Wine road to joy
However you choose to navigate Germany’s many picturesque wine valleys—whether by car, bike, or boat or on foot—you will be sure of a warm welcome and some superb facilities in a country where the very idea of the leisurely wine tour was invented.
For Germans, the wine tour is an established leisure pursuit. Many a family will spend a weekend heading out to the nearest wine region to browse, taste, and buy, stocking up with a few months’ worth of supplies of their favorite producers’ products. Indeed, it’s in Germany that the very notion of touring vineyards, cellars, and wine villages, and the formal establishment of the regional wine route—or Weinlehrpfad (instructional wine path)—began in the 1920s, with the first official Weinstraben (wine road) opening in the Pfalz in 1935.
Today, that tradition is still very much alive, and each of the major regions has a well-established wine road, enabling visitors from all over the world to drive, cycle, or walk through the vines. The local tourist board will have maps and lists of the best wineries to visit on each, as well as details of the many wine festivals that take place in villages along the routes throughout the year. If you want to make a plan before you go, the German wine promotional body, Wines of Germany, has a neatly designed, informative website with details for each region at www.germanwines.de/tourism.
A tour might begin in the city where German wine itself is said to have started: the ancient city of Trier in the Mosel, the slate slopes around which the early Roman settlers found to be well suited to the vine. The city itself, the oldest in Germany and a UNESCO World Heritage site, with its Roman basilica, baths and amphitheater and half-timbered townhouses, has manifold attractions of its own, not least the superb Weinhaus Becker, a stylish member of the “Design Hotel” group built in a family winery with a two-star Michelin restaurant.
Trier is also a departure point for many of the river cruises that run up and down the Mosel River. This is a fine way to take in the spectacular vineyard terraces, a patchwork of special sites that rivals Burgundy for wine-historical significance, complexity, and fragmented ownership, but which is like nowhere else in the sheer steepness of its vineyards—the Calmont vineyard between Bremm and Ediger-Eller is Europe’s steepest with a gradient of up to 60 percent. Among the companies offering cruises up the Mosel (and along the equally historic and spectacular Rhine Valley through the Rheingau; some two-week cruises take in both) are Avalon Waterways (www.avalonwaterways.com) and River Voyages (www.rivervoyages.com).
Any tour along the Mosel will likely involve a stop in the village of Bernkastel-Kues, and the Wine Cultural Center in the 16th-century St-Nikolaus Hospital. Featuring a museum devoted to the local wine culture, a vinotheque and tasting room with more than 160 wines to taste, and a bistro, this is a good place to come for an overview of the Mosel’s history and current state of play. A stomp up to the ruins of the 9th-century Landshut castle above town will provide another perspective in the shape of panoramic views of the valley.
In the Rheingau, the equivalent wine village is probably Rüdesheim, and for all the slightly kitsch feel of some of the tourist-targeting inns and gift shops, it remains a must-visit in German wine country, with, like Bernkastel, a fine museum filled with winemaking equipment and paraphernalia from 2,000 years of wine production in the region. Another of the village’s attractions is a chairlift cable car, which takes you up from Rüdesheim over the vineyards into the Niederwald national park and monument.
To really feel the history of the region, however, it’s worth making a visit to two of the Rheingau’s great sites. The first, just four miles (7km) west of Rüdesheim, is Schloss Johannisberg. As well as being one of Germany’s most historic wine producers (it claims to be the site of the discovery of noble rot), the estate, in a reconstructed chateau on the grounds of a 12th-century Benedictine monastery, houses a fascinating collection of archive material, a wine shop and tasting room, and an excellent restaurant. The other, in the village of Eltville im Rheingau, is the magnificent 1,000-year-old Romanesque monastery, church and winery, Kloster Eberbach. Tours of the fabulously atmospheric cloisters and church start at €9, while wine tasting tours begin at €15.50. The complex also has a homely restaurant and bright, simple, but comfortable hotel (www.kloster-eberbach.de).
Another important landmark in the history of German wine can be found in the eastern city of Wurzburg, and the grand baroque palace of the Juilusspital. A charitable foundation that runs a hospital and home for the elderly, a nursery school, farms, and woodland, the Juliusspital (www.juliusspital.de) also runs the second-largest wine estate in Germany. A visit to its headquarters beneath the palace in central Wurzburg can include a tasting of the foundation’s still-excellent Franken wines, a stop in the restaurant, and a stroll around the magnificent grounds.
There is a deep sense of history, too, along the Pfalz’s wine route, perhaps most notably in the beautiful village of Deidesheim, where a cluster of the region’s most celebrated cellars are based (Reichsrat Von Buhl, Von Winning, Bassermann Jordan), and where there is an unusually high concentration of smart hotels and restaurants (such as Ketschauer Hof, Hotel Deidesheimer Hof, and the Kaisergarten Hotel & Spa).
But if history is always at hand wherever you go in Germany, there is modernity, too. You can see it in the stylish, funky new-wave approach of cellars such as Tesch in the Nahe or Emil Bauer & Sohne in the Pfalz. And you can see it in the recent rise to prominence of the southern Baden region, which has become a gastronomic destination in the past two decades thanks to the rising quality of its Spätburgunder, and whites from Grauburgunder and Weissburgunder. Among the many fine hotels and restaurants in this, one of the wealthiest parts of Europe, Franz Keller Schwarzer Adler in the village of Vogsburg im Kaiserstuhl is a top pick, combining as it does a fine boutique hotel, a Michelin-starred restaurant, a wine cellar, and a wine bar (www.franz-keller.de). And to make the most of a visit here it’s best to follow one of the region’s Weinlehrpfad, working your way on foot or bike through the region’s most highly prized and warmest vineyards in Kaisterstuhl (Kaiserstuhlpfad), and stopping off for fuel and wine in the many cellars that line the way.
A VDP Rheingau wine producer with a long history, Balthasar Ress is based in Hattenheim but also runs an excellent tasting room-cum-wine bar, featuring wines from both its own supply and friends, in the center of Wiesbaden.
Mauergasse 10, 65183 Wiesbaden | +49 6115 058469 | www.balthasar-ress.de/weinbar
This wonderfully cozy, sensitively updated old inn in the Rheingau village of Hattenheim also houses a restaurant specializing in local dishes and a wine list to die for.
Hauptstrasse 34, 65347 Hattenheim | +49 6723 99680 | www.zum-krug-rheingau.de
Deidesheim is one of the prettiest wine villages in Germany, and surrounded by thick forest that makes for excellent hikes. There are also plentiful Michelin star restaurants nearby and a wine fair (Deidesheimer Weinkerwe) in August. This hotel is in a prime location only walking distance from the town.
Kathrinenstraße 1, 67146 Deidesheim | +49 6326 96700 | www.gd-hotel.de
Claus-Peter Lumpp’s three Michelin-starred Restaurant Bareiss is but one of the attractions in this luxurious retreat in the Black Forest, perfectly situated for tours of Baden wine country.
72270 Baiserbronn-Mitteltal | +49 7442 470 | www.bareiss.com
Wine is at the heart of everything in this Mosel hotel among the vines, with a 300-year-old cellar playing host to many top winemakers for wine tasting sessions and an excellent wine list at the two restaurants.
Hauptstrasse 81-83, 54486 Mülheim | +49 6534 9480 | www.weinromantikhotel.com
Fabulous art nouveau hotel built in 1904 on the banks of the Mosel in the village of Traben-Trarbach, with a range of apartments and suites, a spa, and a traditional restaurant.
An der Mosel 11, D-56841 Traben-Trarbach | +49 6541 7030 | www.bellevue-hotel.de
In the UNESCO World Heritage City in Trier, Becker’s combines slick modern accommodation, a wine bar, and a fine restaurant alongside the titular family’s winery.
Olewiger Strasse 206, D-54295 Trier | +49 6519 3808-0 | www.beckers-trier.de
Superbly situated high up above the Mosel river with superb modern facilities built around a medieval castle and tower and three restaurants including Claudio Urru’s highly rated Gourment Restaruant Schwarzenstein.
Rosengrasse 32, 65366 Geisenheim-Johannisberg | +49 6722 9950-0 | www.burg-schwarzenstein.de
Set in the Ahr Valley, one of Germany’s centers of Pinot Noir production, this charming hotel is right in the medieval center of one of the country’s favorite spa towns, an ideal base for taking the rotweinwanderweg (red wine walking path) linking the tiny wine villages of the area.
Walporzheimer Str 118, 53474 Bad Neuenahr-Ahrweiler | +49 2641 905030 | www.hotel-sanctpeter.de
Hans Haas’s two Michelin-starred Munich restaurant is consistently ranked one of the best restaurant wine lists in Europe by The World of Fine Wine World’s Best Wine Lists awards.
Johann-Fichte-Strasse 7, 80805 München | +49 8936 1959-0 | www.tantris.de
For more restaurants with award-winning wine lists click here.
A longstanding leader of the Baden wine scene, now run by the grandson of the founder and his wife, Dr Heger welcomes visitors all year round to a tasting room in Kaisersthul.
Bachenstrasse 19/21, 79241 Ihringen | +49 7668 99511-0 | www.heger-weine.de
One of the stars of the Rheinhessen, Philipp Wittmann is based in the old market town of Westhofen in the south of Germany’s largest wine region, where visitors can tour his fine old cellars and elegant garden.
Mainzer Strasse 19, 67593 Westhofen bei Worms | +49 6244 905036 | www.weingutwittmann.com
Historic Nahe winery that has been run by the same family on the same site for 32 generations, or 800 years, in a beautiful castle in Wallhausen that opens for tastings six days a week.
Schloss Wallhausen, Schlosstrasse 3, 55595 Wallhausen | +49 6706 944411 | www.prinzsalm.de
One of the oldest wineries in the Mosel, started by Cistercian monks in the 12th-century, and housed today in a building that dates back to 1509, with an elegant guesthouse and tasting room.
Mönchhof, 54539 Urzig | +49 6532 93164 | www.moenchhof.de
A visit to Weingut Willi Schäfer is a chance to get up close and personal with the soul of German winemaking: this small family-run vineyard dates back to 1121, and makes some of the country’s finest Riesling.
Hauptstraße 130, 54470 Graach an der Mosel | +49 6531 8041 | www.weingut-willi-schaefer.de
Set in a stunning Romanesque monastery founded in 1136, this vineyard has centuries of experience to draw from. They offer wine tours and there are beautiful grounds to wander round in the estate.
65343 Eltville am Rhein | +49 6723 6046-0 | www.kloster-eberbach.de
WEIL Owned for more than 30 years by a multinational (Suntory), but still retaining a personal touch, the “jewel of the Rheingau” welcomes visitors to a neo-Gothic country house surrounded by vineyards.
Mühlberg 5, 65399 Kiedrich | +49 6123 2308 | www.weingut-robert-weil.com
A pioneer of Pinot Noir in the northern region of the Ahr Valley, Mayer-Näkel has 15ha run by Werner Näkel, his wife Claudia, and their daughters, who invite visitors to taste their range of wines.
Friedenstrasse 15, 53507 Dernau | +49 2643 1628 | www.meyer-naekel.de
Owned by the same family since the 1740s, this classical Pfalz estate features an elegant tasting room set in an 18th-century manor house that was renovated in neo-classical style in the 1890s.
Manderling 25, 67433 Neustadt an der Weinstrasse | +49 6321 2815 | www.mueller-catoir.de
Now run by the fifth generation of the family who originally founded it in 1872, this Franken winery offers exceptionally elegant wines and highly personalized wine tastings and tours from Johannes and his wife.
In der Röthe 2, 97837 Erlenbach bei Marktheidenfeld | +49 9391 98270