Best of Mosel Rieslings

December 7, 2007

I have not posted for a couple of weeks as I was just on a trip around Morocco and the Iberian peninsula. We were flying to Marrakesh from Germany and took the opportunity to spend some time in the Mosel wine region to taste some local wines. The Mosel (formerly named Mosel-Saar-Ruwer) is one of Germany’s premium wine regions, probably the best known along with the adjacent Rheingau. The Mosel is most famous for its Riesling, but they also produce other white varietals here and lately even some reds, such as Spätburgunder. To maximize sun exposure on the grapes, they tend to plant vines on extremely steep south facing slopes in this wine region. In fact most of the world’s steepest vineyards, some reaching a 65 degree incline, are located right here. If you have a chance to drive or bike along the curvy Mosel river, I highly recommend it not just for the fantastic wines, but also for the natural beauty of the land.

We stayed in the village of Reil, right on the bank of the Mosel river. Reil is in the Mittelmosel district, where much of the best Mosel wines come from. One up and coming winery of the Mittelmosel is Melsheimer, which in 2007 the prestigious Vinum magazine rated as the best Riesling producer in Germany. We were fortunate enough to visit this winery and meet the winemaker, Thorsten Melsheimer, a young, energetic very talented person who tasted 6 or 7 of his wines with us. While I must say all of Melsheimer’s wines were fantastic, and good value, two stood out to me the most:

The first one was the 2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling Spätlese Trocken. This wine is a dry late harvest (Spätlese) Riesling. Most late harvests that I know are at least a bit sweet, but Spätlese can actually be dry, in fact very dry, such as this beauty. The acid is perfectly balanced with the fruit in this wine, you get a taste of both but neither kills the other. You also get quite a lot of minerality, which is typical for Mittelmosel wines. This is a serious, complex dry Riesling, while perfectly paired with dishes that go well with dry whites, I would recommend it by itself to enjoy the complexity it delivers. Be careful, the alcohol content of this white is above 14%!

The other standout from Melsheimer was the 2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling, Auslese #36. This auslese is from the same vineyard, but Mr. Melsheimer left the fruit on the vines a bit longer to give it a more concentrated, fuller body. Also, this wine has much higher residual sugar content and is definitely sweet. The minerality is still there, but you get a lot of peach, honey, and a hint (not much more) of oiliness that we come to expect from German Rieslings. Again, while the wine pairs well with some dishes (for example it would be perfect for spicy thai food) I would recommend it standalone as it is amazingly beautiful.

Melsheimer is a fantastic producer and I think the young winemaker has not reached his limits just yet. It is a winery to watch over the next years. Let’s hope the prices will be contained as he gains reputation. Speaking of prices, I wish I could have tasted some of his Beerenauslese, but paying hundreds of euros for a half bottle was not exactly in my budget. He only makes 100 liters of Beerenauslese per year, but it is reputed to be among the best in Germany. And that means it is among the best desert wines in the world.

Name: Melsheimer 2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling Spätlese Trocken

Rating: 8.5 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 12.90 euros

Got it at: Weingut Melsheimer, Reil, Germany

2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling Spätlese trocken

Name: Melsheimer 2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling, Auslese #36

Rating: 9 out of 10

Body: Medium

Price: 18 euros

Got it at: Weingut Melsheimer, Reil, Germany

2006er Reiler Mullay-Hofberg, Riesling, Auslese #36

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Beautiful Alsace

November 3, 2007

Alsace is as well known for its natural beauty as it is for its wines. We had the chance to tour the area a few months ago and I came away with the impression that the French just know how to do tourism. The villages are immeculately restored to their original beauty, despite the fact that this area took a very heavy beating during World War II.

Alsace’s history is quite interesting. This region has switched sides between the French and the Germans many times over. As a result, it sort of has an identity crises. You will see villages named Mittelwihr, Zellenberg and Beblenheim, yet most people speak French on the streets. This is also true for the wine as Riesling and Gewurtzraminer, predominant in Germany, are the major (though definitely not the only) varietals here. What is interesting is that you drive 20 kilometers east and cross into Germany (which by the way is like crossing between New Jersey and Connecticut without any borders, thanks to EU’s Schengen Agreement) and taste some wines of the same varietals and they taste massively different. There is something really Alsacian about Alsace wines. They have a very distinct style, it is not French, neither is it German, it is Alsacian.

Today’s wine is a 2002 Grand Cru Riesling from the Goldert slope of Gueberschwihr (15 kilometers south of Colmar) made by the Cave Vinicole de Pfaffenheim, a group of about 230 local growers. It is interesting that small growers group together in Alsace and other parts of France, presumably to stay competitive with bigger wine houses. The result is fantastic in both quality and bang for the buck. This Grand Cru was 14 euros, a lot lower than similar caliber wine from Trimbach or Hugel & Fils would run you. We also had 2 other Grand Crus from Pfaffenheim, both very different in style yet all high quality.

The Goldert Riesling delivers quite a bit if citrus fruit, though not with the kind of punch a Rheingau Riesling would. This wine has a lot more restraint and perhaps you could say elegance. It is bone dry and is quite high in minerals that is also fairly typical for Alsace wines. Based on a cursory lookup on wine-searcher.com (a favorite tool of mine), it is awfully difficult to get outside of Alsace. And while I liked the wine a lot, it did not leave such a memory that I would try to seek it out again. If I do get it again, I will try it with some flaky white fish, which I think would be an amazing pairing for this baby.

Name: Goldert Riesling, Grand Cru, 2002, Pfaffenheim

Rating: 8 out of 10

Body: Light to Medium

Price: 14 euros

Got it at: Small wine shop in Riquewihr, Alsace, France

Goldert Riesling, Grand Cru, 2002, Pfaffenheim

The Netherlands???

October 30, 2007

OK, so I have been around the world and tasted some weird stuff. Let’s just say I have had both red and white wines produced in French Polynesia to be going out on a limb about weird wine. But I figured that makes some sense. FP is a French territory, lots of French people move there and while it is tropical, there may be a patch of land where grapes would make it. So you can imagine my utter shock when we hang out in a wine bar in Amsterdam and are confronted with a Dutch Riesling. Dutch wine? This is impossible.

Just to put it in perspective for North Americans (if any of you read this garbage) , this place is at a similar latitude as Calgary, Alberta in Canada. That is not to say Canada does not make some amazing ice wines and British Columbia some decent riesling, but I was still shocked that wine is made in The Netherlands. Our bartender informed us that in the south part of the country there are some microclimates that are acceptable for winemaking and recently some have taken up the trade.

One of the producers is the Hulst family’s Apostelhoeve. Please do me a favor and don’t try to pronounce that! The funny thing about these guys’ wine is not their name, but that they actually make some decent wine. In fact I was quite amazed about their riesling. Supposedly they make the best riesling in Holland, which probably just means they are better than the only other one that can pull off not freezing the fruit in a country where winter starts in September. Nevertheless, I did like the wine and I would compare it to some of the dry rieslings I had in the Mosel valley of Germany in terms of style and character. The wine was high in acidity, but not in the way of a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, rather high in acid with quite a bit of concentration of fruit. A nice combo. It also had a decently long finish for a white wine. Totally approachable alone, but would be perfect with some juicy fish. So I was double shocked, first I could not believe the Dutch make wine and second I could not believe that they make decent wine. Either that or I had a lot to drink before I tasted it. Based on my recollection I would get it again, but good luck finding this treasure outside of Dutchigistan.

Just as a side note, we also tasted the Auxerrois from Apostelhoeve and that was much more what I would have expected from this esteemed land. Translation: don’t ever get it.

Name: Riesling, Apostelhoeve, 2005

Rating: 7.5 out of 10

Body: Light to Medium

Price: 11.50 euros

Got it at: Cave Rokin, Amsterdam, Holland

Riesling, Apostelhoeve, 2005