Nahe is a relatively small wine-growing region in Germany, with around 10,400 acres (4200ha) of vineyard in the federal state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The region shares borders with Rheinhessen to the east, Rheingau to the north-east and Mittelrhein to the north. The Nahe river lends the area its name and flows as a tributary to the Rhine at Bingen.
Nahe’s best vineyards can be found on steep volcanic slopes dotted along the river, usually facing south and south-east. Up until the German wine law's classification of 1971, all Nahe wine was sold as 'Rhine wine', but since the Pradikat’s review of the classification system, only Riesling wines may bear the name of the area’s top vineyards.
If the Mosel is Germany’s delicate wine daughter, and Rheingau its masculine son, then Nahe is undoubtedly the middle child. Not withstanding Nahe’s geographical position between these two important wine regions, it displays all the characteristics of a middle sibling. Often overlooked yet budding with potential, Nahe is a late bloomer in the German wine scene. The Romans neglected to cultivate the region’s volcanic soils until at least 500 years after the Mosel had been planted. Yet by the 19th century it was regarded as one of the nation’s foremost viticultural areas. Economic hardship in the early to mid 20th century saw Nahe slip to relative obscurity until the 1990s when a Riesling renaissance occurred.
Nahe’s tumultuous past is reflected in the array of vines planted there over time. Muller-Thurgau had been the most common grape variety since varietal records began, but by the 1990s had slipped to less than one-fifth of the total plantings. During the 1960s Silvaner accounted for more than half of the total vineyard area, though in the 21st century it has dropped below 10%. Riesling is now king among quality producers, with red varieties Dornfelder, Spatburgunder and Portugieser having quadrupled in number since 1990. The region continues to evolve as producers such as Hermann Donnhoff take Nahe wines to the international stage.
This region may be broken into three distinct sub-regions, though only one Bereich has been described. They are the Upper Nahe in the south-west, Bad Kreuznach and surrounds, and Lower Nahe to the north-east. The stretch of land from Monzingen to Traisen displays some of the best terroir for Riesling, and typically produces pungent wines of spice and mineral complexity. The Alsenz river to the south has also been important, though is somewhat forgotten in recent memory.
Volcanic rock dominates the vineyards in Upper Nahe, though the actual soil composition is extremely vaired with up to four soil types found in certain locations around Oberhausen. Temperatures rise as the river heads north and the altitude drops towards the region’s capital, Bad Kreuznach. The best vineyard sites are found on the city’s northern outskirts.
The Lower Nahe is quite distinct from its regional neighbors and shares much of its soil compositon with Rheinhessen. Here Rieslings are grown with Grauer Burgunder, Weissburgunder and Silvaner, all of which display more citrus and stone fruit than the musk and spice associated with the sub-region's upper counterpart.