Mosel Riesling – Intricacy at it’s finest?

Growing exciting riesling wines at the Mosel in Germany allows incredible creativity, in both the vineyard and cellar. Creativity in winegrowing requires direction and clarity in order to achieve the best results in the glass. Making riesling at the Mosel is all about style. Each mesoclimate (individual vineyard sites or areas within vineyards) has a set of characteristics which we aim to preserve by caring for the microclimates (around the vines themselves) within. You can choose to blend these mesoclimates based on their attributes (i.e. the higher site has a tighter structure in comparison to the site closer to the Mosel which displays a riper composition) or bottle single-vineyard wines. Blending these different attributes can create a unique outcome in the form of a riesling which defines the winemakers philosophy. To suffocate this creativity with a rulebook is a crime. A crime we unfortunately endure on an annual basis.

At the Mosel you can work endless hours in the vineyard, fine tuning the microclimates to grow the grapes needed for a particular style of riesling. The grapes are harvested and pressed to juice so the fermentation process can begin. The ferment is tasted daily to track flavour development and the intricate balance between sugar and acidity. You enter the cellar one day and taste the ferment – the very style you spent a year planning has been achieved. You analyse the residual sugar and get a result of 12g/L. At this point your creativity comes to a screaming halt as the maximum level of residual sugar for a dry riesling at the Mosel is 9g/L. In order to write dry (trocken) on your label you have to adhere to this restriction. Your customers want to know if the wine is dry, medium-dry or sweet and you want to give them the most harmonious result from that vintage whilst disclosing the wines’ taste profile which is well-suited to certain foods and occasions. What do you do? You post your dilemma on a blog 😉

“Slate soil Riesling with 15 grams of residual sugar can taste perfectly dry.”   Echensperger, Romana. “The Diversity of German Riesling.” TONG 21 March. 2011: 3-16. Print.

But don’t worry, in 2000 the authorities added two new categories to give the producers some breathing room, “Classic” and “Selection.” Just what the winemakers needed – a need to further educate their already bewildered customers. And don’t think the fun stops with residual sugar. We could write a book on the lack of continuity in the so called, ‘Qualitätsstufen.’ The Germans have created a logistical nightmare for anyone trying to market a Mosel riesling. It is astonishing to think that a system introduced to provide direction and clarity can produce such a grey zone for the people who really count – the consumer. As climates change and styles of riesling evolve, winemakers at the Mosel will adapt and redesign their approach to producing riesling. Unfortunately the current framework in which they are forced to create their wines, is dictating the final outcome in your glass. The 3 grams of sugar could be the difference between a good wine and a great wine.

Solution: Transparency! Write the exact residual sugar level on the label. It would be a lot easier to explain that anything between 10 and 12 grams tastes ‘more or less’ dry, 12-25 medium dry and anything over will be relatively sweet. This pared with the second tool (which the riesling fans already use) % alcohol will probably solve a few problems. In any case the Mosel producers will be growing their best (most harmonious) wines.

Perhaps a scale – like the one used by Domaine Zind-Humbrecht:

  • Indice 1: analytically dry or tasting dry.
  • Indice 2: not analytically dry, but the sweetness is not apparent on the palate
  • Indice 3: a semi-sweet wine
  • Indice 4: a sweet wine;
  • Indice 5: high sweetness, 
Ah, ventilation! So, I’m off to design our new labels and don’t be surprised to not find the words Trocken, Halbtrocken, Feinherb, Lieblich or Süss on there. Wine quality won’t be jeopardized by a term. Hauptsache: the wine is the best it can be!
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