This morning I came across a very interesting article on Rheinhessen wine with the following opening sentence:
Ein neuer Begriff beginnt sich in Deutschlands Weinwelt langsam zu etablieren. [A new term is slowly beginning to establish itself on the German wine scene].
At first blush, I said to myself, “the last thing the German wine scene needs is yet another new term.” However, from the months I spent in Nierstein last fall, I instantly recognized the phrase in question: “Ortswein”—a word that directly translates to “place wine” or better put, a wine with a sense of place.
Fortunately for the non-German speaking population, it is also a term that need not be memorized to understand what’s inside the bottle. Instead, the focus is on establishing wine characteristics and nuances from individual villages. In other words, what is a Riesling from Nierstein expected to taste like vs. a Riesling from neighboring Oppenheim? How about a Pinot Blanc from Nackenheim or a Silvaner from Worms? It is very much a terroir-driven initiative, which should do much justice for the Rheinhessen region given its diverse range of soil types and microclimates.
Ortswein is actually the 2nd level within a 3-tier classification created by the VDP (Verband der Prädikatsweingüter = the marketing association representing the “Grand Cru” wines of Germany). Unlike the notorious 1971 classification, where top level German wines (now referred to as Qualitätswein mit Prädikat or QmP wines) were categorized based on must weights = the amount of sugar in the grape juice pre-fermentation, the VDP classification focuses on where the wine is from. (To learn more about this classification system you may visit the VDP website).
Germany’s Rheinhessen region is now taking the lead in promoting the term Ortswein to help raise its regional profile. Rheinhessen is the most experimental wine region in Germany, where new grape varieties seem to be popping up almost daily resulting in some pretty esoteric stuff (see my article on Rheinhessen’s annual Wine Forum to learn more on that subject). However, the Ortswein term is just to be applied to the standard grape varieties as determined by the VDP for each region. In the case of Rheinhessen, these varieties include Riesling (naturally!), but also the main Pinot varieties (Pinot Noir, -Blanc, and –Gris), as well as Silvaner.
Additionally, Ortswein should be dry to relatively dry and feature an attractive price-quality ratio. If you happen to read a little German (or master the Google Translate function) you can access the full article here.