BY DAVID SCHILDKNECHT | NOVEMBER 12, 2020
For much of the past seven decades, Rheinhessen has had to live down a reputation for inexpensive bulk wine, much of which, prior to the 1990s, sold successfully as Liebfraumilch – both inside Germany and abroad – to a clientele that sought soft, slightly sweet but undistinguished wine. What suited Rheinhessen to this high-volume role during Germany’s post–World War II economic rise was above all the availability of fertile, mechanically harvestable flatlands that could be converted to viticulture, and access to grape crossings specifically designed to promote grape sugar even in growing seasons that would challenge or foil attempts to ripen Riesling. Those crossings, and the former-potato-fields-turned-vineyards, are still with us, but their acreage is shrinking. By the 1990s, it had become clear that if Rheinhessen was to have a flourishing viticultural future, it would have to be one associated with high-quality Riesling (and to a far lesser extent Pinot Noir). But nobody could then have imagined that such a future would emerge within a decade and result in Rheinhessen Rieslings selling for some of the highest prices of any German wines. Even more improbably, those Rieslings would emerge from parts of Rheinhessen that for at least the better part of two centuries had languished in relative obscurity.
The meteoric rise of 21st-century Rheinhessen Riesling is above all owing to the efforts of Klaus Peter Keller and Philipp Wittmann, building on the quality-conscious determination of (and in continued collaboration with) their fathers, Klaus Keller and Günter Wittmann. The opportunity for this success was created by German consumers’ increasing – and, by the 1990s, overwhelming – preference for legally dry rather than residually sweet wine. That stylistic upending, which also benefited the Pfalz, left many traditionally important wine estates in other regions eager to follow the new fashion, but struggling to generate memorably distinctive wine. As the new century dawned, other youthful overachievers followed in the footsteps of, and were inspired by, Keller and Wittmann; among them, Daniel Wagner of Weingut Wagner-Stempel and the husband-wife team of Carolin Gillot and Oliver Spanier (Kühling-Gillot, Battenfeld-Spanier) rapidly attained elite status. But the talent and hard work of these now-celebrated denizens of Rheinhessen has not been exclusively confined to their vineyards and cellars. Some of it has been devoted to self-promotion – and how could it have been otherwise, given the need to create a new identity for an entire region?
Full the full read, vinous.com. Rheinhessen 2018 revelatory rieslings.