The birthplace of the illustrious Spätlese, Germany’s culinary capital and the spiritual home of Riesling, the Rheingau already has a few feathers in its cap. Many of those feathers might have come from the VDP eagle which soars over the Rheingau more often than it does in any other German production region: nowhere do you find the VDP logo as often as you do in the Rheingau.
The region might represent only a tiny part of German viticulture when it comes to the amount of wine produced but it is one of the country’s most important production regions, on a par with Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, when it comes to the importance of the wine that is made there. Whereas the Mosel is world famous for its sweet wines, it's the Rheingau’s dry wines that are some of the finest white wines in the world.
I remember reading a discussion about how the Rheingau region had lost its flair: this was at the time when the new VDP classification came into force (2012): all of a sudden huge Mosel names started releasing dry wines grown on well-known vineyards with the GG logo on the label. This, alongside the rise of Rheinhessen and the omnipresence of the Pfalz and Nahe, put the Rheingau into the shadows a little. Rheingau winemakers openly discussed the problems the region had: too traditionalist, too old-fashioned, not-attractive enough to new drinkers – plans were put into place, changes were made and I am pleased to be able to present a reinvented Rheingau: a region bursting with youthful innovation and home to a hundred new styles of wine.
One of the most exciting wines to emerge from the region in recent years is Schloss Johannisberg’s Weisslack – I’m referring to a wine that costs about 12€. Important though is the producer and their relevance in the region: Schloss Johannisberg is one of Germany’s most famous wineries: the inventor of the Spätlese and the world’s oldest Riesling winery – the fact that Schloss Johannisberg realised a change was needed is proof enough that this region required a refit. Its entry-level Gelblack is a fabulous wine: a typical old-world style Rheingau dry Riesling and, whilst this is appealing to a wine drinker, it often feels a touch dusty, a little over-complicated for a new drinker. Weisslack is different though: no wood, cleaner, more driven, a screw-top, fresher, skinnier and not-at-all-dusty: it tastes like a young wine from the Pfalz rather than a Rheingau wine although it does have a telltale Rheingau spice structure to it - it was created for restaurants and modern gastronomic ventures.
It isn’t just Schloss Johannisberg though: the new Gutsweine (estate wines) from the Rheingau producers have all been spruced up a bit: the ever-relevant Georg Breuer range has retained its freshness, the wonderful wines of Spreitzer have cleaned up their act too: mineral-driven, clean, compact wines with freshness at the forefront of drinkability. Of course the upper-echelons of a winery’s portfolio still retain individual elements of traditional Rheingau character but even here, the wines have been to the gym: look at the 2014 and 2015 Grosse Gewächse from Allendorf and Balthasar Ress: addictively drinkable Riesling with focus on staying slippery: aerodynamic wines that fit perfectly with almost any dish imaginable despite losing nothing that makes Rheingau wine fantastic.
Let’s forget Riesling for a moment…
Riesling is what the Rheingau is best known for but some of the most interesting and thought-provoking wines to have emerged in the last few years are made from Pinot Noir. Whereas this varietal isn’t new in the Rheingau, the wines in the last few years are not just more drinkable but fabulously modern too. Peter Perabo of the Bischöfliches Weingut Rüdesheim is one of Germany’s most gifted Pinot Noir artists: the winery’s Pinots are some of the region's finest and all of them combine both the German take on Pinot Noir and the international appeal of this sometimes (particularly in Germany) problematic grape.
Likewise Chat Sauvage is making some wonderful Pinot Noir from some of the finest sites for this varietal in Germany. Odder still is their reluctance to produce any Riesling at all: favouring Chardonnay as a white varietal and yet these wines aren’t gimmicky or Chardonnay-worshiping wood-bombs but excellently crafted Burgundy-like wines with an exquisite drinkability and, compared to the wines they are modelled on, astonishing affordability.
A natural touch
The rise of natural wine is undisputable. Whereas 100% natural wines are likely to remain a niche-market product: having regular wines influenced by natural-wine characteristics is a welcome addition to a winemaker’s toolbox: long grape-skin maceration, leaving wines on the lees for longer than necessary, aging in clay amphora or no filtration for example. Two wineries in the Rheingau have impressed with surprisingly drinkable wines using exactly these practises: Balthasar Ress and Peter Jakob Kühn. In the case of Peter Jakob Kühn, the dry Rieslings from Grand Cru vineyards have more than just a background natural-wine feel to them: long grape maceration is noticeable in both the Sankt Nikolaus GG and the Doosberg GG wines. Balthasar Ress has recently endeaved to extend the amount of time some of their Rieslings spend on the lees with three wines aptly named: 18, 32 and 42 according to the number of months they matured with their yeasts. Not only that, Balthasar Ress produces an orange wine made from Pinot Blanc – actually one of the only orange wines that you could suggest might achieve unilateral appeal: it might indeed be a niche-market product but it isn’t too specialist that it might scare adventurous drinkers away.
It isn’t just still wine experiencing a revitalisation: three of Germany’s finest Sekt producers operate in the Rheingau: Schloss Vaux, Sekthaus Solter and Bardong. All three make some of the nation’s finest sparkling wine both out of Rheingau wines but also those imported from other production regions. Schloss Vaux has been at the forefront of German sparkling wine production for more than a decade and its single-vineyard line is a wonderful expression of how Rheingau Riesling and Pinot Noir works fantastically in powerful sparkling Cuvees. Sekthaus Solter too is one of the nation’s most decorated producers of bubbly and has some rather interesting Cuvees in their portfolio: with some of the region’s best sparkling-intended vineyards at their disposal, the producer’s fine wines continue to impress.
Perhaps most interesting is Bardong with its tendency to leave wines in the bottle for a long time before release. It uses both Riesling and the Pinot grapes to make Sekt from some of the region's best sites for growing grapes intended for the production of sparkling wine. It isn’t just
Sekt-houses that are making fabulous wine: some of the region’s wineries are also creating fabulous sparkling Rieslings or Pinots and one producer in particular is preparing a sparkling wine sourced only from its Grand Cru vineyard: Schloss Johannisberg – their first Sekt in decades.
Perhaps the most exciting thing about the "reinvented" Rheingau is that it is still ever-changing: whereas a lot has been done, the region shows no sign of slowing down in its progressive approach to winemaking. The days of restrictive governing bodies and a traditionalist VDP-leadership are over: whereas the VDP still enforces traditional practise and typical Rheingau wines are in its sights, its talons have released slightly and its member wineries have a little more room to play with than they did before: will we see Chardonnay Grand Cru sites in the near future? Probably not but we will see a whole host of new wines emerging from one of Europe’s most important production regions: the often overshadowed and yet utterly appealing Rheingau.
Some wines to try
Finding these wines where you live
Many of these wines are available in the United States and United Kingdom. All are widely available in Germany and most in Austria and Switzerland.
If you'd like assistance in finding these wines where you live, please get in touch and I'll gladly help you find a handler/distributor in your region.
Ornellaia is pretty much a household name. Those lucky enough to have tried the winery’s flagship Bolgheri immediately recognise the wine to be one of the most important producers of the (relatively) newly-declared DOC on the Tuscan coast. However, priced at over a 100€, the wines aren’t intended for regular drinking but rather for special occasions.
Thankfully the winery produces both a second and a third wine: “Le Serre Nuove” and “Le Volte” respectively. For those with a stack of money left over, the winery’s “Masseto” Merlot is one of Italy’s and Tuscany’s most expensive wine – unfortunately, I’ve never tried it but it is claimed to be one of the world's best Merlots.
Last week (26.10.2016), I was lucky enough to check out the last few vintages of the second wine: Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia, a Bolgheri wine made using the younger vines of this already young estate. The wine is a Bordeaux blend with a slightly different mixture, according to the vintage.
Vertical tasting is always a great way to taste the gradual aging of a wine and the direct comparison between the vintages. We tasted the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2014 wines with a few other special products from the Tuscan producer during the course of the afternoon.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2007
40% Merlot, 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc, 5% Petit Verdot
A racing acidity runs through this 2007 Bolgheri. Alongside the red berries brought in through the Merlot, a wonderful structural acidity and robustness is built around this by the higher-than-usual Cabernet Sauvignon percentage. The tannins fall into place behind the bright red fruit: cranberry, wild strawberry and rhubarb and, on the finish is a fuller sense of toasted wood and a touch of liquorice.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2008 (decanted)
55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot
The red fruit in the 2008 Serre Nuove comes through in the form of sweet berries which, together form a compote feel: sweet strawberry, dried plum, blackcurrant and redcurrant lead onto a floral feel in the body of the wine which is finished off with a sprinkling of festive spices and an encasement of robust but smoothed tannins.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2009
54% Merlot, 31% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc
The ripest and most pleasurable wine of the tasting, the 2009 Serre Nuove is at its optimal drinking stage right now. With some of the ripest Merlot fruit in a Tuscan wine I’ve tried to date, the wine felt big, grand and, being perfectly honest, a bit like a 1990s Bordeaux. Despite the fruit still being remarkably fresh: blackcurrant, Cassis, cranberry and lots of excellent red plums, the spice structure was excellently incorporated into the wine: plenty of lovely leather aromas, a dash of espresso and even a touch of cocoa. The tannins were nice and smooth and, paired with an enchanting background acidity, the wine made for excellent drinking
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2010
45% Merlot, 41% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Petit Verdot, 5% Cabernet Franc
Unfortunately the bottle at the tasting wasn’t in optimal condition. I’ll update this review if I get the chance to try the wine again.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2011 (decanted)
57% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon, 14% Petit Verdot, 12% Cabernet Franc
The 2011 Serre Nuove has a huge potential. A wonderful sense of liquorice lingers in the background behind notes of blackcurrant and blueberry. Still compact, the wine isn’t quite ready for drinking right now but hints at the direction the 2011 is going to take: classic, large, fruity: a stunner. A wonderful smoky aroma is introduced with the tannins which makes the wine rather seem a touch mysterious. Look out for this wine in the future.
Le Serre Nuove dell’Ornellaia 2014
50% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Sauvignon, 9% Cabernet Franc, 7% Petit Verdot
Still in the primary fruit phase, the 2014 shows off a wonderful array of bright and sharp red berries: Cassis, blackcurrant and even, thanks to a sense of acitiy, a touch of grapefruit and rhubarb. The tannins are slowly falling into place and the wine’s youth makes it refreshing.
Poggio alle Gazze dell’Ornellaia 2014
70% Sauvignon Blanc, 16% Vermentino, 8% Verdicchio, 6% Viognier
It’s lovely to try a refreshing new style of white wine from a red wine region. Tuscan white has always been a bit of a disappointment to me in the past and yet this Sauvignon Blanc cuvee more than makes up for it. With a hint at the exotic fruits in the body, the wine manages to retain some of the green notes that make Sauvignon Blanc so interesting: gooseberry, green apple and lime lead onto peach, arpricot and even a touch of pineapple. The finish is salty, hints at wood rather than relying on it and wine feels clean and compact.
Ornus dell’Ornellaia 2011
100% Petit Manseng
Big and thick on the uptake with dried plums, raisons and a whole host of tropical fruits, this wine’s botrytis aromas are in the foreground and, particularly the dried pineapple and mango aromas partially cover up a profound sense of new oak: vanilla and coconut. Long and thick, the wine reminds of well-made Sauternes although is already wonderfully drinkable. Caramel, clotted cream and and honey are worked into the wine expertly making making it a very rewarding drink.
You'd think that, as a keen wine drinker, I should keep my mouth shut about this but, after all the years of drinking more Riesling than mineral water, milk and every other wine combined, I am still fully perplexed for this very simply reason:
Riesling is far cheaper than it should be.
I know why people don't buy Riesling: most of the world thinks it is always syrupy-sweet and most Germans think that it is overly acidic. Riesling does have a higher amount of acid than most grapes but modern wines, particularly the dry ones, don't have an unpalatable amount of acid, nothing to break open the heartburn tablets for and, imagine this for a second, acid in wine is good: it pairs well with many different cuisines and is an important part of both the structure of a wine and a crucial part of its ability to carry flavour. The mis-conception that Riesling is always sweet is also pretty much true if you only visit supermarkets and smaller wine stores outside of Germany or Austria. However, the majority of Riesling sold in Germany is dry and these wines are beginning to emerge in other countries (finally).
But this isn't about Riesling's struggle against mainstream mis-conception, rather a simple fact: Riesling is worth a lot more than the price most of us pay for it. Decent Chardonnay is a great deal more expensive and seldom as good as Riesling - I know this is an objective statement but, it's true as well: take a ten euro Riesling and a twenty euro Chardonnay and....the Riesling is nearly always the better wine.
Riesling has the ability to impress: I have converted hundreds of Chardonnay drinkers to Riesling and hundreds of Pinot Grigio drinkers onto Riesling as well: they always have the same objections and then, when it is in their mouths and finally swallowed, they are forced to agree with me and I'm not talking about expensive wines here. Actually Riesling has such a wow factor that I've converted drinkers of only the driest wines to actually try and like sweet wines and off-dry wines made of Riesling.
But, Rieslings struggle against false or unimportant interpretations isn't new and a handful of bloggers and wine journalists have been trying to combat it for years. There is however a huge argument in favour of Riesling and that is quite simply the value-for-money factor: aside from a handful of wines from Alsace and sweet wines from Rheingau and Mosel (and one dry wine from Rheinhessen), Riesling is nearly always completely affordable and I'm not talking about average quality wines here. Ten euros is going to get you a very good wine in Germany, twenty euros and you're looking at world-class white wine....think of what you'd pay for that in France or the USA.
1) Nearly all Riesling is good
Yep, that's not a lie - nearly all Riesling (particularly the dry ones) are good, 80% are even very good. You can't say that about any other varietal (apart from perhaps Grüner Veltliner). Seriously: there are very, very few bad Rieslings out there: yes, the supermarkets stock extremely cheap Riesling however most of these are drinkable and more than half are actually enjoyable. Whether dry, sweet, cheap or premium: Riesling is always a treat.
2) Riesling is the best food wine
There is a Riesling for any food dish - actually I'll be posting more on this point in the next few weeks but, for now, I challenge you to think of a dish that you can't pair with one form of Riesling. Like Asian food? Always Riesling. Seafood? Again, Riesling is your best bet. Steak, burger, pizza? Riesling is always a good choice - imagine being able to choose a bottle of wine at a restaurant that fits with everyones' dish? I can't think of another varietal that can offer that.
3) Compare the value-for-money factor with other wines. Riesling always wins.
Take a 200 euro Pauillac, a 200 euro Pommard and a 200 euro Cabernet from Napa - nothing will come close to the value for money factor in a 20 euro Riesling. Of course, the wines are very different but, if you were to assign the same price per quality to Riesling as you would to the above-mentioned wines, Riesling would cost 200 euros or more. Don't believe me? Check out the scores of the best Rieslings from every major wine critic and those of the Burgundy, Bordeaux and Napa wines....now do a quick internet search to find out how much they cost. Don't forget to pick up your chin from the desk once you're done.
4) Riesling ages gracefully
Dry Riesling ages better than white Burgundy and some sweet Rieslings are pretty much eternal. Provided that the wines have good corks, sweet wines can be enjoyed 50, 60 and even 100 years later. Dry wines can age 15-30 years and, thanks to the acidity (see I told you it was a good thing), they always retain a certain freshness. Whilst investment buyers might only choose a few select wines from the most famous wineries in the rarest forms, most Riesling ages very well regardless of cork or screw-top. To describe how Riesling ages is like describing how beef tastes: there are so many different aromas and characteristics that come with so many wines - they are all remarkably different but they all have the ability to age.
5) There are very few poor vintages
Whilst a top vintage is just as rare as in the other regions (although strangely becoming ever-so-common), the "bad" Riesling vintages seldom create low-quality wines. Actually, in the entry-level category for winery-made products, the level of consistency is unparalleled in Europe. Riesling always pulls off a decent show - whilst the premium dry and nobly sweet rarities are noticeably different between the vintages, it is still rare to find a bad or disappointing wine.
6) You can drink Riesling when you want
Maybe not all people agree with this point but I'm going to make it anyway: Riesling is fabulous at every point in its development: from fresh-in-the-bottle to pre-historic: Riesling is always enjoyable. Whilst some of the sweeter wines do lose a bit of, let's call it "zing" in middle-age, they are still perfectly palatable throughout their lives: you can wait or you can drink it now: you don't have to wait for ripeness...but you can...if you want: it really is completely up to you!
7) It wasn't always this way
There was a time when Riesling wines from the Mosel and Rheingau regions cost just as much and sometimes even more than the famous products of the Domaines and Chateaux of Burgundy and Bordeaux. Again, I challenge you to check that fact out. In the late 19th and 20th Century, Riesling from the Rhine regions and its tributaries (commonly referred to as Hock back then) was some of the most expensive wine in the world and was one of the most important German exports: these days machinery and automobiles have taken this title but it all started with wine - some of Europe's oldest and most profitable wine merchants were (and still are) based in Germany's Hanse-Städte: they used to export millions of litres of Riesling all over Europe and the wines were so sought-after that they often auctioned for much higher amounts of money than the French wines of the time did.
8) Riesling isn't necessarily cheap to make.
Whereas a great deal of European and New-World vineyards are fully-mechanised. A great deal of those in Germany (particularly those where Riesling is grown) aren't and probably never will be. High-altitudes, steep slopes and slippery floors make the planting, caring-for and eventual picking of Riesling grapes quite a job. Not only that: German employment guidelines for the pickers are some of the strictest in Europe and German vintners pay some of the highest wages in the world for seasonal pickers. Also, being so far North, German winemakers (again, particularly with Riesling regions), there is a large element of risk in the production of Riesling: hail, not-enough sun, too much rain, fewer natural predators for pests, frost and many other factors make producing Riesling a far greater risk than many other varietals and, in the regions where it is produced, it can be very unrewarding to make wine at all: yields are low, crop loss is high and winemakers are in a constant battle against nature to make a living.
9) Riesling expresses its 'terroir' more than any other varietal.
Whereas you can train yourself to taste the soil upon which a wine has grown, Riesling is one of the best wines to discover this in. Whether slate or limestone, quartzite or volcanic, it is nearly always present in the glass. No two Rieslings taste the same and, due to the simple fact that most German wine is sourced from a particular region (usually comparatively small to those overseas), the wines often stay true to the form that nature chose for them: regardless how many separate vineyards' grapes are used in them. Whereas all regions have a variety of soil types and differing climates within them, Riesling wines are often shaped by the place they were grown in - whereas Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also express terroir well, Riesling does it best.
10) There's not as much of it as you think there is.
German wine and the word Riesling are synonymous: think of Germany and you think of Riesling. Because of the customer's mis-conception that Riesling is sweet and too acidic to consume, winemakers have been forced to plant other varietals - wine tastes change and, whilst Riesling crops have remained stable in the last few years, the varietal occupies less of Germany's vineyard space than it used to (in %). In fact, compared with other regions, German wine production is tiny: in Bordeaux alone there are over 120,000 hectares of vineyards. In Germany there are around 102,000 hectares, only about 22% which are covered by Riesling vines (source).
But perhaps things are changing. Riesling has never attracted the same attention as Bordeaux and Burgundy (particularly in the important emerging markets). This will undoubtedly change though and the nation's new wave of young winemakers is likely to have an effect on the demand both overseas and inland. the German Wine Institute, Generation Riesling and the VDP are doing a great job in promoting the varietal and prices have risen slightly in the last decade.
Unfortunately though, 2016 looks like it is going to be a disastrous vintage: weather, pests and a whole host of other factors mean that there will be far fewer 2016 wines than in the vintages beforehand. Stock up on 2015 Riesling (one of the best vintages ever) to make sure you don't miss out.
It might sound like a cliché, recommending Rosé wine with your summer and it probably is but, let’s be honest, Rosé can be so good. It combines the best of both words: the freshness and crispness of white wine and the fuller, redder notes of, well, red wine.
The problem is with rosé though, is that it is sometimes so badly made: sickly sweet, messy and sticky. For that reason, many so-called wine experts ignore the stuff. Well that’s their problem: there are hundreds and thousands of well-made rosé wines all over the world and, if done properly, some of them can even compete with white and red wine. Of course, the world’s most famous and arguably best pink wines come from Provence in Southern France. These wines represent the pinnacle of rosé winemaking. The only problem is that they’re rather expensive and some of them, and I’m sorry for saying this, kind of take the interestingness out of rosé – for me, rosé needs to be fun and fruity and….kind of unserious: it needs to be easy-drinking, pour-it-down-your-throat kind of stuff rather than the stuffier world of white and red wine.
So here I have compiled ten German rosés, all of which offer fun, fruit and yet a high-quality feel. All of them are very different from one another and you’ll notice a number of styles: from clean cut, bone dry, to bonkers, out-of-this-world wine with residual sugar, the craziest pink colour you’ll see in wine and a whole lot of fun.
Because, let's be honest, that's what drinking pink wine is all about.
Finding these Wines where you live
As ever, I'm more than happy to assist you in finding these wines where you live. All of them are widely available in Germany and can be found with a quick internet search. The vast majority are available in Austria and Switzerland and a handful in other European countries. If you'd like me to help you in tracking down a bottle you can purchase near you, let me know and I'll gladly assist you.
A few weeks ago I was shocked by some comments I heard. I asked about the wines of a certain Saar winery and was immediately hit with a lecture about how people who know about wine don’t drink such products: apparently the wines have no style, are dull, are overpriced, can be found in every supermarket and are only popular because of a certain celebrity lurking in the background.
I was a bit shocked because I’ve always liked the wines. Sure, I agree that the entry-level stuff is available on every corner but, as a supermarket wine buyer, I don’t see that as a problem: the wines are always sold at a respectable price and neither the winery, nor the prestigious VDP institution is harmed by this. Quite the contrary in fact: the availability of entry-levels wines in supermarkets is a general sales boost and a kind of dangling bait hook for the consumer: “hey, you like this? Visit your local wine dealer and ask for our premium wines.”
That is exactly what I did back then.
The winery in question is Von Othegraven, one of the Saar’s most important producers: a stone’s throw from Egon Müller, Van Volxem, Forstmeister-Geltz Zilliken, Peter Lauer and many other fantastic producers. Von Othegraven belongs in this club in my opinion and I was really shocked when I heard that a handful of people think the opposite is true.
So, here I say it: regardless of whichever TV personality stands behind the Kanzem winery, regardless of the fact that you can find the entry-level wines in many supermarkets, regardless of the fact that some people refuse to accept this blatant truth: the Von Othegraven winery is a producer of fantastic wines and, in one market segment specifically, one of both Germany and the Saar’s frontrunners: Kabinett and Spätlese Feinherb from Grand Cru sites.
The wines drink excellently from day one and, whilst this is the case with a few other entries in this category too, this characteristic runs throughout the entire portfolio rather than only being applicable to one or two wines. They grace with age but represent excellently drinking at every stage in their long lives which is a rare treat with many winery’s best products entering drinking five to ten years after bottling (and in some cases, much longer).
Even the aforementioned entry-level wines are well made, full of Saar character and, true to the spirit of this part of the world, realistically priced. The dry wines from Grand Cru wines are good as well: the Illustrious Größe Gewächse are very enjoyable indeed: the flagship Kanzemer Altenberg GG is, for me at least, one of the Saar’s best. However, I still regard the winemaker’s sweet wines as being far superior but, let’s face it, that’s normal in the Saar region and the Mosel in general as well.
So, last night, whilst enjoying a bottle of the basic VO Riesling, I decided to dig up some tasting notes of the Von Othegraven wines I’ve tried over the years. I’d call it “best of VO” but I haven’t tried all of the wines in all of the vintages so here are a few random wines from the Kanzem winery that I recommend you try.
Finding Von Othegraven wines where you live
In the UK, the Wiltinger Kupp Kabinett is available through www.thewinesociety.com however, for a full range, contact the guys www.thewineryuk.com. In the USA, it can be a little harder to find the wines but some of them are available. Visit www.skurnik.com for a comprehensive range and information about shipping in your state.
The wines are widely available in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. For further information about getting hold of these wines where you live, get in touch and I'll gladly help you.
www.von-othegraven.de - the winery's official website
www.grosserring.de - The Grosser Ring's website (VDP Mosel-Saar-Ruwer)
www.moselfinewines.com - comprehensive information and tasting notes for VO wines
Nowhere does the argument in favour of cold-climate white wine make more sense than in the Mosel, Saar and Ruwer valleys. In both sweet wines and indeed dry ones, the mineral notes sucked out of the slate soils together with the delicate fruit on display can only occur in such a place.
The Mosel region has a wide mix of styles and characteristics. In the Saar Valley, modern wineries are making waves alongside traditionalist institutions. The old powerhouses of Bernkastel-Kues, Erden, Wehlen and Traben-Trabach carry on producing their world-famous wines next to exciting newly-revived prime vineyards operated by some of the world’s finest up-and-coming new winemakers.
The rise of Dr. Loosen internationally has also assisted the region in gaining importance. Frequently labelled as a dusty old part of the world that makes only sweet wine, Ernie Loosen and his team have catapulted both Mosel and Germany back into the limelight of wine drinkers the world over.
In Germany itself, one winemaker seems to be gaining more importance every day: Markus Molitor. His estate has grown and grown for the best part of a decade and some of his wines are even members of the elite 100-Parker-Point club.
The revived Van Volxem and Von Othegraven estates in Wiltingen and Kanzem on the banks of the Saar are also contributing to the success of the region, especially in the way of dry wine.
And yet, the reason most people know of the Mosel is thanks to producers like JJ Prüm, Egon Müller, Karthäuserhof, Maximin Grünhaus and the like. They still make those wines that made the region famous and the popularity of such products is still as relevant as it always was – recent auctions both nationally and international even suggest that the popularity for such products is growing.
Particularly interesting for the consumer however is the simple fact that tasting these world-class wines is completely affordable. The best Mosel wines seldom cost more than 30€ for a regular 750ml bottle. Perhaps the Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerauslese and Eiswein bottles might exceed this price but, in terms of dry wine and Spätlese, sometimes even Auslese – there is nothing that is not affordable from the Mosel region.
This is a shock really when you consider how difficult it is to produce Mosel wine. Excessive moisture, unreliable summers, unpredictable precipitation and very cold winters are just part of the problem. The steepness of some of the slopes makes harvesting incredibly difficult at times and mechanised help is pretty much impossible for most of the region.
However, measuring the quality of a wine on its price is usually a mistake and, in terms of discussing the quality of the wine as a product alone, irrelevant. The Mosel production region is unique and, despite reliance on one varietal, unbelievably diverse - that is what makes it so special!
I have compiled a list of 26 wines than I think define the region. All of them offer astonishing money for value, are widely available and offer a great deal of diversification. I will add to this list over time and am more than happy to hear your suggestions (just comment at the bottom of the blog entry).
I get why Pinot Grigio is popular: it’s usually rather cheap and most people have heard of it. In Essence though, Pinot Grigio (or Pinot Gris as we should probably call it) is actually a rather special varietal.
It is most probably a mutant emergence of Pinot Noir which would explain certain aspects of the aromas that emerge in finished wines and its appearance: Pinot Gris isn’t really all that white – its appearance varies according to production area but the majority of grapes are browny-blue in colour rather than the whitey-green you usually see with white grapes. Pinot Grigio Blush is a(n awful) way to drink the wine – that pink colour comes from the grape skin (or by adding a touch of Pinot Noir as some wineries do - cheats).
The varietal is so poorly understood though. Most just assume that it is only used to create bland, mass-appeal, cheap Italian white wine. This couldn’t be further from the truth! Pinot Gris is a fabulous varietal that appeals on so many levels, you just need to look further than Italy and the copycats in the huge New-World operations to see the true potential of the grape.
Pinot Gris originated, like all of the other Pinot varietals, in Burgundy – (in German the varietal is called Grauburgunder – literally “Grey Burgundy”). It spread to Alsace and Switzerland and this spreading showed no signs of slowing down. By the 19th Century, it made it big time in Germany: the soils and climates of the South-West fitted perfectly to the varietal and it is cultivated today on a large scale - particularly in Baden.
In fact, German Grauburgunder has very little to do with the Pinot Grigio of Northern Italy at all – it’s far fuller in flavour and, if done probably with a touch of residual sugar in the way of a Kabinett, it offers both mellow but rewarding drinking. And there’s more: because Pinot Gris isn’t seen as a particularly noble varietal: wines are cheap. They might indeed be hard to find outside of Germany but Baden Pinot Gris offers some of the best value for money in the world of white wine: dry, flavourful wines with huge appeal and great drinkability.
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