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Wine topic of the day – German wine regions – The Mosel pt. 2


Let’s talk Riesling.

There are other grapes in Germany, but none with the exalted status of Riesling.

We were going to discuss Riesling globally. By that, I mean that we were going to talk about the role of Riesling in all of Germany, not just in the Mosel. However, in this installment, we are going to only describe the characteristics of Rieslings from the Mosel and we’ll discuss the other regions as they come up, as I want to keep the installments as short as possible. 

First of all, let’s put it up there with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc as one of the top white grapes of the world. And it’s the very characteristics of the plant that makes it possible to produce great wines in challenging conditions. Its wood is hard and long-lasting, the grape is late to bud and fairly early to ripen, but it’s not picked until at least October, which allows for a good development of flavor. It’s very frost resistant and has a very high yield without sacrificing quality.

In earlier years, Riesling represented a far greater percentage of Mosel plantings. However, the amount has been reduced a bit due to an increasing emphasis on quality, as well as in-roads from other grape varieties.

You’ll find vines planted on the steepest southern slopes of the Mosel. This allows them to get the necessary sun needed to flourish in such a northern climate. Grey flat shale further heats the vineyards.

Riesling isn’t dominate in all regions of Germany. Baden scarcely bothers with it, for instance, possibly because of the increasing warmness of the climate due to it stretching all the way to Switzerland.

One of the advantages of Riesling that helps it reduce in its wines the tendency of some sweet whites to veer toward the insipid and flabby is its ability to deliver acidity, although this are the very Riesling characteristics of poor years and bad yield management. And Riesling is particularly terroir dependent. So, you’ll see some differences of wines from the same vineyard that aren’t only the result of different production techniques. fortunately, Germany has had a string of good to great years since the trifecta years of ’88, ’89’ and ’90. Quality declined a bit the next four years, but since ’96, the quality has been very strong.

So, what can one expect from a very good Riesling? Some of the notes that you can expect are apricot and peach, honeysuckle and apple, orange and lemon zest. Some people describe lychee nut, but frankly, I’m somewhat unfamiliar with what a lychee nut note in wine should taste like. You’ll sometimes see candied fruit bandied around, and, oddly enough, a hint of gasoline isn’t a negative unless it’s overpowering (I can hear you snickering right now). Rieslings can have a tropical fruit overtone to them. They can also emulate figs. The better Rieslings from the Mosel will have a minerally and stony/flinty quality. To my nose, this is wrapped with a hint of sulphur. It’s also common to have spicy, racy notes, with touches of honey and especially floral notes.  But one of the keys to a great Mittelmosel is a slightly oily mouthfeel. It’s hard to describe to someone who has never experienced it, but you’ll know it if you encounter it. In the Upper Mosel (remember, this is the southernmost part of the Mosel which includes the Saar and the Ruwer because “up is down”),you’ll find more deviation from the great balance and acidity that typlifies the Mittelmosel. Saar wines can, on occasion be a bit too acidic, for example. The wines from the Central Mosel are generally more powerful and livelier than their more southern brethern. Downstream from Zell and on to Koblenz, fine wines are made but aren’t nearly as famous as those from the Mittelmosel despite the use of the picturesque name Terrassenmosel, so named because of the extreme steepness of the slopes and the use of terraces. Less acidy and more rounded, there are fine wines to be had from this last stretch of the Mosel.

Here are four simplified maps of the region, from Upper to Lower. Just to get your bearings,Wasserbillig is on the Luxembourg side of the Mosel and Oberbillig is on the German side.





All maps are found here and are courtesy of:

You can find great information about travelling in the region from this web site. this page is in German, but there’s a link at the bottom to their English page.

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