As winter wanes I’m reminded of its vinous pleasures in places along my latest wine route, such as Austria, Slovenia, Belgium, Luxembourg and, just before Christmas, Germany, where I visited Adolf Schmitt, an outstanding wine maker whose estate is one of those in the wine association Saar-Mosel-Winzersekt Gmbh (SMW, Gilbertstrasse 34, D-54230, Trier, fax +49  975-2920). Trier is a wine center of distinction and Germany’s oldest city, with roots as far back as 2,000 years before Roman times.
I’m not only pleased to tell you about vintner Schmitt and Trier, I’m actually relieved, since my winery-visiting schedule for February was largely thwarted by fairly heavy snows in and considerably south of Vienna. Instead of reaching my scheduled destinations — Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and other ports of call — I spent most of my time snowbound in a winery, writing and gazing admiringly through its windows at the snow-laced limbs of trees — all this over some wonderful wine.
I had time to reflect on Trier, SMW and Schmitt. SMW produces largely white wines that exemplify the extremely high quality standards of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region, which takes its name from those three rivers.
Schmitt’s wines are 90 percent Riesling, the main grape of the area, and 10 percent Muller-Thurgau. They are crisp, dry and well balanced — superb food wines — with good fruit. Because of the red wine boom, this region is producing more red wine (now about 5 percent of total production) and it will doubtless find its way to Japan. (Some is being imported by Bonheur Japan Co., 778 Kisone, Yashio-shi, Saitama,  98-2701.)
Trier is just east of Luxembourg and shares with its neighbor the fate of lying just off the beaten path. Such are the whims of history that what lies off the beaten path today often is a place that the ancients were beating a path to discover and develop. Trier is a singular case in point. Posed imposingly at the entrance to the street leading to Trier’s bustling grand market, the Hauptmarkt, is the Porta Nigra (“black gate”), built nearly 2,000 years ago and the largest surviving gate built by the Romans. When it was built toward the end of the 2nd century, Trier was a power center for the Roman Empire.
Next to it, built in 1037, is the Simeon Monastery courtyard, Germany’s oldest, now housing the tourist office and the city museum. In about 16 B.C., the Romans, under their Emperor Augustus, had already founded a township on this site and named it Augusta Treverorum. After an Alemannic tribe razed Trier in about 275, it was rebuilt, even more magnificently, and was designated by Emperor Diocletian as one of the four capitals of his empire (together with Rome, Sirmium and Nicomedia).
Trier, then, is both a wine center and a historic landmark — one where wine makers and their wines have a pervasive presence. Hence it’s a wonderful place to visit. Excellent fresh local wines are served at good restaurants throughout the city.
Among those I’ve frequented one of the more unusual is Zum Domstein, built in the 4th century, where some of the dinners are based on ancient Roman recipes. Outside the city you’ll begin to see wineries and extraordinary scenic beauty. All along the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer rivers you find vineyards in the mountains and valleys, in what is one of the world’s most impressive wine-producing regions. The Mosel, from its source in the Vosges Mountains to the south, in France, twists and turns its way to Koblenz (another Roman foundation), where it joins the Rhine.
To stand in a vineyard here like one of Schmitt’s and gaze down the gentle slopes across the vines, into a valley, with its softly curving river and reposeful village, is exhilarating. A personable young German-speaking Japanese, Akira Igarashi, works in Schmitt’s winery, where he says he enjoys “the work, the wine and the people.”
A recommendation? Of course the crisp and balanced Rieslings. By all means try the SMW Sekt, the methode champenoise sparkling wines using Riesling and elbling grapes. These Sekts mature at least six months and then another 12 months, minimum, in bottle. Maturing time is three years or longer. It is available in various taste types, including Riesling dry and elbling extra dry.