The French have Mouton-Rothschild, Italy has Sassicaia and Germany has Egon Müller. Possibly the only world-famous wines to orignate from Germany are those from Dr. Loosen, Robert Weil and Egon Müller – the latter being, by far and away, the most expensive.
The Scharzhofberger site is so synonymous with Egon Müller that, in wine circles, if you say the vineyard’s name, Müller’s wines are the ones you think of despite several wineries owning parcels in what is Germany’s most-famous vineyard.
But it is Egon Müller that is so commonly associated with this slate-soil site in the Saar region (a sub region of the Mosel) and for good reason. The off-dry and nobly sweet wines from this winery and from this vineyard belong to the world’s finest white wines – on a par with top whites from Burgundy – despite being vastly different.
Pale, golden yellow in the glass, the nose of this wine is slightly different to the Mosel and Saar Kabinetts I have tried in the past. There is far lesser reliance on fruit and the mineral aspects: slate, white pepper, fresh herbs are far more prominent. There is fruit in the way of pear, a touch of something tropical (mango, papaya, pineapple) and a decent amount of fresh apple juice. Interesting too is the way the residual sugar is worked into the wine – believe it or not but it is not immediately noticeable – of course this isn’t a dry wine: that is obvious, but the fruit is so composed and worked into the spice structure that it isn’t bright: it doesn’t dominate as is so often the case in Kabinett. The fruit does come through but the slate aromas coupled with a unique sense of smoke and the fresh herbs on the nose run the show leading to a very clean finish – unusual for Kabinett which often remains sweet and syrupy on the palate.
A fantastic Kabinett which presents the soil perhaps better than any other wine of the same classification from this site – composed, clean and remarkably addictable.
Egon Müller wines in the UK
Egon Müller wines in the US
There are probably four major names in the production of German wine and their wines are sought after in every country: the winerys' labels are immediately recognisable and their wines, some of the world’s best: Jos. Joh. Prüm, Egon Müller, Robert Weil and Keller. Whereas the previous two deal mainly with sweet wines, Keller’s strength is universally applicable: consistently producing some of Germany’s finest dry wines and also some of its finest sweet wine too: much like Robert Weil in fact.
The producer's single-vineyard and prestige cuvees are sold out, year after year, including the Hubacker GG. It serves as one of the producer's calling cards: world-famous and, arguably, one of the world's best-priced fine wines.
The Hubacker vineyard is defined by its limestone soil however, when the wine has aged a little, those chalky notes are restrained leading to a puristic take on dry Riesling: yes the soil plays a role in the wine but it doesn't define it solely as is sometimes the case in Rheinhessen. It's fair to say that this wine is probably a bit young and yet the key to good wine is that it can be enjoyed at every stage of its lifetime - this wine delivered on all levels.
With a brief hint of gooseberry on the attack, the only chalk-element of the wine is noticeable: creamy and, until the body picks up, intensely smooth. When the body kicks in, you all-of-a-sudden realise why people go crazy about this wine. Fully ripe stone fruit: sweet apricots, yellow plum and a decent helping of yellow peach. There is a thick sense of pear in there as well that gradually picks up momentum until the finely-spiced finish takes the reins: vegetative notes with nettles, green herbs and perhaps a hint of green pepper: you would be forgiven for thinking this wine grew on slate rather than chalk thanks to a smoky feel to the finish.
A true stunner, priced at around 50€, it certainly isn’t cheap but it impresses immensely and is, undoubtedly, one of the world’s finest dry, white wines, much like its bigger and vastly-more-expensive brothers.
Keller in the US
Keller in the UK
There are a few vineyards with a selection of unmistakable characteristics. Erden's Prälat is one such vineyard and all of its wines are immediately recognisable - perhaps only Ürzig's Würzgarten is parallel in terms of vivid personality in the Mittelmosel region.
Slate isn't limited to this vineyard but the way a kind of evergreen-woodsmoke is worked into this, paired with a faint whiff of lighter fuel: it can only be Prälat. Fruit is pushed into the background in the nose but there is sweet apple compote, quince and maracuja - some lime is lurking in the slate's shadow and so too is juniper.
Whereas many wineries in the Mosel region experience international recognition, there are so many smaller producers doing just as good a job. Without the backing of the VDP or multi-national parent companies, their wines remain little-known and, as a result, have a much lower price. Besides Meulenhof, there are hundreds of Mosel producers, many of which have vines in some of the region's finest vineyards.
On the attack is lime, green apple and sweet lemon. This moves onto cooking apple (think crumble), the promised quince, a touch of pineapple and then a unique display of red fruit: rhubarb and even raspberry. The wine finishes on slate, smoke, white pepper and a satisfying sweetness that keeps the piercing acidity at bay.
Fabulous wine with an awesome signature touch - this is about as Prälat as it gets.
Meulenhof in the UK
Meulenhof in the US
Occasionally a wine comes along and is completely different. Not only does it impress through its appearance in the glass, its wonderful aroma and fabulous taste but just because it is so different to anything that has come before it. Being different alone is a risky business: you run the risk of appealing only to niche audiences but if you can combine being ever-so-slightly different with beloved and traditional elements: success may be coming your way.
I am, of course, talking about the elements of taste that natural wine brings with it: the unmistakable taste of a long, full grape maceration with skins in white wine. This is an acquired taste and, when combined with zero filtration and no sulfites: this is unlikely to be a product with mass appeal. Taking the individual element of full skin maceration and then creating a “regular” wine is becoming popular practise but rarely does this practise appear in the elite world of German Großes Gewächs. Up until recently, only traditional and typical wines made the bar which makes the St. Nikolaus from Peter Jakob Kühn an exotic exception: hats off to the future-looking VDP Rheingau for approving this wine. It wears its double G with pride and yet sports its own look – like a fashion-lover wearing this season’s must-have accessory and yet remaining true to their individual style, maybe even defining which items next year will become “must-have”
There is very little else comparable in the GG realms – similarly good wines: yes but nothing that tastes like this.
Firstly it’s important to realise that this is a very young wine and it wasn’t really intended to be opened so early – the wine takes a while to fall completely into place but impresses at all stages: from straight-out-of-the-bottle at 8˚C, right through to an-hour-in-the-glass at 15˚C.
Immediately present in the nose is a delicate sense of citrus: mainly lemon peel but also a remarkably fresh aroma of honeysuckle. There is a touch of apple and, running in the background and hints of ripe, yellow apple and plenty of spice: sage, mint, a touch of smoke (possibly hinting at flint) and white pepper.
Straight out of the bottle, the wine plays a set of highs and short breaks between individual phases: it starts with fresh citrus: pink grapefruit and dried citrus peel, this vanishes and is eventually replaced by yellow fruit: yellow plum, apple but nothing too strong. This vanishes as well and is finally replaced by a unique sprinkling of sherbet to finish the wine off with sweetness, a touch of acidity and plenty of Rheingau spice. All the while a yeast-wood note runs throughout and leads into the aforementioned finish.
The highs and pauses are brought a lot closer together – the individual elements run into eachother and the citrus on the attack becomes more defined: thick, freshly-preshed grapefruit juice with lemon and Clementine peel backing it up. The body is also fuller and there are yeasty notes involved now too: lots of apple but nothing sharp (a bit like apple pie with the yeast notes)– there is a small amount of apricot in there and this leads on to the finish which has calmed down a lot and now reminds of rhubarb (unsweetened) – tart and excellently brought into white pepper, sage, mint, thyme and fresh grass.
This wine is very unique and, whilst it does carry a few elements of natural wine, it isn’t necessarily one that only freaks can enjoy. Actually it offers a bright picture of the future of this style of wine: seldom is it done as well as this and never before has it carried a GG logo on the bottle. Priced at around 40€, this wine is selling-out fast so grab it while you can!
Peter Jakob Kühn in the UK
The new VDP classification makes sense and nowhere does it make more sense than with dry wine. Unfortunately though, the middle level - Ortswein (commune wine, the German equivalent of Villages-AOC) has been, in my opinion at least, a bit disappointing up until now - rarely have the Ortsweine that I have tried in the past been noticeably better than the phenomenal quality that most Gutsweine (estate wines) are able to offer. It's not just a noticeable jump in quality you're supposed to expect but a different wine entirely - one that shows off the terroir of an individual part of a production region rather than the region as a whole.
My suggestion was rather using the middle category as a "soil wine" - many wineries already produce Gutswein with the name of the soil in the wine's name: "Schiefer Riesling" or "Grauburgunder Muschelkalk".
Thankfully though, this wine was able to prove to me that the Ortswein level does make sense and that such wines can be unbelievably good. The new series of Villages wines from Balthasar Ress have only been on the market for a few months and, as of yet, I've only tried this one - a wine made of grapes sourced solely from the vineyards in and around Rüdesheim.
With a distinct but honest note of nectarine on the nose and the faintest touch of apricot, the mineral structure props up the fruit with unique pulses of yellow apples and background notes of salt, quartz, granite and fresh green herbs.
On the palate the wine is delicate at first and the fruit comes through in a reserved way: nothing strong and sharp to take away focus from a mineral game in the background: rock competing with the fruit to remain perfectly in balance and then eventually delivering an acidic punch that immediately makes you want to take another sip. Excellent stuff - unbeleivably addictive and it makes the wine feel drier than it is.
Whereas Weingut Balthasar Ress has always been in the top half of the Rheingau Premier League, with this wine (and the very good 2015 Gutsweine I might add), they've already qualified for the Champions League. If their GG and Große Lagen sweet wines are as good as some journalists are suggesting, they might even have won the tournament this year.
Fabulous stuff. Costs around 15€
Balthasar Ress in the UK
Balthasar Ress in the US (CA)
Every now and again, I return to Dr. Loosen. The wines are notoriously hard to locate in Germany, which is strange because, everywhere else in the world they stand as proud ambassadors for German wine. Whereas the other ambassadors are usually best avoided, the Dr. Loosen portfolio is very good indeed. Actually, it's very good in its own right: the winery's Rieslings are both of very quality and also represent the Mittelmosel astonishingly well. With parcels of land in some of the Mosel's best-known and most-celebrated vineyards, Dr. Loosen is one of the region's most important producers and arguably, Germany's most important exporter.
The Ürziger Würzgarten vineyard needs no introduction but I can provide a basic description nonetheless. This world-famous vineyard is fabulously red in colour thanks to the volcanic soils that make it up. Slate also forms the base soil and, due to this and the high amount of iron in the red volcanic earth, the wines often emerge as very spicy - hence the name "Würzgarten" - literally "spice-garden". With varying angles of steepness, the vineyard is slightly concave, subjecting it to relative protection from wind and long and undisrupted sun hours.
These off-dry wines come into their own a few years after harvest although many are immediately drinkable. 2010 might not have been the Mosel's best vintage but its Kabinetts and some of its Spätlese wines are very fine and offer early and enjoyable drinking.
Bright golden yellow.
The first thing to note about the wine is the high concentration of fruit: there is a lemon juice feel which is sweetened by an essence of honey. After this are many notes of tropical fruits: particularly pineapple and papaya. An underlying feel of apple is in there and this is complimented by slate, white pepper and a green herbal mix: sage, eucalyptus and fresh spearmint.
The attack is driven by the lemon and honey on the nose but it isn't sharp and almost immediately moves onto the apple. This comes through like freshly-pressed apple juice and whilst on the tongue, nuances of white peach, apricot and pineapple poke through. The finish is crisp with an explosion of slate, white pepper, nettles, aromatic herbs, a touch of salt and menthol notes.
A very well put together Kabinett that shows off what this vineyard can really do. As suggested above, there wines are enjoyable when young but also profit from a decade underground. This Kabinett would fit perfectly with spicy Thai food: particularly with seafood - its sweetness wouldn't allow the chilli to steal the show and its fruit would compliment the spice structure in the dish.
Brauneberg is one of the most famous parts of the Mosel region, with its Juffer vineyard, its wines make up some of the finest in Germany. The Mosel, best-known for sweet wine, is also home to fabulous cold-climate dry wine and, with the right winemaker at the helm, it can often overshadow some of the region’s world-renowned sweet wines. Whereas the residual sugar in sweet wine works well with the Mosel Riesling’s acidity, it is possible to create remarkably expressive dry wine utilising the slate soils and their expression to work with the acidity and Riesling-style rather than the naturally-occurring sugar alone.
Stefan Steinmetz, winemaker at Weingut Günther Steinmetz has recently gained a great deal of attention for the small Mittelmosel winery. The wines have impressed critics over the past few years and his wines are no longer just an insider tip but rather some of the most important pieces of the Mittelmosel puzzle. Alongside this “basic” Ortswein (village/commune wine), the winery’s single-vineyard wines are fast becoming Brauneberg and Mosel flagships.
Pale, satin gold.
The first thing I noted in the wine was freshly-cut grass. This was remarkable prominent and helped the yellow fruit on its way: apricot and yellow plum. Perhap a deeper-set sense of peach was there too, as was a hint of tropical fruit: mango, pineapple and, to a lesser degree, kiwi as well. Citrus peel (grapefruit and orange), definitive slate and aromatic herbs complete the nose.
Immediately clean on the palate, the attack contains the orange peel and hinted at grapefruit juice but, before the full flavour was unleashed, the wine moved onto the yellow fruit promised: elegant Mirabelle and a touch of sweet apricot. The finish, dry and slate-style flirted with mint before remaining in the mouth for a crisp, dry finish.
A very clean and compact, well-made Riesling. With the attention to detail in this village wine, it makes one want to try the single-site wines of the same winery. With vines in some of the Mosel’s best vineyards and a new partner project with Weingut Dr. Hermann in the legendary Ürziger Würzgarten, the future looks very bright for this small, family winery.
Up until recently, I'd never really appreciated Riesling as a decent varietal to make sparkling wine out of. It commonly appears off-balanced and over-acidic as bubbly creating an either undrinkable or unmemorable experience. There are however a number of wineries that are more than able to pull it off: Schloss Vaux, Bardong, Sekthaus Solter, Wegeler, Van Volxem, Von Buhl and a handful of others.
Few dare to pair the Riesling varietal with Brut Zero: a dosage-free wine with ultimate dryness and very-little to absolutely no residual sugar (also known as Brut Nature). I personally believe that Brut Zero is one of the best ways of experiencing terroir in sparkling wine: the missing dosage allows the wine to show off its natural aspects and what it is capable of on its own (albeit with a dash of yeast). Particularly in Champagne, the dosage can get in the way and blends the wine hiding particular elements of taste and, in some of the largest houses’ Brut NV products, is exactly what it is there for: continuity rather than individuality of the vintage and vineyard sites.
The winery of Immich-Batterieberg opted to produce their sparkling Riesling in this way and it is a brave decision: very few other Mosel producers do it and the slate soils with the cooler temperature already make wines very clean-cut and slightly acidic – opting out of residual sugar could create a dusty mouth-drier with piercing acidity and tooth-stinging harshness. This isn’t the case though, 'Jour Fixe' is one of the best Brut Zero bubblies I’ve ever had and, amazingly, it encapsulates the Mosel terroir, the trademark style of Immich-Batterieberg and serves as the benchmark of Brut Zero Sekt altogether.
Pale straw yellow in colour with a delicate and controlled mousse.
Lots of yeast and rye on the nose: like really crusty, brown bread and it is helped along the way with a decent helping of dried orchard fruit: apple and pear. The whole thing has a background aroma of pink grapefruit: both skin and juice and this really works well with the rye bread.
Green and yellow apples and pears are first on the scene: zingy Granny Smith-style acidity with the crispiness of green pear and the softer notes of yellow pear go into a citrus pre-chorus of lemon juice and grapefruit peel. The body is long, buttery, creamy and ends expertly on the toasty notes of brown bread on the finish: the creamy body is important for the finish: it makes it mild and controlled rather than harsh – the whole thing is big in style and yet remarkable delicate and astonishingly well put-together.
A fantastic sparkling wine: one that even the most-pampered fans of ripe, vintage Champagne would enjoy. The Brut Zero aspect is key to the individuality of the wine but also in defining its finesse: like the still wines from Immich-Batterieberg, the whole thing is bold, big and yet highly-refined. Drink it now or drink it in ten years: it’s completely up to you and, whenever you open it, you’re in for an addictively drinkable, unique Riesling Sekt – one of the best the Mosel and indeed Germany have to offer.
The jewel in the crown of the Nahe Valley is undoubtedly the Hermannshöhle vineyard close to the commune of Niederhausen. It is arguably the Nahe’s best site and, with it’s South-facing, steep vineyards, it soaks up some of the highest numbers of sun hours in the production region. On the headland of a meander, the microclimatic conditions are ideal for both the storage of heat and relative protection from winds and frosts.
The black-grey slate slopes, combined with limestone and volcanic soils are also excellent for the cultivation of vines, particularly Riesling. The Riesling grown here achieves full ripeness with almost-unrivalled complexity and depth, not just in the Nahe region but Germany in general.
The site is operated by a number of wineries, one of which is the Dönnhoff estate in Oberhausen (Nahe). Dönnhoff produces a number of Riesling wines from the site including prestigious sweet wines all the way to its legendary premium dry Grosses Gewächs (Grand Cru).
Classically satin gold with a slightly green hue.
Extremely fresh and ripe with green apple, gooseberry, lime juice, grapefruit peel but also a fair amount of vegetation (fresh sage, mint and evergreen forest) right up until a slate-driven, almost smoky note at the end.
Attack of sweetened and lemon juice with a hint of lime cordial and grapefruit peel: all fresh and yet not overly sharp. This leads onto a thick yellow body with green apple, quince and Abate pears. There were some exotic nuances and these paved the way to an expertly worked-in slate finish with a touch of wet rock, and fresh, aromatic herbs. The smoke on the nose came through slightly but was gone in an instant and finished off the whole thing wonderfully.
The rounded and fullness of the wine is astonishing. Fresh as the day it was filled into bottles however with all the sharp edges rounded off and blending into one another. Thanks to this, the age of the wine is expressed with grace rather than tiredness and it helps to pull the whole thing together. Hermannshöhle and the expert winemakers at Dönnhoff make this wine one of Germany’s most important ambassadors – it doesn’t get much better than this when it comes to Riesling.
Enjoyed with the guys over at weinding (click here to check out their site)
The Ruwer is often forgotten when it comes to Mosel. Whereas the region used to incorporate the word, it was renamed so as not to confuse consumers. These days, the wines of the Mittelmosel and Saar sub-regions often overshadow the Ruwer which is a shame because the Ruwer valley has a fair amount to offer in terms of both dry and off-dry wines. Alongside Karthäuserhof, Maximin Grünhaus is the Ruwer's other biggest name.
This wine is sourced from a prime single-site in the Ruwer region and is dry. The 1987 vintage wasn't one of the Mosel's best and lead to an underripe feel in many of the region's products: this dry wine has less than 10% alcohol by volume which is very low.
It's always a risk buying Mosel wine from the late 1980s and 1990s that is dry as many producers never endeavoured for their wines to spend so long in the bottle. Whereas the sweet Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese wines received high-quality cork stoppers, the cheaper, drier wines were often sealed with poor quality cork making aging very difficult. Thankfully this isn't the case with this wine: no cork problems at all...in fact, very little sign of the wine's impressive 28 years.
Straw yellow with a bright green gleam.
A bit stinky at first, this quickly goes away leaving you with bright, fresh lemon juice. This is only brief and the wine goes back to highly vegetative elements and menthol herbs. There's a sense of green pepper and also cucumber.
A whole different story: the wine tastes like it was bottle eight rather than twenty-eight years ago: zingy lemon juice (although rather acidic) dictate the attack and lead onto a clean body of apple, pear and peach. The finish is rather quartz-like with slate elements, mint and also a sprinkling of pepper and dash of tobacco.
The wine is undeniably underripe but the years of rounding-off of the sharp notes have done it wonders. It no longer feels bitter and unfinished but full and actually quite refreshing. I'm guessing this wine might have been rather undrinkable in 1988 but the quarter century since then have really allowed it to mature.
Once again proof that Mosel wine, provided good cork was used, is timeless. This wine didn't feel particularly old, it is the same age as me and has almost certainly aged better than I have.
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
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-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry