The importance of German wine throughout history

Prinz rhine

Along the banks of the Rhine: the historic importance (and magical wines) of Europe’s vital river

Deep in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by thick sheets of frosty glaciers, the Rhine River springs forth from the headstreams of Vorderrhein and Hinterrhein and wends its way north along the Swiss-Austrian border. After a time, it cuts west along the southern edge of Germany before swinging north once more, flowing along the French-German boundary and slicing up into Germany itself before passing into the Netherlands and emptying into the North Sea.

The banks of this mighty waterway serve as a veritable museum of many of the world’s most historically important cities. From Cologne to Rotterdam to Strasbourg to Basel, the 1,320 kilometres that belong to the Rhine hold the memory and significance of literal ages, dating all the way back to the time of the Romans (Julius Caesar first crossed the Rhine in 55 BCE).

It’s impossible to overstate the vital significance of the Rhine as an economic channel. Absolutely essential to trade in medieval times, it became an international waterway by provision of the Treaty of Vienna in 1815, after which it cemented its status as Europe’s (and arguably the world’s) most important commercial transport route.

Today, the Rhine is perhaps best known for its truly legendary beauty and unparalleled scenery, immortalised in word and art by the likes of Lord Byron and William Turner. The verdant riverbanks — some of the most lush and fertile in all of Europe — give life to fresh, flavourful produce, while ancient villages sprawl like jewels at the edge of the water and crumbling castles perch atop steep mossy cliffs, fortified by great walls that stripe the valley like stone snakes.

It’s a land of story and myth, romanticised by countless travellers over the centuries. Adventurers from across the globe flock to the banks of the Rhine, drawn by the magnetic pull of its breathtaking vistas — and by the irresistible magic of its vineyards and wines.

Originally planted by the Romans and inextricable from the influence of Charlemagne and the unceasing advance of Christianity across the whole of Europe, the Rhine Valley and many of the region’s tributaries once produced some of the most sought-after wines in the world. In addition to sweeter, highly acidic vino that aged for decades, the Rhine made incredible, high-quality dry white wines, the production of which was essentially nonexistent elsewhere until technology caught up in the 1960s.

The Rhine Valley is also one of Europe’s coldest viticultural locales. Winemakers here craft stunning reds, but the vast majority of grapes grown are white — and they remain some of the most celebrated white wines on the planet. The Rhine Valley’s Rieslings are the nectar of the gods, its Pinot Blancs rich and full, and its Gewürztraminers heady, spicy, and elegant.

From Rudesheim to Nackenheim to Pfalz, the Rhine encompasses many globally renowned wine regions and iconic producers that each showcase unique facets of this glittering German gem. Titans like Keller, Matthias Müller, and Weingart continue to set soaring standards and live up to their household names just as sustainable mavericks like Prinz and Gunderloch and up-and-comers like Juwel march to the beat of their own drums and lead a new generation of winemakers and winemaking techniques into the breach.

Drenched in the gilded cloak of history and peopled by young talent and artisans at the pinnacle of their craft, the Rhine Valley firmly and easily stakes a claim as one of the most exciting wine regions on the planet.

Sail the gentle currents of the river and bring the legend of the Rhine to life with Wine Journey’s Rhine River White Wine Cruise.