Mainz, Germany — a city tucked away firmly into the heart of Riesling country. Eighty percent of the city was left destroyed following over 30 air raids in World War II and the scars are still readily apparent in the dominant 1950s post-war architecture surrounding the rebuilt Altstadt or Old Town.
Playing a significant role in the city’s recovery and rebuilt reputation has been German wine. Traditionally overlooked by the French, whose border is just a couple of hours west of Mainz, German wine (and food) is making a name for itself thanks to passionate advocates looking to connect local delicacies with an already fiercely local culture. Jérôme Hainz and Christie Dietz of BottleStops share how they became enamored with German wine and food during an afternoon wine tasting tour through the shops and taverns of Mainz.
German Wine on the Rhine
“Actually I didn’t care for wines from Mainz at all,” says Jérôme standing outside of Weinhaus Michel. “But now, almost 25 years later, I realize how interesting my hometown is and its wine, and I take a lot of pride in showing people around here.”
That’s why he started BottleStops, running tours with international travelers throughout the region, including Mainz, Rhine-Hesse, Rhinegau, Pfalz, and along the Mosel River.
Recently Jérôme was joined by Christie Dietz, a food and travel writer at A Sausage Has Two, specializing in German food.
“Probably like the rest of the English-speaking world, if not everybody else in the world, I assumed that I would be eating just huge piles of meat and potatoes and sauerkraut and dumplings all the time here,” she says. “It became apparent after the first time I visited the farmer’s market that this wasn’t going to be the case. The food here is incredibly regional, fiercely so, and I think more so than in other countries.”
Like the food, Jérôme and Christie are staunch advocates of German wine.
“I find that German wines are pretty much underrated overseas,” says Jérôme. “And also even by Germans.”
To get a better understanding of German wine, you can’t beat Mainz — “Germany’s wine capital,” as Christie puts it.
At the start of the tour, travelers head into the WineBank to try three different types of wine — Winzer Sekt (sparkling wine), and two still wines, a Riesling and Pinot Noir from the region. Jérôme calls them “some of the best wines you can have here in Germany.”
But it’s not just about drinking. Food from the region plays an essential role, which Christie describes as snacks that pair nicely with the wine. There’s a sour milk cheese formed by hand, aptly-named Handkäse, pretzels from a local bakery, and a stop at the butcher’s with Leberwurst (liver sausage), Blutwurst (blood sausage), and Fleischwurst (bologna sausage) cut up and served on a plate, fresh for the picking.
Then, inside the wine tavern, the experience is capped with a bowl of Spundekäs (cream cheese dip), pretzels, and of course, more wine.
“Most people consider Germany to be a country of beer or sweet rieslings,” says Jérôme, “But it’s definitely different.”
Looking for more Germany? Check out the Germany off the beaten path travel guide, my top things to do in Germany, German language tips, and how to ride the German train system. Want something more literary? Read chapters from my upcoming memoir on moving to and living in Germany and finding my roots — There Must Be Order.