The Rheingau is a hugely fortuitous geographical quirk: on the Rhine’s journey from the Swiss border through Germany, it takes a turn at Wiesbaden, running west for just thirty kilometres before heading north again to the sea. This kink in the river gives a strip of perfectly exposed south-facing vineyard land in one of Germany’s sunniest, driest regions, with the additional warmth retained by the great mass of water helping to boost the grapes’ ripeness. The Rheingau is planted almost entirely to Riesling – it works so well here there is little point planting anything else – and thanks to the climatic conditions, it can make thoroughly convincing dry wines as well as the traditional lighter, sweeter styles.
Balthasar Ress was founded in 1870 by a hotelier of that name, who wanted to make wine to serve his guests. Now run by the fourth and fifth generations of the family, the company still produces a wine under Balthasar’s original brand name: ‘Von Unserm’, literally ‘from us’, a dry, multi-vineyard blend that represents the house style. From their base in Hattenheim, in the epicentre of the Rheingau, Ress controls many superb vineyards that are bottled as single-site wines. The steep slopes of the Rüdesheimer Berg produce an intense, structured Erstes Gewächs (‘first growth’) of outstanding minerality and depth. The Schloss Reichartshausen is a monopole on the banks of the Rhine, with rich soil and proximity to the river giving a broad, succulent wine. The Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen is one of the region’s most precious terroirs, a beautiful S-bend that overlooks the river; this is reserved for the great botrytis sweet wines at which Riesling, particularly in the Rheingau, excels.