Look, I’m not one for picking out wine based on the label’s aesthetics, but you have to give Weingut Hahnmühle some credit. Their tall, slender bottle is adorned with simple black and white graphics, an armored knight, a row of stylized grapes, and pragmatic text that describes what’s inside and where it’s from: 2014 Riesling + Roter Traminer, Nahe. From a design perspective, the juxtaposition of medieval imagery with an almost-modernist minimalism is quite striking, a fitting tribute to a pioneering blend the winery has produced for over 100 years. From a taste perspective, this wine is just as alluring, approachable but unsual, a bottle worth talking about whenever it graces your table.
The Hahnmühle estate is in Germany’s Nahe region within the Rhineland-Palatinate, a state sharing international borders with Luxembourg, France, and Belgium. The state is a confluence of rivers, home to sections of the Rhine, Moselle, Lahn, and Nahe, the latter from which the viticultural area gets its name. The Alsenz River, a tributary of the Nahe, twists through the steep, sunny slopes of the valley that shares its name and provides a home to Weingut Hahnmühle. Built in the middle ages as a corn mill—Mühle means mill in German—the estate was purchased by the Linxweiler family in 1898. Shortly after, they planted vines and began producing wine. When current proprietors Peter and Martina took charge in 1986, they made the conversion to full organic farming and production. To preserve the land and produce wines that best reflect their region’s climate and terroir, the Linxweilers eschew herbicides, synthetic insecticides and fertilizers. Further, during a time when monocultures are the norm, they maintain a diverse vineyard ecosystem of non-grape plants, animals, and insects. Healthy soil and healthy vines form the foundation of well-made wines. To this end the Linxweilers take advantage of their altitude and cool annual temperature with seven carefully-tended hectares of traditional regional varieties: Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Sylvaner, Traminer, Pinot Noir, and a handful of others. Each features prominently in the area's long history of wine production, even if the particular styles remain unfamiliar to those abroad.
For a perfect example, look at the 2014 Feinherb from the Beutelstein vineyard, bedecked in its medieval but modernist clothing. A blend of 75% Riesling and 25% Roter Traminer (which shares a relationship to Gewürztraminer), the wine is an oddity in the average wine shop’s German section. In the early days of Hahnmühle’s winemaking history, more than a century ago, the Linxweilers pioneered this style by co-planting both varieties in one vineyard. They are hand harvested and vinified together, thus melding and intensifying each grape’s flavors into something ideal but idiosyncratic. In the cellar, the Linxweilers maintain their traditional approach with what they call “controlled doing nothing,” avoiding unnecessary pumping and filtration but keeping a careful eye on the fermenting grapes.
The result? A wine as gorgeous as its long, leggy bottle, with aromas of rose petal, orange zest, and white flowers followed by a cool, talc-like minerality imparted by the grapes growing on schist-and-sandstone soil. Hahnmühle labels this offering as a "Feinherb", and it does display just a touch of sweetness—not enough to be cloying or saccharine, but merely an added note to balance electric acidity and enhance the wine's ethereal flavors. Though I’ve enjoyed a bottle or two all on its own, it’s an ideal partner for the otherwise difficult-to-pair north Indian curries I’m fond of picking up on my way home from work. Gorgeous!