Our final stop in Germany was, of course, the Mosel. None of the pictures prepared me for the sheer beauty of these vineyards. Steep slopes dug into rock with little but rock for soils in the best sites. Iconic German architecture reminiscent of Oktoberfest in quaint villages tucked along the stunning, swiftly flowing river was a sight to behold.
Our first stop was to Weingut Willi Schafer, an unassuming building tucked away in a relatively residential looking villiage, where we were hosted by Andrea Schafer. We tasted several bottled wines first then toured the cellars afterwards to taste the most recent vintage.
2004 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese – Stone and Chalk
All flinty and minerally with a linear palate that is weighty and lean at the same time. Lemon lime fruit and a hint of white flowers with 70g/L residual sugar cut through with racing acidity.
2012 Graacher Domprobst Riesling Spätlese – Zesty and Fruity
Warmer fruit than the 2004 with fresh apricot, lime zest but continuing with minerality on the palate, 70 g/L residual sugar and racing acidity.
Andrea told us that the most recent vintage (2013) was more suited for the off-dry style due to a high level of botrytis influence. “We make the wines but nature decides what style we will make.” They try to interrupt the fermentation at the right time to achieve the proper balance in the wines. “When you have too much sugar you lose the elegance and the terrior.” We asked for her interpretation of the different styles of Riesling and she gave us the following.
Kabinett – Light and fresh in style with less richness than Spätlese.
Auslese – More honeyed notes and a very rich style.
Spätlese – A lighter more spritzy style than Auslese but with extra richness and depth above Kabinett.
There were two top highlights of my trip to Germany. The first was an amazing dinner with Dr. Uli Fischer of the Neustadt Research Institute with awesome food and conversation that ranged far beyond wine to economics, philosophy, sports, politics, religion, and every other topic under the sun.
He first took us for a quick jaunt around their vineyards in his Range Rover. They own 10 hectares split into 184 different parcels, the smallest of which is 15 vines. This is of course thanks to the Napoleonic code that affected both Germany and Burgundy very similarly. The government in Germany, however, is trying to remedy the situation by introducing a “reorganization”. They are killing several birds with one stone in typically efficient German fashion. Each vineyard involved must have buy in by a majority of the owners of the vines. The owners agree to give up a maximum of 10% of their land to the government to build roads to traverse the steep slopes for machinery to be more easily moved about. The government builds the roads and regrades the slopes to allow for mechanization with crawlers. Each of the owners then gets a consolidated section of the slope equal to 90% of the number of vines they owned prior to the consolidation. The upside is the vines are now all together rather than spread out over the slope and are able to be mechanized to some extent. The un-reorganized slopestake 2-3,000 manhours per ha and the reorganized slopes take 1/3 of that time. The downside is that it is expensive costing $30-40,000 for the vines however the government is subsidizing this and offers the ability for the owners to pay the balance with a 10 year interest free note which is held by the government itself. With a labor shortage being the biggest problem in the Mosel any level of mechanization is helpful. It takes a single crew a full day to pick the equivalent of 1.5 acres because of the treacherous slopes. Standing on top of them I wondered why anyone would be willing to haul grapes up and down them. Another downside? How can you be sure the vineyard will not be changed? Ernie assures us that not all slopes will go through with this plan just for this reason but it is a huge undertaking for those that have.
After our vineyard tour we went back to the tasting room and went through several amazing wines.
Dr Loosen 2012 Riesling Trocken Blauschiefer (Blue Slate) – Zesty and Fruity
Very elegant and fruity with a subtle minerality. Flavors of white peach and apple with zesty linear acid. Fermented with indigenous yeast in a 1000 Liter Füder with 12-24 months on lees.
Dr Loosen 2012 Riesling Troken Rotschiefer (Red Slate) – Zesty and Fruity
More spicy and floral, almost Gewurztraminer like with fresh acid and a rich palate balanced by a steely mineral backbone.
Ernie stated that these two wines needed lots of air to show their best and generally needed to be open for 3 days to fully experience the flavors.
He is also working on lots of different winemaking techniques in the winery such as extended lees contact as well as different types of fermentation vessels. He offered as an example where after the 3rd century the Romans switched to oak barrels for fermentation because they showed better quality than the amphoras. “We need to learn the old ways so we can make them better” when talking about reviewing ancient winemaking practices.
Dr Loosen 2011 Erdener Prälat Riesling Alte Reben Reserve– Unbelievably Unique
Fruit from 120 year old vines planted on a steep, rocky red slate filled, southern facing slope of the Mosel fermented in neutral oak and aged on lees for 12 months. This wine is highly complex with intense aromas of white flowers, peaches, and slate with a rich sweet profile with enough acid for a dry finish. The palate brings spiciness reminiscent of pepper and cinnamon with intense weight. GO FIND IT!!! It’s amazing and a wine which every winelover should experience once at least!
Dr Loosen 2011 Erdener Prälat Riesling Alte Reben – Zesty and Fruity
Restrained nose with flavors melon and tropical fruit with all the richness on the palate of the sweeter translation above. The finish brings more mineral characters and additional tropical fruit notes with slightly less spicy intensity than the reserve.
Dr Loosen 2012 Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese (Gold Capsule) – Zesty and Fruity
Amazing intensity for fruit with pineapple, melon, grapefruit, and honey complemented by an equally intense rich palate which is weighty and long. It is sweet at 110g/L but is easily balanced by the zesty 9 g/L of acidity!
All in all it was an amazing day and a fitting end to a whirlwind trip through Germany’s three wine regions. I can’t wait to go back to spend more time getting to know the wines and the people who make them.