with the erratic weather patterns and unpredictability of temperatures and conditions.

Hurricanes, floods, unseasonal drought and early frosts all damage vineyards and make life much more difficult for the winemaker. All winemakers are extremely attuned to the smallest changes in the weather and the likely affect on their crops. The changes in weather patterns over recent years can be traced through the wines themselves, and it’s something that has been worrying winemakers for many years now. With every heatwave and record-breaking hot summer, the viability of maintaining vast hectares of the wine making world is increasingly called into question.

More alcoholic

Grapes are accumulating higher levels of sugar (which then becomes alcohol on fermentation) much faster than they used to. This leads to problems with quality and style of wine. Winemakers need to decide whether they harvest much earlier, which will mean they retain acceptable levels of alcohol at the cost of complexity and depth or do they produce wines with extremely high levels of alcohol that might be undrinkable.

When the weather is hot, the vintage is earlier and whether grape varieties, the location of vineyards, the irrigation needed and everything else involved will allow wines to be produced in the future to the same quality and quantity as we enjoy now is something that many experts are worrying about.

Below are five wines that are the produce of winemakers with an eye on climate change.

  • Torres Vina Sol, Penedes, Spain 2017: The Torres wine making operation was fast to not only identify the problems caused by climate change but to act on it as well. They invested millions into research into water efficiency, carbon capture and relocation of the vineyards to future proof its wines, including this all year-round dry white.
  • Langhan Estate Rose Brut, Dorset, England NV: It’s true that climate changes have boosted England’s ability to produce high quality sparkling wine. It’s allowed winemakers like Langhan to ripen chardonnay pinot noir and pinot meunier consistently to make balanced wines like this one.
  • De Martino Old Vine Cinsault, Itata, Chile 2016: This is an example of a wine from southern Chile produced by dry farming. As irrigation of vines is considered essential, and resources are depleting, dry farming is a viable alternative.
  • Hancock & Hancock Cabernet/Touriga, McLaren Vale, Australia 2015: In the south of Australia, rising temperatures are causing producers to switch to grapes from southern Europe. In this case this has led to a blend of French cabernet and Portuguese touriga to make a dark, fruity red.
  • Willi Shaefer Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany 2016: Climate change has had some positive changes for some regions. As well as England, north Germany has warmed up and now has fewer cold and wet vintages. At the moment, this means they can produce a delicate Riesling like this one, but it’s unclear as to what the effect will be in decades to come.