The Mosel (aka Moselle) River begins in France and flows into Germany where it flows 250 km and disperses into the Rhine River. It is along this winding river gorge that most classic Riesling wines in the world are situated.
So what makes the Mosel Valley so special for this wine and grape? It’s a combination of geology, geography and history (Riesling was first recorded in Germany in 1435) that makes the Mosel wine region unique.
Although over 60% of the grapes grown are Riesling, Elbling; Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Kerner and Auxerrois are also grown. There are some Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the region as well, often used in Sekt–German sparkling wine.
Mosel Riesling ranges from bone-dry to sweet. The wines start out with a pale straw color and become deep yellow as they age.
Young wines have medium-intensity aromas of lime and honeydew, sometimes with slightly reductive smells of plastic or mineral notes. As the wines age, they reveal high intensity aromas of honey, apricot, lemon and petroleum. The smell of gas might be off-putting to some but it is a classic indicator of German Riesling.
Riesling has intensely high acidity, usually balanced with some level of sweetness. Wines that taste bone-dry will usually have around 6 to 10 grams per litre of residual sugar and wines that taste barely off-dry may have as much as 30 to 40 grams per litre of residual sugar. Generally, Mosel wines have low to medium low alcohol ranging from 7.5 to 11.5% alcohol per volume.
German Riesling is known to age well. A wine by a quality producer from a great vintage will last up to 40 years. Even modestly priced wines can age for 5 years and develop a deep golden hue with aromatics of honey and petroleum.
The first level for identifying quality in Mosel’s wine is classification, of which there are 3: Qualitatswein (QbA), Pradikatswein, and VDP. These are explained in detail in my August 11, 2019 post “Germany’s Quality Standards”.
The second level to finding great quality in the Mosel is understanding the variations from one vintage to the next. Cool climate wine growing regions, which the Mosel Valley is one, tend to be more susceptible to variable weather conditions. It’s possible that great producers will still make great wines in less favorable years, but the vast majority often suffer.
As a general rule, great vintages offer amazing wines at all price points, whereas less-awesome vintages require some buying finesse and a little bit of luck. Here is a quick rundown of what the experts said about the past decade of releases:
- 10: Purchase without hesitation with great cellaring capabilities.
- 9: Purchase without hesitation as wines are very enjoyable.
- 8: Purchase as wine is drinkable but not very noteworthy.
- 7: Only the best producers made decent wine that year.
2018 – 10 – Largest yield in the past decade; expecting to be of outstanding quality.
2017 – 8 – Difficult growing season.
2016 – 7 – Tough vintage. Lots of rain and insect problems.
2015 – 10 – A fantastic year.
2014 – 9 – A cooler vintage overall, leading to wines with more acidity. These wines may age quite well.
2013 – 8 – Great producers did well but others didn’t because of rain and rot problems.
2012 – 7 – Inconsistent grape bunch development meant only the best producers made out.
2011 – 9 – A great vintage; the wines have awesome structure and depth.
2010 – 8 – A challenging vintage for ripeness but some producers expect these wines will last for decades.
2009 – 9 – A long warm vintage that produced rich wines.
2008 – 9 – Great producers produced age-worthy wines.
Finding Great Mosel Wines by Sub-Region
The third layer of finding great quality Mosel wines is understanding the geography of the region. Not all of the vineyards here are created equal. The northerly latitude means longer days during the growing season, but only certain vineyards are situated to receive these sunshine hours.
Areas that face south receive up to 10 times more sunlight during parts of the year than those facing north. Also, vineyards located on slopes receive even more sun than the flat lands. 40% of the vineyard acres in the Mosel are located on steep slopes and the best vineyards typically face south.
The steepness of the vineyards makes the use of tractors or mechanical harvesting impossible; farming and harvesting on steep slopes requires as much as three times more labour than more level vineyards.
The 6 sub-regions of Mosel all offer different expressions of Riesling. While the most planted sub-region of Bernkastel attracts the most attention, other regions, including Saar and Ruwertal, make great wines as well.
Riesling is definitely the most renowned varietal in the Mosel. There is no true comparison to these wines anywhere else in the world. If you enjoy Riesling and have never experienced any from the Mosel, then you owe it to yourself to experience it. I don’t think you will be disappointed.