Relish Riesling in the Mosel River Valley, Germany by Patty Burness

Riesling is experiencing a resurgence. This grape is grown in Northwest Australia, and elsewhere, but it’s the German Riesling that is the stalwart. Romans and Celts first planted vines 2,000 year ago. I recently returned from a tour of the Mosel River region – a lush wine area about two hours west of Frankfurt.

The Mosel region (one of Germany’s thirteen wine areas) is close to France and Luxembourg and abounds with steep vineyards, slate soil, terraced hillsides and verdant valleys that run along the Mosel River and its tributaries – the Saar and Ruwer Rivers. Rieslings from this area have the right combination of residual sugar and acid to produce elegant and balanced wines. And with the low alcohol level (around 8%), it’s easy to have another glass.

The Weinromantikhotel Richtershof, a member of the luxurious Relais & Chateaux group, was home base for my wine excursion. Situated in the little town of Mulheim on the east bank of the river in the “Middle Mosel,” it’s all about relaxation and enjoyment. In fact, their mantra is “a hotel to feel well, a gastronomy to enjoy and wine-growing estate to explore.” Each unique room is beautifully decorated and comfortable with views of the surrounding park and vineyards. Herb gardens, patios and a lily pond await outside. The Richtershof opened in 2000 and is adjacent to the Max Ferd. Richter Winery.
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Every morning starts in the garden restaurant, formerly a butcher shop from 1911. The extravagant buffet offers champagne, omelettes, pastries, cheeses, salumis, fruits, breads, coffee – full fortification for the day ahead. At night, dinner is equally sumptuous served in an intimate setting. Only the freshest ingredients are used and whether you enjoy squab, perch or any other selection from the seasonal menu, you’ll delight in the flavors – especially with those German Rieslings which complement so many ingredients (spicy and sweet Asian, Indian, Caribbean).

(Time to throw out the memory you might have of Blue Nun and get serious about the wine. Before I tell the story of my experiences, check out the information about Riesling in the Essentials box below.)

There are lots of ways to tour the Mosel – hiking, biking, via the river (ferry, canoe, row boat) and, of course, by car. The statistics alone are staggering: 70 million vines, 23,000 acres, half on slopes from 328 to 935 feet high, 5000 winemakers in 125 villages and towns. The Mosel region is the largest contiguous planting of the Riesling grape in the world and the 5th biggest wine region in Germany. Ready to taste?

Bicycle was the mode of transport for my group. The first stop was immediate: The Max Ferd. Richter Winery right next door to the hotel. The cellar was built in 1880 although their ancestors started a wine and food business in Mulheim over 3 centuries ago.

Today, about 95% of the vineyards are planted with Riesling. The wines run the gamut from a sparkling to a dessert wine. The 2008 Zeppelin Label Riesling Mülheimer Sonnenlay (wines from this vineyard were served on the Zeppelin airships in the 1920’s and 1930’s) and both the 2007 Richter Estate Riesling Kabinett and Spatlese even have screw caps.
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From the Richter estate, it was less than a mile across the river to the town of Leiser and Weingut Schloss Lieser. The blue slate soil produces wines that are dynamic, refreshing with minerality and tasting of ripe fruit. The grapes hug some of the steepest hillsides in the Middle Mosel with about a 70% grade. Owner Thomas Haag focuses on quality not quantity. He bottles about 2,500 cases per year with 12-15 wines per vintage. Try the 2008 Schloss Lieser Riesling Spatlese Niederberg Helden – it’s young and lively but can be cellared for 20 years.

Continuing north along the river, we stopped at the estate of S.A. Prum. The proprietors have been making wine along the Mosel for 33 years. The steep blue, grey and red slate hillsides produce enough grapes for over 40,000 cases a year. A delicate balance of acidity and ripeness combine for refreshing, fruity wines. Standouts are two Riesling kabinetts from 2007 – Prum Blue and Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

At Bernkastel-Kues, we crossed the river after pedaling south and found a picturesque 700 year old town in the center of the Middle Mosel. Dating to Roman times, medieval architecture abounds. High atop a hill are the ruins of the Castle of Landshut built in 1277 and accidentally burnt down in 1692. Cafes spill into the narrow streets – perfect to enjoy more wine.

Off the bikes, we drove to the Ruwer Valley, home of Weingut Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt. This prolific winery, founded over 650 years ago, has plantings along all three rivers – Mosel, Saar and Ruwer with most being single site vineyards. The owners produce wines that typify the best of the region’s terroir – mineral-driven, balanced and at a perfect level of ripeness. Favorites include the 2008 Rieslings from the Ruwer – Kaseler Nies’chen (kabinett) and Kaseler Nies’chen (spatlese).

We chose Trier, the oldest city in Germany for one final stop along the Mosel. One of the most famous and best preserved Roman city gates is here – the Porta Nigra. Translated as “black gate,” it was part of an ancient Roman system of four city gates. Today it’s open to visitors and makes for a great place to start a tour down the town’s main street. Take in shops, cafes, the medieval marketplace and the plentiful ice cream.
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Germany’s Mosel region reflects its wine – rich, lush, balanced and energetic. Enjoy the countryside, bask in the history and best of all – relish the Riesling.

Essentials:
Getting There:
Mosel River Region, Germany: About a 14 hour flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt, then about a two hour drive. http://www.expedia.com/gogreen; http://www.eco.orbitz.com.
Tourist Information: http://www.germany-tourism.de/moselle_region; http://www.mosellandtouristik.de/en/default.aspx; http://www.bernkastel.de.

Where to Stay and Eat:
Weinromantikhotel Richtershof: 0049.6534.948.0; Hauptstrafpe 81 – 83, Mulheim, http://www.weinromantikhotel.de.

Don’t Miss:
Max Ferd. Richter Winery: Hauptstrasse 37 / 85 Mulheim, 0049 65 34 933 003, http://www.maxferdrichter.com. Available at PlumpJack Wines Fillmore, 3201 Fillmore Street, 346.9870. Schloss Lieser Estate: Am Markt 1, Lieser, 0049 6531-6431, http://www.weingut-schloss-lieser.de. Available at K & L Wine Merchants, 638 4th Street, 896.1734. S.A. Pruem Winery: Uferallee 25-26, Wehlener, 0049 6531-3110, http://www.sapruem.com/. Available at Beverages & More, 1301 Van Ness Avenue, 447.8483; William Cross Wine Merchants, 2253 Polk Street, 346.1314. Weingut Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt: Schlossgut Marienlay, Morscheid im Ruwertal, 0049 6500 91690, http://www.kesselstatt.com/. Available at K & L Wine Merchants, 638 4th Street, 896.1734.

Must Try:
Other Rieslings: St. Urbans-hof 2007 Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese, D & M Wine & Liquor Co., 2200 Fillmore Street, 346.1325. Weingut Josef Bernard-Kieren 2007 Graacher Dompropst Riesling Kabinett, Wine Bar SF, Two Embarcadero, 391.0758 & Wine Impression, 3461 California Street, 221.9463. Weingut Dr. Thanisch 2008 Riesling Kabinett Bernkasteler Badstube, Sputino Di Ottimista, 1957 Union Street, 931.6410.
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Riesling Primer:
Rieslings range from dry to very sweet and from light to medium body. And even though the sugar content is high, the acid balances the flavor to produce fruity and fresh wines. It is this combination of ripe fruit and acidity that helps Rieslings age well. The slate soil gives the mineral overtones.

Terminology specific to Rieslings further defines the essence of the wine. Kabinett, the lightest of the wines, is picked when the grapes are ripe. Spatlese means “late harvest” so it has a more intense flavor. Extremely ripe hand-picked grapes are used in Auslese “select” wine. Beerenauslese refers to “selected berries” for a perfect dessert wine. The grapes are picked overly ripe, have some botrytis fungus and an intense fruitiness balanced with the acidity. Eiswein grapes are left to freeze on the vine and then pressed while still frozen. The result: a concentrated sweet dessert wine. Trockenbeerenauslese (“TBA”) are shriveled, botrytis ravaged beerenauslese grapes – excellent, expensive and rare.

One more bit of information is about Wehlener Sonnenuhr. In 1842 in the small town of Wehlen, a sundial (sonnenuhr) was placed on the most visible rock in the steep vineyards along the Mosel. Now there are over 80 sundials in the area. It is within this region that grapes from the blue slate soil are picked for some of the more elegant German Rieslings.