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.

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.

Scientists create ‘supergrapes’ to combat fungal attack on vineyards

Growing vines that are impervious to rot or any parasites is surely the dream for wine makers. And now, scientists in France have made that dream a reality by creating four supergrape varieties that they say need almost zero pesticides.

However, traditional vineyard owners say that the supergrapes could lead to lesser quality ‘Frankenstein’ wine in the future. This is because they mix grape genes from different regions and grow the creation in labs, therefore diluting the purity.

Visually identical

The white and red grapes currently growing at the National Institute of Agronomical Research in Colmar, France, look just the same as any other you’d see in the region. But they’re very different.

They’re grown the lab as part of an ongoing programme named “Resdur”, which aims to create grapes that are “durably resistant” to any kind of fungi, including the two that can destroy whole crops: powdery and downy mildew

Over the last few months, scientists at Inra have been given permission by the state to grow four different supergrapes. Named Araban, Floreal, Vidoc and Voltis, wines made from then will be bottled next year and in 2020.

Decades-long research

Growing grapes that are resistant to rot isn’t a new idea. First attempts to do so started in the 1970s when scientists singled out a resistant gene. Since then, Inra has identified three more by crossing European, Asian and American grapes.

The man in charge of Inra is called Didier Merdinoglu. He says that the grapes will allow winemakers to reduce pesticide use by up to a whopping 90%: “We are talking about dropping from an average of 15 treatments per year to one or two, above all to kill off other diseases and parasites.”

Environmental breakthrough

As 20% of all pesticide use in France is concentrated onto vineyards, even though wine grapes consist of just 3% of the country’s crops, researchers say that these new grapes could be an environmental breakthrough. It will also make growing grapes cheaper for the owner.

France is under increasing pressure to reduce pesticide use fast, after a number of cancer cases among vintners. However, some winemakers remain resistant to the idea of a supergrapes.

They say that grapes grown in the lab could decimate centuries of careful growing traditions that have melded European crops with the local soil, producing subtly different varieties of wine. They say that replacing cultivated grapes with cheaper, much more robust but artificially cultivated ones will mean wine lacks the quality and flavour of the existing regional varieties.

Not GM

These grapes aren’t genetically modified, but purists worry that crossing over different varieties from around the world will lead to “artificial and unnatural ‘Frankenstein wine’”. One said: “This is like crossing a monkey with a man: it may be technically possible, but it goes against nature.”

While that may well be hyperbole from a traditionalist, France must lower pesticide use somehow and it’s likely that this will be the fastest way to hit their targets.

Three-quarters of Brits know very little about wine

If you’ve ever felt baffled by the array of wines on offer, you’re not alone. While people in the UK famously love their wine, many have very little understanding of the nuances of the subject. In fact, a recent report says that 75% of British people are foxed by wine and 73% admitted being confused by wine lists in restaurants.

Not confident

Six in ten people (58%) reported feeling that they don’t know enough about wine to feel confident when ordering and more than a third (36%) have no idea what they’re doing when invited to taste a wine at the table.

Typically, people in the UK spend around £25 for a bottle perfect for a dinner party, but a tenth regularly stump up £100. Despite being willing to pay a bit more, most don’t know what to choose in store, with 29% simply opting for anything on offer and 23% always sticking to wines from the same region or country. Only 18% bother to try and match the wine to food they’re eating.

Food and wine

The survey took in the wine-based opinions of 2,000 people in Britain for a Californian winery. In response to the results, wine expert Joe Wadsack from the BBC’s Food & Drink show said: “It’s amazing how far a little useful information can take you. Knowing what food tastes good with what sort of wine, and more importantly why, is very useful information to have.”

Understanding basic food and wine pairings will ensure that you will get the most enjoyment out of your dinner but will also help to avoid matches that just don’t work. Some wine and food combos clash and can make food taste strange.

Correct glasses

Some tips for wine novices include using the right glass. For examples, red wines taste smoother and breathe more easily in big bowl glasses with tall stems, while whites work better in glasses with a narrower rim and smaller bowl as they stay cool longer.

Red wine should always be served at just below room temperature to help appreciate its flavours and savour the subtle aromas. If it’s served too warm, reds can taste ‘jammy’, and not as nuanced as they should.

Don’t be put off by wines with screw tops, which are commonly assumed to be of a lesser quality, and don’t be fooled by prices going up. This doesn’t necessarily mean a better wine, it could mean it was a poorer harvest leading to fewer bottles.

Follow these simple tips and learn some basic food and wine pairings, and you’ll be able to enjoy wine to the full.

Know Your Cork: Ideal Wine’s Guide to Understanding How Wine Corks Work

Put simply, wine corks are the most popular stopper method for a bottle of wine. There are even many wine enthusiasts out there who claim that this is the superior method, making the wine age and taste better. But do we understand how corks work and the different types? As this variety can affect the ageing process of wine, we’re examining what you should be looking out for. This week, we’re bringing you the Ideal Wine Company’s guide to everything you need to know about corks. Let’s get started…

Where do corks come from?

Cork bottle stoppers are made from the bark of cork oaks. It’s interesting to note that the tree is not cut down and only up to half of the bark is removed at any one time. This is a highly skilled, labour intensive process with special tools and complicated logistics. Imagine peeling the delicate bark from a massive tree, cutting it into uniform sheets and transporting it to the processing plant without breaking it. These are reasons why cork closures are more expensive, and why there is some pressure to move to alternative closures.

Ideal Wine - Cork 2

 

 

 

How sustainable are corks?

While corks are by no means a perfect product for sustainability, they are better options than plastic – which takes centuries to break down fully – and aluminium – which takes a lot of energy to make. All this means that cork has stood up very well to synthetic closures in terms of sustainability and environmental impact. While it may not be perfect, corks are the best option we have at the moment for our environment. So, treat yourself to that extra bottle of cork-stopped wine, you are helping the environment after all!

What are the different types of cork?

  • 100% natural cork stoppers: This is perhaps the most popular cork – and is probably the one that comes to mind when you think of corks. This is the only cork stopper you should trust for ageing wine much beyond 5 years or so, because its spongy flexibility keeps its seal viable the longest.
  • Colmated corks: Essentially, this is a natural cork stopper, but with its pores filled with glue and sawdust. Doing this does have some benefits, such as they look smoother and glide out of the bottle when you pull them. While they’re not as good for longer ageing processes, they still work fine for medium ageing.
  • Multi-piece cork: This is two or more large cork pieces glued together. These are denser than single piece corks, and are a way the cork manufacturers can use up their scraps. These are also the only way to make giant corks for giant bottles. While these are useful in some situations, it’s important to note that they aren’t to be trusted for prolonged ageing.
  • Agglomerated corks: Basically, these are a plug made of cork dust and glue. It’s cheaper, pretty dense, and not to be trusted to seal your wine beyond 1 year or so.

Just because your wine has a cork in it, doesn’t mean it will last forever. With so many different types of cork out there, familiarising yourself with what they do can go a long way in saving your precious wine from ruin. By knowing what you’re stopping your wine with, you’re sure to get the maximum enjoyment out of all your delicious wine.