No mid month Tutored Tasting to report so a “what-we-did-on-our-holidays” post about the Mosel:

A view of the Mosel from the Bernkastel Doktor Vineyard

A view of the Mosel from the Bernkastel Doktor Vineyard

This is one of my favourite single grape/location combinations in the world – so complex, refreshing and versatile with food. So we spent hours of gruelling effort on your behalf seeing how the style grape is doing in the Mosel – (known until 2007 as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer).

This unremitting effort involved 4 producer visits and several hours in the Bernkastel-Kues Vinotek… We tasted about 50 wines from about half that number of growers, including 6 who I had visited before or tasted in England.

There are a few general impressions worth discussing, I think.

The first is the increasing division of wines by their impression of sweetness. 15 years ago and probably ten years ago Weinguter would list wines by their classic classifications, supposedly quality categories: Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese, with – perhaps – an occasional Trocken wine separated off. Now most growers divide their lists into the categories of Trocken / Feinherbe (or halbtrocken) / Fruchtsüß (or Leiblich) / Edelsüß.

The old categories had some measurable boundaries – depending on the specific gravity of the grape juice before vinification. So really they relate to the weight of the wine, which could be realised in either alcohol or residual sweetness depending on how the wine was vinified. However they would not in themselves impart much information about the finished wine. Now they are complicated further by a star system where *, **, *** indicates that the wine could be categorized higher than it actually is… Does that mean a Kabinett** is really an Auslese? Confused? I am… and there’s more to come…


The “Lieblich” room in the Vinothek Cellar

The newer categories are aimed to help the consumer with classification which at least refers to the impression of the finished wine. However, quite what these categories mean is rather vague. At least Trocken and Halbtrocken have objective criteria: Trocken is 0-9 g/l residual sugar; Halbtrocken is 10-18!

However Feinherb usually can be taken to mean off-dry and seems to be a little bit more elastic than Halbtrocken, although many growers seem to use the terms pretty well interchangeably. However the Feinherb category seems to be a growing designation. Nearly ¼ of the 220 wines I saw listed bore “Feinherb” on the label…

To my palate, a good quality old fashioned Kabinett from a lean year might seem to be off-dry (Feinherb?) in overall balance. However that balance may be achieved at higher sugar and acid levels than what seems to be typical most wines bearing the name Feinherb on the label. The designation seems to indicate acidity is dominant, that perhaps being achieved by decreasing the sugar by fermentation – thereby producing alcohol a point or two higher too…

At any event Trocken, Halbtrocken and Feinherb wines seem to be half what’s on offer in the Mosel now….

The second observation that struck me is that the majority of traditional style wines now seem to be rather quotidian, perhaps because the grower’s concentration is elsewhere. The wines aren’t bad, but rather simple and only the better producers are seemingly making complex, highly crafted wines. I don’t know how what proportion of producers fall into each camp – but I’d be surprised if there were more than 60 or so interesting growers out of something like ten times that number producing wine in total.

The final point is not new at all but the trip provided a confirmation that site is very important. It would be a lifetimes work to specify this well but I had some confirmation at these tastings. I tried several Ockfener Bockstein on the visit in various styles, and all has an element of pear in them. Not the slightly confectionery pear-drop flavour found in some Italian whites (Cortese based wines most prominently), but fresh, earthy, slightly sharp real pear. I’ve noticed this before but this wider sample confirmed it. Also I noted Graach wines  (we tasted 12 in various styles from several vineyards and growers, though most (9) were from the Himmelreich) all had round peach notes…

Graacher Himmelreich

Graacher Himmelreich

I don’t know what conclusions to draw – be careful to chose a good producer, and a site you like – obviously. But also think carefully about the basic weight, alcohol, residual sugar and final acidity in the wine. It’s a pity the classifications don’t require all this information on the label!

By the way I bought Dr. Wagner Ockfener Bockstein Kabinett (traditional style) and Martin Müllen Kröver Kirchlay Riesling Auslese (a genuine Edelsüß [“noble sweet”] wine with very high sweetness and very, very high acidity).

You’ll hear more about the latter in November – meanwhile onward to Burgundy!