Mosel Riesling

The Mosel Valley is one of the oldest wine regions in Germany with the first vineyards planted in the Roman times. The region has held a long-standing reputation as the source of great wine and is synonymous with the grape variety, Riesling. Considered one of the noble grapes by both Germany and Alsace, Riesling is a tricky grape that oscillates from sparkling brilliance to insipid flabbiness. Despite losing some of its illustrious reputation over the years, in recent years, the Mosel Riesling is starting to shine once more.

History

The Mosel and its vineyards
The Mosel and its vineyards

Human settlement along the valley has existed since the Romans who gave the valley its name. The first recordings of Riesling being made in the Mosel was in 1435 with the region fully embracing the grape in the 17th Century. By the 18th Century, the wines had garnered a reputation for high quality with Mosel Rieslings even exported to England to be enjoyed by various noble and royal houses.

By the 19th Century, the Mosel Valley and its wine production was under Prussian rule and ideal weather conditions was helping produce Rieslings of particularly high quality. The government promoted the wine throughout Prussia but bad weather between the 1830's and 40's started to take its toll on the wine's reputation as vintages failed to live up to the highs of the past.

The 1850's saw the use of chaptalization to help bolster flagging vintages but although this distinctly improved quantity, what it did for quality is arguable. The 20th Century saw the emergence of brands like Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch which catered to America and a new thirst for sweeter wine. Aimed for the mass market, Blue Nun lacked sophistication and, instead, sold itself on its ability to be drunk with almost anything due to its semi-sweet nature.

Blue Nun was the antithesis of how Mosel Riesling was originally regarded and drunk in noble households. Recent years have seen a real drive to re-establish the reputation of Mosel Riesling from being overly sweet clumsy wines to the sophisticated wines that walk the tightrope between sugar, acid and fruit and now certain Rieslings are once again grabbing peoples' attention.

Tasting notes

Aromatic and Floral white wines
Aromatic and Floral white wines

Mosel Riesling is notably light-bodied, low alcohol but with high acid and packed full of fruit. The level of sweetness can range from bone dry to honeyed sugar syrup and with that covers a wide spectrum of flavor.

From delicate florals and herbs like jasmine, honeysuckle, Thai basil and rosemary to the zing of citrus, lemon and lime. As well as citrus, warmer fruit flavors of apple, pear and lemon can also be present alongside stone fruit and riper notes of mango, papaya and guava can also manifest, even going as far as white cherry and strawberry. Mineral notes of chalk and wet stone are sometimes said to be detected as well as other more esoteric notes of beeswax and most famously, petrol and kerosene.

Aged sweet Riesling can also take on a honeyed marmalade character with candied peel, ginger and clove taking centre stage.

As home to the world's best and most well-regarded Rieslings, Germany has a very specific and comprehensive system for labeling Riesling wines. From dry to sweet, these terms indicate the varying level of sweetness. Trocken is the driest with Feinherb just after, Halbtrocken, Kabinett and Spatlese represent off-dry with Spatlese bordering onto sweet and Auslese bordering sweet and very sweet. Beerenauslese is very sweet and Trockenbeerenauslese even more so with Eiswein, when the grapes are frozen, the sweetest of them all.

Generally, the lighter in alcohol, the sweeter the wine.

Food pairings include:

Food pairings
? Fotolia

As a result of differing sweetness levels, food pairings can vary considerably but examples can include:

  • Seafood Platters
  • Quiche Lorraine; zwiebelkuchen onion cakes (dry)
  • Thai Green Curry (off-dry)
  • Key Lime Pie (sweet)

Popular Mosel Riesling Brands

Key producers of Mosel Riesling include Egon Müller, Joh. Jos Prum and Dr. Loosen.

The Mosel Valley wine region

Riesling vines above the Mosel
Riesling vines above the Mosel

The Mosel Valley is just one of Germany's 13 official wine regions but it easily carries the most clout. Although most famous for Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and small amounts of Pinot Noir are also planted. However, the majority of the valley is given over to Riesling production.

Beginning in the Vosges Mountains that border France and Luxembourg and flows through Germany before reaching the Rhine at Koblenz. Most of the great vineyards are planted along the gorge cut by the river and in the valleys created by its tributaries, the Saar and Ruwer rivers. Villages on the banks of the Mosel include Bernkastel, Brauneberg, Erden, Graach and Piesport. Most of these villages have some Erste Lage or Grosse Lage sites. Erste Lage indicates a first-class vineyard with distinctive characteristics and Grosse Lage indicates the very top vineyard sites in the country.

Despite all the vineyards running along the same river, sites can vary hugely depending on where they are in the valley. The majority of the top sites are steep, south-facing slopes that take advantage of the heat and light reflected from the river.

These steep slopes provide the ideal environment for ripening high quality Riesling however there are problems with viticulture on such extreme inclines. They are near impossible to farm by machine and so are almost entirely reliant on manual labour.

The Mosel vineyards date back from Roman times and enjoy a cool, northern continental climate. The vineyards receive plenty of sunshine during the summer months but are never overwhelmingly hot. Nights can get very cold but the dark grey slate soaks up the heat of the day and helps keep the vines warm at night. These moderated temperatures coupled with a long growing season help to instil deep flavors within the grapes.

Much of the soil found in the valley dates back to the Devonian Period, a chapter of the Paleozoic Era which is sometimes referred to as the "Age of Fishes" when complex coral reefs and new marine species emerged. These soils suggest the Mosel Valley was once undersea with slate, the result of compressed seabeds, common to the region. Slate is generally poor for agriculture but perfect for vines which need sufficient stress to produce concentrated grapes and therefore wine.

Saar

The Saar and St Laurentius Church, Saarburg
The Saar and St Laurentius Church, Saarburg

The Saar stretches across 750 hectares of steep, south-facing slopes and produces delicate, light Riesling. The region sits predominantly on slate soils and is one of the few winners when it comes to climate change. In recent years, global warming has ensured grapes now reliably ripen most years producing wonderful wines of great acclaim.

The best wines show nuances of honeyed apple and strong notes of steel and will happily cellar for years. Important producers in the region include Weingut Geltz Zilliken, Van Vlxem, von H?vel and most highly-regarded estate in perhaps the whole of the Mosel, Egon Müller whose wines are frequently among the most expensive in the world.

Along the Saar river lies the village of Kanzem whose Devonian gray slate and iron-rich red slate produces Rieslings that are both rich and mineral. Ockfen is one of the wine-making villages in the Saar and is home to the Bockstein vineyard whose Rieslings are known for their wide spectrum of fruit and floral notes, elegance and capacity to age while still being able to be drunk young.

Ruwer (or Ruwerthal)

Steep, vineyard covered banks of the Mosel river
Steep, vineyard covered banks of the Mosel river
? Nik Weis

Ruwer is a small district centered on one of the tributaries running off the Mosel which covers 190 hectares and over 90 percent is dedicated to Riesling. The Ruwer river runs through key wine-making spots such as Waldrach whose wines are typically light in style to the stretch in between Kasel and Ruwer village where the best wines in the region are produced.

Next to Saar lies the Upper Mosel which has predominantly shell-limestone soils. Shell-limestone is an ancient rock formed from the fossilized remains of coral, shellfish and other marine life that tends to be free-draining and ideal for viticulture. The region is less known for its Riesling and more for its sparkling wines and wine and fruit liqueurs made from Müller-Thurgau, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir and other local Germanic varieties.

Vineyards of Trittenheim
Vineyards of Trittenheim
? Bernhard Eifel

The Middle Mosel (or Mittelmosel) is a winding stretch of the river roughly 120 km long running between the cities of Trier and Zell. It is mainly dominated by Devonian slate on the slopes and sandy gravel on the valley floor. These steep slopes rise, in places, to over 700 ft and along with the south-facing valley walls, the region benefits from the hill north of Minheim which serves as a windbreak against cold easterlies. However, some of this cold does seep in creating cool night-time temperatures which help preserve the fresh character of the grapes despite the warmth of the day.

From west to east, notable vineyards include Th?rnich, Klüsserath, K?werich, Leiwen, Trittenheim, Neumagen, Dhron, Piesport and Minheim. In between Trittenheim and Minheim lies the grosslage, Michelsberg, whose wines can often be misleadingly named Piesporter Michelsberg as the village of Piesport lies at only one end of stretch of the vineyards.

The town of Leiwen is mostly planted to Riesling with wines ranging from dry to very sweet Eiswein.

The steepest vineyard sites of Trittenheim are the most desirable for Riesling and the Apotheke Grosse Lage is particularly known for Rieslings with great structure. The Dhron region's key Grosse Lage, Hofberg, produces notable Rieslings which are particularly flavourful and aromatic.

Piesport creates some of the Mosel's best wines and is particularly known for deep honeyed, often opulent, Rieslings. Two Erste Lage sites are situated here, Goldtropfchen whose name translates roughly as "Droplets of Gold", and Schubertslay.

After Piesport and Minheim, lie Wintrich and Kesten who both produce good wines but neither match the dizzying heights of their neighbour, Brauneberg.

Vineyards of Wintrich
Vineyards of Wintrich
? Weingut Gorges

Wintrich only has one Grosse Lage, Wintricher Ohilgsberg whose wines are bright and savory but not as spicy or opulent as those of Piesport.

The village of Brauneberg, in between Piesport and Bernkastel, is named after the region's ruddy brown soils is known for rich Rieslings. The slopes are south-facing and steep and home to two key Erste Lage sites, Juffer and Juffer-Sonnenuhr. In Kestern, these slopes are referred to Paulinshofberg.

Riesling from both Juffer and Juffer-Sonnenuhr are concentrated with aromas of citrus and stone fruits and tend to have an elegance that has garnered a strong international reputation.

Neighbouring Brauneberg lies one of the Mosel's most famous vineyard sites, Bernkastel opposite the village of Kues. Two famous Erste Lag Bernkastel vineyards responsible for some of the Mosel's greatest wines include the Doktor (Doctor) Vineyard and the Village's Lay. The flavour profile of Bernkastel wines are often elegant, complex and capable of great longevity; pale gold in color, these wines are generally considered superb.

Bernkasteler Lay Rieslings are described as being very confident and balanced with excellent texture. Benkasteler Doktor Rieslings are well known to be very delicate with elegant notes of spice. Notable producers who use fruit from the Doktor vineyard include Weingut Dr. H Thanisch and Markus Molitor.

Downstream of the stunning wines of Bernkastel, is Graach, Wehlen and ürzig. The village of Graach has three sites, Domprobst, Josephsh?fer and Himmelreich, classified as Grosse Lage.

The Graacher Josephsh?fer Rieslings are said to be rich and spicy with notes of peach and the capacity for great ageing and the Rieslings of Graacher Himmelreich have a strong mineral character and a capacity to age.

Vineyards of Wehlen
Vineyards of Wehlen
? Joh. Jos. Prüm

The Wehlen region is famous for its Grosse Lage sundial or Sonnenuhr vineyard and Rieslings from this steep Devonian blue slate site are said to be particularly focused and characterful with fresh minerality.

In between Wehlen and ürzig lies the region of Zeltingen-Rachtig which has one Grosse Lage, the Sonnenuhr vineyard which is shared by neighboring Wehlen.

The Rieslings of ürzig are most famous for their notes of spice, earth and vibrant tropical fruit. The most famous Grosse Lage is the 62-hectare Würzgarten vineyard which directly translate as Spice Garden. The nearby equally famous Treppchen vineyard of Erden produces slightly more austere, mineral wines.

Steep-sloped vineyards of Pünderich
Steep-sloped vineyards of Pünderich
? Weingut Zum Eulenturm

The township of Erden is at the most downriver point in Bereich Bernkastel and is home to some to Grosse Lage vineyards. These sites are the Erdener Treppchen and the Erdener Pr?lat vineyards.

Riesling produced from the Erdener Treppchen vineyard tend to be powerful and complex with a hint of what some might interpret as minerality. Often these wines are at their best once they've had some bottle age. Erdener Pr?lat Rieslings tend to be full and sophisticated. Top producer, Dr Loosen owns the largest patch of vineyard producing a range of wines from dry through to sweet.

Upstream from Zell, lies the town of Pünderich. The surrounding vineyards of Pünderich contain two Grosse Lage sites, Marienburg and Nonnengarten.

The Marienburg vineyard is completely dedicated to Riesling and the wines are noted for their elegance and capacity to age. Wines here are made in the Grosses Gew?chs style through to the very sweet style of Trockenbeernauslese.

Burg Eltz castle, just upstream from Hatzenport
Burg Eltz castle, just upstream from Hatzenport

The Lower Mosel is dominated by grey slate and greywacke and is where the Mosel finally reaches the Rhine at Koblenz.

The village of Hatzenport sits in the Terassenmosel Bereich of the Mosel region in between Koblenz and Zell. Home to two Grosse Lage sites, Kirchberg and Stolzenberg, whose greywacke and slate soils provide excellent terroir for good Riesling.

Along from Hatzenport lies the town of Winningen which is home to two key Grosse Lage, Uhlen and R?ttgen. Young Rieslings from Uhlen are said to exhibit a salty minerality that rounds off as they age. R?ttgen, however is famous for sweet, botrytized Rieslings with fine fruit and acidity.

Stats

Over 60 percent of vineyard land in the Mosel is given over to Riesling, with other varieties such as Muller-Thurgau, Elbling, Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc among others making up the rest.

Future

As German Riesling works to restore its reputation, the largest barriers facing the wines are breaking down peoples' perceived ideas regarding sickly, overly-sweet wines and climate change. Sunshine hours have increased by 22 each decade since 1951 and this will inevitably have an impact on vineyard sites which will need to be adjusted and ultimately the flavour profile of the wine. Another growing problem is the increasingly lack of willing labour to tend to and manage the vines.

Drinking window

Depending on the Riesling and whether it's Trocken, Feinherb, Halbtrocken, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese will fundamentally effect when best to drink it.

Many of the drier ones are fine to drink young and fresh but well-made sweeter Rieslings, especially if they are Auslese or sweeter, can often go on and benefit from aging 10, 20, 30 or more years if stored correctly. This can give way to rich, deep, honeyed fruit and marmalade with notes of kerosene.

Serving temperature

Rieslings are generally enjoyed best between 45-50°F. Sweeter Riesling are generally drunk enjoyed best at the cooler end of the scale while drier Rieslings are best drunk enjoyed at the warmer end.



Frequently Asked Questions

The Mosel Valley in Germany is most known for its Riesling wines, especially grand age-worthy examples. The top Rieslings from the Mosel have enjoyed illustrious reputations around the globe for centuries.

Alongside world-class Riesling, the Mosel is also home to various plantings of Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Elbling, Auxerrois, Kerner, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, although Riesling remains, by far, the most commonly planted and highly regarded variety.

The top-rated vintages for Mosel Riesling are 1985, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1997, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019

Mosel Riesling is best enjoyed cold, regardless of how dry or sweet it is. The ideal serving temperature for Riesling is around 6 degrees Celsius or 43 degrees Fahrenheit.

Although both Riesling and Chardonnay are white wine grape varieties, they have completely different structures and flavor profiles. On the whole, Riesling tends to be a much lighter-bodied wine with higher acidity than Chardonnay which tends to be more full-bodied, richer and rounder with slightly less acidity and higher alcohol.

Where Riesling can oscillate between being very sweet to bone-dry, Chardonnay is almost always dry. The flavor profile is also different with Riesling tending to have more honeyed notes along with lemon, lime and green notes of apple and sometimes pear. There can also be strong floral notes, alongside minerality and petroleum.

Chardonnay, on the other hand, does not have notes of petroleum and instead tends to focus on ripe, rich orchard fruit like golden apple, peach, pear and ripe lemon as well as some tropical notes like melon and pineapple and buttery notes of brioche. Chardonnay is also far more likely to have an oak influence and express notes of both vanilla spice and coconut depending on the type of oak used.

The vast majority of wines found in both supermarkets and retailers are generally of an acceptable to high standard. When buying a bottle of Riesling, it can be challenging to know exactly what style of wine you are getting as the grape variety can produce wines ranging from bone dry to sticky sweet and every point in between.

Riesling from countries like New Zealand and Australia may mark on the label whether the wine is dry, off-dry or sweet, however, many producers do not and it is down to the individual to do the research.

German Riesling, however, is generally marked in the following categories from the driest to the sweetest: Kabinett – which can be bone-dry, Spatlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and the very sweetest, Trockenbeerenauslese. Familiarity with the various categories can help when making a purchase, however, if in doubt ask your local retailer for assistance.
 

Most Popular Mosel Riesling Wine

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