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A Riesling to visit

German wine regions combine history, flavour

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Berlin is a must-see destination for most visitors to Germany. But if you're hoping to combine a trip to the formerly divided city with a tour of some of the country's best-known wine regions, you're going to have to do some serious travelling.

The Mosel, Rheingau and Baden wine districts are all in the southern and eastern parts of Germany, about 600 to 700 kilometres from Berlin. That might be a problem if your time or travel budget is limited.

Fortunately, two less well-known wine areas are an easy drive down the autobahn from the capital city. The Sachsen and Saale-Unstrut regions are small but postcard-pretty, and they produce a variety of fine vintages that just might change your perception of German wine.

By all means, spend a few days in Berlin before you head to the wine country, hunting down remnants of the Berlin Wall, touring the impressive museums and Reichstag (home of the German parliament) and gearing up for your wine tour with a tall glass of wheat beer.

If you want to get a sneak preview of the kinds of vintages you can taste in Sachsen and Saale-Unstrut regions, book dinner at Rutz restaurant and wine bar in the city's central Mitte neighbourhood.

Restaurant manager and sommelier Billy Wagner has won a slew of awards for his carefully chosen cellar of more than 400 German wines from across the country. Paired expertly with chef Marco Mxller's hearty cuisine, they show how far German wine has come since the days when it was best known for overly sweet Rieslings and insipid Liebfraumilchs like Blue Nun.

When you're ready to head to the two wine regions, getting there from Berlin is easy. Plan on renting a car because you'll need one to get from winery to winery once you're there. Both Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen are within about 200 kilometres of Berlin -- about a two-hour drive, give or take, depending on how fast you drive on Germany's no-speed-limit autobahns.

Both wine regions are small, which means they are easy to get around in a couple of days, and picturesque, with vineyards cascading down river valleys interspersed with stunning yellow fields of canola, used mainly to fuel German cars and trucks.

The pretty city of Dresden is at the heart of Sachsen (also called Saxony). It was heavily bombed during the Second World War, but great pains have been taken to restore its historic charm. The baroque-style Frauenkirche, built at the beginning of the 1800s as a Lutheran Church, was reduced to rubble in 1945, but it was rebuilt stone-by-stone over an 11-year period starting in 1994.

Just across the square from the church is the Wettiner Weinldchen, a cellar-like wine bar showcasing wines from both Sachsen and Saale-Unstrut. Try a glass of Goldriesling, which is made only in Sachsen and gets its rich colour and perfumed aroma from the cross of Riesling and Muscat grapes it's made from.

If you're planning to stay overnight in Dresden, the Kavaliershaus Schloss Albrechtsberg has two guest suites set in a lovely garden near the Elbe river. Book ahead to take a walking wine tour of the grounds (in German) with Dr. Christian Mxller, whose son Lutz is now the winemaker at the nearby Weinbaubetrieb Lutz Mxller.

Radebeul, about 10 kilometres from Dresden, is worth a visit for the impressive Schloss Wackerbarth, Sachsen's oldest producer of Sekt (sparkling) wines.

Its immaculate grounds surround the restored baroque manor house built in the early 1730s by the Count of Wackerbarth. You can take a tour of the castle and gardens or the modern winemaking operation, or you can just sit in its immaculate gardens and sip an excellent glass of Sekt or Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris).

Smaller but just as charming is Drei Herren, which in 2005 started producing red and white varietals on five hillside hectares of land. Its tasting room is in a house built in 1714 that is also home to a contemporary art gallery. Try a glass of Scheurebe, a white varietal found only in Germany and Austria, or Traminer, from the same family as the better-known Gewxrztraminer (Gewxrz means spice).

From Radebeul, the city of Naumburg in the Saale-Unstrut wine region is about 170 kilometres to the east. It's home to a remarkably well-preserved cathedral from the 13th century as well as a number of other Gothic and Romanesque buildings.

The city owns the Max Klinger vineyard, named after the accomplished German artist, sculptor and amateur winemaker (not the character on the TV show MASH). Klinger's former summer house is now a gallery for his work and a wine-tasting venue. Sample the Riesling Kabinett, which has a dry finish that may surprise those who think of German Rieslings as overly sweet.

At Winzerhof Gussek, winemakers Andr} Gussek and Hella Pger produce an impressive array of white and red wines, including Silvaner, Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Sptburgunder (Pinot Noir).

If you're still thirsty, head over to the nearby town of Bad Kasen and drop in at Landesweingut Kloster Pforta, one of the oldest wineries in Germany, founded by monks in 1137. If you're lucky, you'll get to chat with the amiable winemaker, Christian Klaus, and sample his excellent Blauer Zweigelt, Weissburgunder and Sekt wines.

In the tiny town of Zscheiplitz, winemaker Bernard Pawis and his wife, chef Kerstin Pawis, transformed a dilapidated cloister into a stunning winery on 141/2 hectares, producing 15 varietals of red and white wines. Try to time your visit for one of their monthly wine tastings, or a meal in the winery restaurant serving delectable regional delicacies (open weekends only in May, August, September and October).

If you like what you've sipped at any of these wineries, be sure to buy it on the spot. Both Saale-Unstrut and Sachsen produce such small quantities of wine that you'll be hard-pressed to find them elsewhere, even in wine shops in Berlin.

So savour them while you can, and spread the word back home that Germany has something other than beer worth drinking.

-- Postmedia News

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 10, 2013 E3

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