Just home from a weekend vacation along the lovely Rhine valley with a friend, I thought I'd begin with sharing a meeting with a wonderful wine making couple who operates in a medieval tower in Sankt Goarshausen, a town above all famous for the Lorelei rock.
The historical city tower of St. Goarshausen was built in the late 14th century when the city was under the rule of the Count of Katzenelnbogen, who was also ruler of The County of Katzenelnbogen, vassal state of the Holy Roman Empire. The tower functioned as both fortification, residential building and custom office; as was customary along the Rhine river, tariffs were imposed on the sailors. The Schamari family, who's been making wine since the 1590's, restored the tower some 40 years ago and opened it to the public.
Sankt Goarshausen belongs to the Mittelrhein region, and wine has been produced here since at least the 5th century. But it was mainly the monasteries that spread the wine culture during the Middle Ages. The Rhine of course also had a huge impact on the spread of wine. The main trading venue was in Bacharach, from which wines were shipped to both England and Scandinavia. In the south the soil is dominated by slate and in the north the soil is more of volcanic origin. Over 90% of all wines made here are white, of which the majority are Riesling.
On our last day in Sankt Goarshausen (and Sankt Goar across the river), we took a quick stroll through the Altstadt (Old Town), with its narrow cobblestone street and twisting grape vines along the walls. The street provided us with shade and coolness on an otherwise relentlessly sweltering and sultry day. At the very end of the street we came to a wooden structure overarching the street that we at closer inspection saw was connected to the quadrangular tower we had observed at a distance earlier. As my throat was dry, I didn't hesitate for a second once I saw they served wine inside. That typical musty wine cellar scent was also quite inviting. The Schamari's greeted us warmly and poured us a glass of their Eiswein upon my request.
The name of the wine style refers to the production method. When making Eiswein (literally ice wine) the grapes are left on the vines long after the normal harvesting period. The method is very similar to the French passerillage method and is a combination of dehydration and the emergence of components that occur naturally when the vine goes into winter hibernation. As the grapes freeze inside, the sugars are concentrated. The result is a very sweet wine with a high alcohol content highly suitable for aging. It takes special conditions and a great deal of luck to make it happen. Very often the grapes rot and fall off (or get eaten by starving birds) long before it gets cold enough. The typical Eiswein has around 12 percent alcohol and 20 percent residual sweetness, which means 200 grams of sugar per liter!
The Eiswein of Weinbau-Ing. Otto Schamari was a delightful wine with a hazy and plentiful sweetness accompanied by dried apricots, honey, raisins and fruit candy. A great alternative to Sauternes and Tokaji!
Next they poured us a glass of a dry white wine, which I believe was a Riesling. I blame the uncertainty on the foregoing heavy Eiswein. This wine was also truly lovely with refreshing notes of tart green apples and a citrus-lime-grapefruit freshness followed by a slightly bitter and nutty twist at the end.
The next time I visit I will spend some more quality time here, when I'm not in a hurry to catch a train. If you're visiting the Rhine region, please don't miss this little pearl.
Weinbau-Ing. Otto Schamari