Germany’s rich heritage and scenery are reason enough to visit at any time,
but Patrick Finnegan tucked into a culinary trail that took in some particularly fine wine-growing regions.
A recent trip I made to two of the principal wine-growing regions of Germany, namely Franconia and the Saale-Instrut region of Thuringia, proved to be a very pleasant and educational experience.
The visit embraced the culinary delights of these regions, in a country where food and drink are of paramount importance.
My trip to Franconia, part of the northern area of Bavaria and the province of Thuringia (part of the former East Germany), which began with a flight from Dublin to Frankfurt with Lufthansa, was to provide solid evidence that Germany is well prepared to reclaim its status as one of the world’s premier white wine and sparkling wine-producing countries.
Some of the principal grapes used in German wine production include Riesling, by far the most popular, Silvaner, with some of the world’s finest Silvaner wines coming from Franconia and Pinot Noir (The Red Diva).
A popular misconception is that all German wines are white. Indeed, Germany’s most heralded red grape is one of the most popular worldwide: Pinot Noir, or Spätburgunder, as it’s known locally.
This is the nation’s most important red wine grape, accounting for one-third of total German red wine production.
In fact, Germany is the world’s third-largest producer of Pinot Noir after France and the United States.
Franconia is widely regarded as a miniature version of Germany because it offers so much variety and is notable for its beautiful vineyards and hiking tracks.
Over half of the territory is protected and with ten regional nature parks, Franconia is a dream come true for nature lovers and its fabled cobblestoned towns and villages are straight out of a Disney film.
The first night was spent in Frickenhausen, a charming village with quaint medieval houses and the hotel, Weingut and Hotel Meintzinger Babenbergplatz, was both comfortable and inviting.
The much-anticipated dinner on the first night was enjoyed at the charming restaurant Ehrbar.
Plates of sumptuous Franconian food and local wines were enjoyed, with the food including local favourites, Schäuferla, slow-roasted pork shoulder; Sauerbraten, roasted meat in a slightly sour sauce and veal, all served with delicious potato dumplings.
The next morning saw a visit to award-winning Weingut Brennfleck to taste some delicious white wines.
This vineyard had been producing some of Franconia’s finest wines for more than 400 years.
All vineyards in the region are run on traditional and natural methods and Weingut Brennfleck is no exception.
The vineyard is run in close accordance to nature. Clear, cool nights and warm days characterise the maturity of the grapes and create fresh, rich, fruity flavours.
A trip to the “Vinothek Iphofen” for a very personal wine tasting and explanation soon followed.
The Vinothek presents a cross-section of the wines from the Iphöfer vineyards and wineries, typical of the Franconia region.
Lunch at the restaurant 99 Kulinarium followed, offering seasonal and traditional dishes, plus a small selection of homemade cakes.
I particularly enjoyed a plate of carp from the local area. The fish are found in local ponds, but are not farm-raised, and the clean, white meat is typically served poached or fried.
Trout is also enjoyed across Franconia. The fish are caught in the numerous rivers cutting through the region, with trout served smoked or when available fresh, poached, roasted or fried.
Franconia’s capital, Würzburg, is a true gem – the city history looks back on a long tradition; its picturesque, historical buildings are reason alone for a visit.
The spectacular views over the city and the majestic Main River from the Marienberg fortress, which dominates the skyline, was a particular highlight.
The old bridge (Alte Mainbrücke) over the River Main is fascinating. It was erected between 1473 and 1543, replacing an old Romanesque bridge.
The characteristic 12 statues of saints were added around 1730, including one of Irishman Saint Killian, who has a long association with the city.
The bridge links Würzburg’s old town with the former fishermen’s quarter on the left bank of the River Main.
In recent years, the bridge has become one of the city’s prime gathering spots for socialising and meeting old and new friends.
The visit to Würzburg would have been incomplete without a visit to the UNESCO World Heritage site at the Residence of Würzburg – a truly remarkable and beautiful building.
Lots of wine festivals take place in Franconia and wine lovers and anyone interested in culture, history and architecture will find plenty of inspiration here.
A visit to the winery Weingut am Stein for a brief introduction to German wine by the German Wine Institution (Deutsches Weininstitut), and further wine tasting, was followed by dinner at restaurant Reisers am Stein, with selected accompanying wines.
The following day started with a four-hour bus journey to Saale-Instrut region of Thuringia, locat-ed in the former East Germany. This area is notable for its steep vineyard slopes, picturesque scenery and imposing castles.
Upon arrival in Freyburg, I paid a visit to the sparkling winery cellar of Rotkäppchen – the largest sparkling wine producer in Germany.
A guided cellar visit was followed by an opportunity to enjoy the extraordinary flavours of Rotkäppchen sparkling wine.
The imposing Domkeller, with its giant barrel (built with 25 oak trees in 1856 and capable of holding 160,000 bottles of wine) is the largest cuvée barrel in Germany, and along with the venerable vaulted cellars provided moments to remember.
Notable wines included Rotkäppchen Weissburgunder Extra Dry, Rotkäppchen Riesling Dry and Rotkäppchen Rose Dry.
This winery is the largest producer of German sparkling wine and provides a top-quality product at a fraction of the price of champagne.
A visit to charming Naumburg town followed and a guided tour of the 1,000 year-old cathedral, which recently was declared a UNESCO World Heritage site, was an unforgettable experience.
A visit of the very impressive winery, Landesweingut Kloster Pforta nearby, included more wine tasting and a tour of the extensive vineyard.
Dinner at restaurant Gasthof Zufriedenheit in the town provided an exquisite menu including local favourites, low-temperature cooked veal topside with potatoes, celery and cabbage, washed down with 2016 Spatburgunder quality wine from the Winery Bohme and Tochter.
A second wine enjoyed was the 2015 White Burgundy Beerenauslese Freyburger Edelackerfrom from Winery Pawis.
A favourite event was a dinghy tour on the River Saale, where the peaceful river meandered serenely through the lush Thuringian rural landscape, with densely forested riverbanks providing shelter for an abundance of wildlife.
The final night was spent in Frankfurt am Main, with a delicious meal at the historic Old Opera House, one of the most remarkable buildings in a modern European city centre setting.
The unlikely combination of heritage buildings and the massive skyscrapers associated with a prominent EU financial centre somehow works, as Frankfurt by night is vibrant and atmospheric.
Unquestionably, Germany has a vast history of producing some of the finest white wines, and food of the highest quality, and a visit to this charming country is a must for those who love culture, history as well as food and wine.
Patrick travelled courtesy of the German National Tourist Office.
For further information, see www.germany.travel.