A Glimpse into the Mosel's Wine History and Future
After the Romans established the region’s initial viticulture scene, the wine cultivation was carried on with particular care, study and systematic practice by monasteries. The early 19th century saw Napoleon conquer the area and the local monasteries began selling off their prized vineyards to private owners. It wasn’t until the late 1800s that the Riesling grape really started to gain prominence on the worldwide stage. With Mosel Rieslings being among the most sought after wines in the world and often gracing the elegant tables of royalty. Today, the Rieslings coming out of the Mosel are once again claiming international recognition. Quality controls are at an all-time high with organizations like the VDP, elevating the quality bar to new levels, and initiatives like Generation Riesling bringing the up and coming Riesling winemakers into the fold, bolstered by tradition yet beckoned by technology. These young, fresh faces of Generation Riesling are making and leaving their mark on Germany’s most famous grape.
The Mosel Terroir
A cool continental climate, super steep vineyard slopes (between 45-60° grades are typical), a heavy influence from the visible chunks of blue-gray slate covering the soil and typically a condensed growing-season that can be a little short on sun, make up the unique terroir of the northerly Mosel River Valley. The South facing slopes tend to be the most desirable vineyard locations, as they garner higher doses of sunshine. The Mosel River itself represents a critical component of the area’s terroir, as the river is responsible for both reflecting and retaining the sun’s heat to the vines as well as providing a buffer to early frosts via the river fog. Besides steep slopes, the vineyards along the Mosel are characterized by individual, heart-shaped vine staking systems instead of the conventional trellis system (pictured). These intriguing vines are trained into a heart-shape to allow easier access for manual labor (no mechanical harvesting happening on these sheer hillsides) and vineyard management on the significant grades of the Mosel’s inverted landscape. The oldest vines found in the Mosel are about 150 years old, producing tiny berries that do an exceptional job of concentrating and reflecting the Mosel’s unique terroir.
The Wines of the Mosel
Many in the wine world consider Riesling to be the top white wine grape, capable of producing wines of dynamic diversity from bone dry to dessert sweet, lean and light-bodied to full, rich and round, all within a single grape varietal. Not to mention Riesling's uncanny ability to welcome and embrace many of the world's toughest cuisine match-ups (think Thai, Viatnamese, spicy Asian or even Creole), let alone its versatility and forever food-friendly nature to many mainstream dishes. It's no surprise that Riesling sales are on the rise in the global marketplace and Riesling is quickly making its way to more menu wine lists than ever before.
Though Germany seems to still carry a reputation for solely “sweet wines” in some parts, it’s critical to note that they produce and export remarkable dry Riesling. In fact, on a recent press trip to the region I tasted through far more bone dry Rieslings with tangy acidity, rich mineral-driven character and exceptional balance than I did Rieslings that lie on the sweeter spectrum. Rieslings grown on the Mosel’s blue-gray slate soils tend to make a wine that is racy, lean and brimming with minerality both on the nose and the palate. These lower-alcohol wines (8-11%) are typically dominated on the palate by fresh green to golden apple, pear and peach nuances and can exhibit subtle citrus qualities as well. The fine balance of acidity and residual sugar has been well-mastered in the Mosel region, offering consistent Riesling with focused character, elegance and finesse. To determine if a Riesling is from the Mosel region, look for a green bottle, Germany’s Rhein Rieslings are found in brown bottles.