Wine-tasting in the Mosel

The high point of any wine-tasting trip for me is finding an unexpected gem. In Champagne this took the form of a cosy bar in Epernay which showcased small makers who produce far too little of their wonderful champagnes to ever be exported outside France, heck, outside Champagne. In Burgundy it was a little wine cellar that we hadn’t picked during our internet research but just happened to like the look of while driving past. Here in the Mosel it was a glass of Riesling we had with lunch that led to a conversation with the waitress, which led to directions to a little village totally off the main “Mosel wine route”, which led to us stopping at a tiny winery we would have driven past a dozen times without thinking it might be (a) open or (b) worth stopping at. The winery is Steffen-Prum and their 2010 ‘Lesurus’ Riesling Spätlese is really jolly good for 6.90 Euros a bottle. I’m hoping it’ll keep and improve after a few years.

Wine wander along the Mosel
We’re in Germany for just under three days, with our good friends Tim and Vanessa. The Mosel valley is a splendid place for a wine-tasting weekend. I can’t compare it to a British landscape, we simply don’t have river valleys on this grand scale. For mile after mile the broad Mosel winds between high hills. The lower slopes are clothed in vineyards, the hilltops covered in trees. This morning a white

autumnal mist was slowly lifting as we drove downriver, the landscape romanced by a hazy bronze sunshine. Every couple of kilometres a handsome Germanic village dominated by a tall spired church hove into view, although frustratingly most of the wine cellars seemed to be closed. On a flippin’ Saturday! We assumed it was because this was still grape-picking season, and the owners were all far more interested in bringing home their livelihood for the next year. The real reason was far more properly German: the rules state that a winery can only open to the public for a total of four months in any year, and so it looks like we just picked a somewhat drier patch. We learned this at Mönchhof, a wine estate that was hosting a private tasting and vineyard visit, but who very kindly let us come in and have a slurp. Their Rieslings were among the finest I’ve tasted, and we repaid their kindness by buying the odd bottle or three.

Old assumptions
This is actually my first ever visit to Germany, perhaps surprising given I’ve visited France, Spain and Italy at least four times each. For some reason I never developed a romantic view of the country, expecting dull townscapes much like Britain and a lot of factories. Plus, of course, my stomach plays a big part in deciding where to travel and nothing I thought I knew about German cuisine inspired me. All I had been told was to expect lots of sausages, lots of potatoes and lots of sauerkraut. And so eventually it was my proclivity for the great Rieslings of the Mosel that finally got me over here.

It turns out that the towns are beautiful and the food is good, so as usual I’m proved wrong on all counts. Trier, our base for the weekend, is a small city but heaving with majestic old buildings. It just happens to be the oldest city in Germany with the greatest collection of Roman ruins anywhere north of the Alps. More pleasing still are the picturesque (yes, dammit, picturesque – I don’t care if I sound like a tourist brochure, there’s no more accurate word) medieval towns we have stopped off at on our meanders down the Mosel and up the Saar. I reckon Visit Britain would kill to have a couple of towns like Bernkastel and Saarburg to advertise.

And to soak up the wine…

We’ve had some yummy food as well, although there has been a certain ‘heartiness’ to most of it. Who could be unhappy with a plate of chanterelles fried with onions and bacon, accompanied by a heap of buttery sliced potatoes? Well, someone watching their weight might be a bit unhappy. Especially if their previous meal was a plate of blood sausage, onions, apples and fried potatoes… and their next meal was thick lamb chumps with boulangère potatoes and bacon-wrapped beans. You get the picture. My adjectives for local Mosel cuisine are: hearty, savoury, simple, tasty, rustic. Tonight should be a little different, as we’re dining at Victor’s Restaurant, Schloss Berg, possessed of 3 Michelin stars. I’ll save that for another post.

German wine. It’s a bit technical

Back to the wines. I’m no expert on wines, and so I’ve learned an immense amount about Riesling over the course of this weekend. The wines are rated according to sugar levels in the must, going from lowest to highest: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, Trockenbeerenauslese. By default this translates to the sweetness of the final wine, but for Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese the winemaker may choose to ferment more off the sugar and get a drier wine. So you get these terms coming into play: trocken = dry, halbtrocken = half-dry, feinherb = off-dry. From our experience this weekend, a Kabinett or an Auslese with the description ‘trocken’ will be pretty much as dry as familiar ‘dry white wines’ from pubs back home. Whereas on their own the Kabinett will be off-dry, a Spätlese definitely medium and an Auslese really sweet. Now, all this is true of young wines, and in fact we found most makers and wine bars tended to offer 1 to 3 year old wines. But these Rieslings can be aged for years and years, which results in them gaining lots more complexity and also drying out to varying degrees. We found a good winebar last night where we could try various Rieslings from about 2003 onwards and thus test this idea. It’s true, although I have to admit we didn’t actually find any truly great examples.

So, although I’m not confident enough to start rating and recommending particular wines, I’d definitely recommend a wine-tasting trip to the Mosel. It was pretty darn cold in late October and fewer wineries were open, so you might want to pick a different time to come! Then again, the leaves were turning and the chanterelles were in season so I suppose October had its compensations. Happy days.

This is posted a few days after it was written. Well, wine-tasting is hard work. And we got through 43 Rieslings in 3 days – hoo-rah!

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