The German wine category has been one of my most fun areas to expand in both my retail liquor life and my wine student life. It is an almost labyrinthine rabbit hole that delves deeply into issues of terroir, geology, geography and the technical limits of winemaking. On the retail side, it is incredibly beneficial to utilize our in-store tastings to introduce these awesome wines to a new and receptive public. It is, by far, one of my most successful areas as far as taster:purchase ratio and helps to cultivate an atmosphere of curiosity and trust that the wines from this area will be genuinely provocative AND delicious.
I had opportunity to try two fantastic examples of Mosel Riesling recently, and am excited to delve a little further into this iconic wine region. First, our attentions turn to Weingut Alfred Merkelbach, one of the stalwart traditionalists of the section of the river between Ürzig and Kinheim. This area contains some of the region’s most highly-regarded vineyards. They are a small opporation run by two brothers whose family has a history of growing wine in this region, and like so many, selling to larger growers and co-ops. They are also regarded for their traditional methods of viniculture, utilizing the same füders for each small lot for each different vintage for decades. Vinifying small plots in this manner truly reveals the similarities and differences between these different sites. I have tried several of their wines before, but today we are focusing on one of the lesser-known sites, Kinheimer Rosenberg. It is one of the lightest wines in their portfolio, producing an exquisite and pure Kabinett. The 2012 vintage was one characterized by opulent fruit character, contrasting nicely with the 2013, which featured a considerable amount of botrytis in some areas. The Merkelbach Kinheimer Rosenberg Riesling Kabinett 2012 is classic Mosel Riesling Kabinett: the nose was a little reserved at first, but the palate just kept revealing layer after layer of flavor, both overt and nuanced. Snappy green apple, pear, a little melon, lime, yellow papaya, white peaches, lots of white flowers, wet rocks… a heavenly array of fruit and mineral. This wine is why I love German Riesling so much. It delivers such an amazing amount of complexity in such a refreshing and enjoyable package.
Our second wine is the St. Urbans-hof Estate Riesling 2013. St. Urbans-hof owns several choice parcels throughout the Mosel and the Saar, including the hallowed Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, Leiwener Laurentiuslay, Ockfener Bockstein, among others. The bottle indicates that this wine is produced from old vines, but does not specify a particular site. This wine delivers outstanding quality for the price. Winemaker Nik Weis is considered one of the leading members of the “new generation” of winemakers in the Mosel, and this wine is evidence of the high quality of work going on here from their greatest bottlings to the everyday offerings. This particular wine seemed a bit more rounded that the Merkelbach, offering more peach, nectarine, red papaya, pineapple, guava, loads of honeysuckle, and still more wet rocks. The fruit character was a bit riper and more extroverted. Both were absolutely lovely wines, and offered a great opportunity to see the different manifestations of Riesling in different sites and vintages.
Lets talk about vintages for a little bit, because vintage variation is so important in this corner of the world, where grapes can struggle to ripen properly. In 2013, the wines of the Mosel are characterized by a considerable amount of botrytis, generally high acid levels, and an amazing amount of dry extract in the grapes. A cool start to the season and rain at the wrong time resulted in really small yields for many producers. Very careful selection of grapes was paramount, unless you allowed the botrytis to go all out and make some crazy-concentrated dessert wines. 2012 paints quite a different picture. A slow and cool start to the season left growers a bit nervous, especially with rains in Spring and Summer. Towards the latter part of Summer, however, the weather turned for the better and sunshine and warmth prevailed, giving a wonderfully slow ripening period and yielding wines with lots of flavor and extract and almost no botrytis. This year was heralded as one of the best in nearly a decade for many producers.
Overall, I was incredibly pleased with these wines, further cementing my love for the great wines of this classic wine region. Wines like this evoke so much romanticism and so much awe in this wonderful practice of winemaking. I hope that everybody goes out a picks up a great bottle of Mosel Riesling to celebrate a life that mirrors these wines: incredibly distinctive and the result of many years and generations of hard work and worthy endeavors.