Mosel is the most prominent of the German wine regions and Mosel Riesling the most famed of all German wines. The German part of Mosel stretches from the border with France and Luxemburg to the Rhine river at Koblenz. Winemaking in Mosel and in particular around the town of Trier (Germanys oldest city) dates back to Roman times, and the second century.
Mosel is renowned for its steep vineyards with more than half the vineyards growing on inclines of more than 30 degrees, with some even exceeding 50 degrees.
The steep inclines increase the sun exposure and this – in combination with the slate soils which heat up very quickly when exposed to the sun – makes fully ripened grapes possible, even at this geographically northern location. A further benefit of the combination of steep inclines and slate soils is exceptional drainage – just perfect for the Riesling and other varietals that do not like to get their feet wet.
The perfect conditions and hardworking winemakers make for some of the finest Riesling in the world.
Riesling makes up 60% of production in Mosel and wines are made in both dry and sweet styles.
Good Riesling has great aging potential, in large part because of the grape's unique combination of high acidity and sugar. Over time – up to a decade or more – Riesling wines can change a lot and develop another layer of flavour including honey, ginger, nuts and even mushrooms.
Riesling as a grape ripens early and that is why it does well in a cooler climate – not too cold though, which is why the combination of steep inclines and sun reflection from the river provides the “just-right” combination for Riesling growing in Mosel. If the conditions are too warm, Riesling lose its acidity and the wine becomes bland and lackluster.
The “French” wines
With southern Baden’s latitude being similar to that of Bourgogne in France it comes as no surprise that in Baden winemaking, focus on the Bourgogne grape varieties: Pinot Noir known as Spätburgunder when from Germany; Pinot Gris known as Grauburgunder (or Ruländer); and Pinot Blanc known as Weißburgunder.
However, wine made on truly German varieties such as Gewürztraminers and Rieslings are also made in Baden – though let us not forget the Swiss born grape hero of Müller-Thurgau, a cross of Riesling and Madeleine Royale made in the late 19th century. In Baden, Müller-Thurgau accounts for over 15% of grape and wine production.
When made just right Riesling presents very aromatic flavors of peach and citrus, in combination with minerality and an acidity that gives balance to it all. We'd also recommend looking for hints of smoke and petrol – or as the French would say “gout de petrol”.
The German wine classification system
Overall, there are four categories:
- Deutscher Wein
- Qualitätswein (QbA)
If you love great wine and are newer to German wines, you might want to start with the two categories: Qualitätswein (QbA) and Prädikatswein.
Qualitätswein (quality wines) range from affordable, easy drinking, everyday wines to premium wines that – even if branded Qualitätswein officially – would easily qualify as (the more premium) Prädikatswein. So be aware, and do not let yourself be blinded by only looking for Prädikatswein.
Prädikatswein (“Predicate” wines) is Germany’s classification for wines of premium quality produced in one of 41 sub-regions across Germany’s 13 classified wine regions. Prädikatswein can be dry and sweet but compared with Qualitätswein, the grapes used for making these wines contain more sugar (thus are riper). This produces wines with higher (more “normal” for wine) alcohol levels and with residual sugars after fermentation is completed.
Prädikatswein - Divided by sugar
Within Prädikatswein there are another six categories, grouping the wines by levels of sugars and quality of the fruit used for winemaking:
- Wines are labelled “Kabinett” when grapes are picked during normal harvest. These wines tend to be light-bodied with rather low alcohol, and normally dry or off-dry in style.
- Wines are labelled “Spätlese” when grapes are picked late in the harvest (but not “Late harvest” as such). These wines are made from fully ripe fruit and are more intense and full-bodied. Spätlese can be dry or off-dry – but generally show a good balance of sweetness and acidity.
- Wines are label “Auslese” when grapes are carefully selected, only the best fruit in the vintage is used – and not all vintages can produce fruit that qualifies. Auslese wines tend to be lush and fairly sweet.
- Wines labelled “Beerenauslese” is for when the grapes used are very ripe, hand-harvested, and affected by noble rot (Botrytis cinerea). Like Auslese, Beerenauslese wines are only possible to make in good vintages. The wines are always sweet.
- Wines labelled “Trockenbeerenauslese” can only be made during exceptional vintages. They are very sweet wines, with amazing aging potential, and some of these wines are the most expensive of all German wines – and even among the World’s most expensive wines. Egon Muller’s 2005 Scharzhofberger Riesling Trockenbeerenauslese is currently being traded for €3.000/btl – and that is for half a bottle (375 ml).
- Wines labelled “Eiswein” are made from frozen grapes, i.e., also carefully selected grapes at the very end of harvest. As the winemaker crushes the grapes the ice (mostly water) is separated from the juice. As a result, the remaining juice become highly concentrated, making for a very sweet dessert wine and when made well, with a beautiful sweetness dancing in tandem with high levels of acidity.
- Eiswein requires a subzero temperature at the end of the harvest – and due to climate change, this happens less and less often. So, if you get hold of some great Mosel Eiswein, try to hold on to a few bottles for the next generation.
With about 15% of production, Müller-Thurgau is the other important grape variety in Mosel. Müller-Thurgau is not indigenous but a white grape variety created by Swiss born Hermann Müller in 1882, as a crossing of Riesling and Madeleine Royale. Müller-Thurgau – on its own – or in blends has been instrumental in Germany in the bulk wine production. However, in more recent times some independent winemakers have managed to significantly elevate the quality wines made on this grape.
Red grape production in Mosel is less than 10% - of which nearly half is Spätburgunder. Like Riesling, Spätburgunder has been grown since Roman times, the (Pinot Nero) vines were brought up from the south. Pinot Noir (it is a many named grape) is generally difficult to grow in Mosel due to the climate, which is simply too cold. But from a few, very closely managed vineyards, you will be able to find some really lovely Spätburgunders.
The river, the steep slopes, the slate in the vineyards and all the hard work leads to some of the world's finest rieslings.What are the most popular grape varieties in Mosel?
Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Spätburgunder.What types of food works well with wines from Mosel?
Eggs, white meat, spicy foods depending on the style of Riesling. Roast duck and grilled salmon for Spätburgunder.