The Ahr Valley – A Place to Wine in Germany
By Petra Roesner
The region where I grew up, the Ahr Valley, is named for and after the tranquil and small Ahr river, that runs from the small village of Blankenheim in the Eifel into the famous Rhine River by Remagen.
Locals and travelers alike enjoy walking along and with that exploring the beautiful Ahr Valley along the Rotweinwanderweg (Red Wine Walking Trail), with many points to start and end or to stop for a quick snack in some of the little family-run restaurants that also offer a great view of the valley. If one does not feel like walking, a drive through the valley right along the Ahr river with the wineyards alongside, it also extremely beautiful!
The Ahr Valley is well known for being on of the most northern regions in Europe where red wine is produced, thanks to the abundance of red grapes that are being grown alongside steep small mountains ranges facing the south for maximum exposure to the sun when the grapes grow. It is believed that even the Romans of the ancient empire of the same name liked the area so much that they started to grow grapes and make their own wine up there, hundreds of years ago (1).
In the many small towns and villages in the Ahr Valley are many family owned and operated wineries, where the traditions of making wine has been passed on and on for years spanning many generations. Most of those wineries also offer wine tastings and most families will be more than happy to have locals and travelers alike try some of their wonderfully crafted adult beverages, many of which can be found right alongside the beautiful Rotweinwanderweg.
Wine and wine making are big traditions in the Ahr Valley (as they are in many other wine regions of Germany), and so is celebrating everything associated with wine: wine harvest, crowning wine queens (who have to know pretty much everything there is to know about wine and the region), wine parades, but mostly, the great variety of wine festivals and markets that start sometime in March and end in October – yes, people there take there wine seriously for a majority of the year (2). During the wine-related festivities, locals and countless tourists flock to the streets in towns and villages along the Ahr Valley, to sample some great wines in their little glasses and also to enjoy listening to some local traditional bands while sampling some great food along the way!
The time of wine harvest is particularly fun, as most of the local wineries will sell or serve Federweisser (weiss) or Federroter, (red) which is basically grape juice in some state of fermentation, before it becomes “real wine,” and the color of either the white or red version is somewhat “whited” because of the yeast being in the early stages of processing. Traditionally, restaurants, Weinstuben (Wine Houses) or wineries, serve a dish called Zwiebelkuchen (Onion cake) during this time, which can be described as a pizza topped with just onions and sometimes also with cheese; although that might sound a bit strange, it is actually very tasty. One should exercise caution when consuming the combination of Feder-wine-creations along with Zwiebelkuchen though: first, Federweisser is very refreshing and thus easy to drink , thus the fact that one is consuming alcohol can be easily “missed” and second, when consumed with Zwiebelkuchen, it can definitely be a digestive in many ways …
In the winter, during times of local Christmas markets, many vendors will offer a drink called Gluehwein, which is basically a wine served warm and that is spiced with ingredients such as orange and lemon slices, gloves, cinnamon and whatever else one choses to add to this delicious and warming delicacy that is best enjoyed with a slice of warm apple pie with vanilla sauce, while standing outside on the street with friends or strangers just watching children getting excited for the festive season. Or you can buy a bottle already spiced to warm up at home, just like this one, available in some stores in the US.
Overall, the Ahr Valley is a great place to visit to sample local wines and food and to enjoy a beautiful scenery along one of the many little rivers in Germany. When thinking about traveling and staying there, I would recommend to make arrangements ahead of times, as hotels and bed and
breakfast establishments tend to be pretty booked during the assorted wine-related festivities. One alternative would be to stay in a hotel in a larger city nearby and then drive by rental or taxi to the location in the valley that have those festivals or to inquire if a visit to such festivities are included in travel packages to Germany in general or the region in particular.
All photos by Petra Roesner