I will use just about any excuse to open a bottle of Mosel Riesling. Come to my place for dinner, and chances are I’ll greet you with a glass of Kabinett or Spätlese, the older, the better, and I often keep a bottle open in my fridge for occasional afternoon refreshment. But what if the occasion demands a dry wine, one with enough power and structure to carry me through an entire meal? Can the Mosel give me that?
The answer, of course, is a resounding yes.
To find the best, most complete expression of dry Mosel Riesling, I look to the Terrassenmosel, the Mosel’s lower course, named for the ludicrously steep terraced slopes that comprise the area’s best vineyards. These wines marry texture and power of Alsace (and a similar prevalence of “intense” personalities) with the Mosel’s singular aromatic expression of Riesling on slate. The two star producers in this area are arguably among the most exciting in all of Germany, and are influencing a generation of winemakers far beyond this particular sleepy corner of the Mosel.
This wine meets the palate with a veritable wall of flavor, gesturing at warm, spicy botrytis notes; saffron and clover honey give way to ripe apple, nectarine and pineapple, transitioning midway to creamy, salty minerality that seems to last forever.
Clemens Busch took over his family’s estate in 1984. He is the fifth Clemens in a row (naturally, he named his son Florian). He started with just 2 hectares of vines he inherited from his father, too small to farm organically (because they were vulnerable to contamination from the surrounding conventionally-farmed parcels). Clemens was able to benefit from the 1980’s trend toward Pinot varieties grown on the valley floor by buying many plots of terraced old-vine Riesling for a song. Eventually he was able to link up his holdings into a few contiguous blocks comprising 16 hectares of terraced hillside vineyards. Clemens farms exclusively in the Pündericher Marienburg vineyard, which comprises a cluster of once-distinct neighboring sites. These parcels give their historic names to the resulting wines, with the grey, blue, and red capsules on the bottles indicate the type of slate that informs the wine within.
This dry but luscious Riesling marries bold spicy primary fruit notes of mango and lime with subtle, elegant herbal-mineral bitterness on the finish. Bright and linear, but also generous and supple.
This bottle-fermented sparkling Riesling is unusual in that Reinhard insists on the same top quality fruit that goes into the still Schieferterrassen Riesling, and it really pays off in the striking aromatic profile of this wine, Electrifying citrus and pear, a wonderful balance of primary fruit and fermentative flavors. After six years on the lees, this Sekt receives a dosage of 12 grams of sugar per liter, giving it a rich, satisfyingly creamy texture.
When Reinhard Löwenstein finished school, taking up grape growing on his family’s farm was the furthest thing on his mind. He moved to France for his university studies and briefly joined the Communist Party, only to discover later that this affiliation made it almost impossible to find a job. Conformity and dogma have no more place in Reinhard’s wines than in his politics. In winemaking terms, he is a convinced minimalist. But, unlike his colleague further upstream, he arrived at this through decades of experience and analysis rather than from an a priori conviction that less is more.
What is particularly striking about these two estates is that, on paper, their wines should be quite similar. Their basic approach, the “blueprint” if you will, is basically the same: All are harvested entirely by hand, and fermented slowly on natural yeasts until they reach a point of balanced dryness, the harmonious integration of sugar and acidity that characterized the famous Mosel Rieslings of old. Both estates tend to begin the harvest late in the season and treat their wines to extended lees contact, usually in the traditional Mosel fuder or 1000-liter cask. These wines are a wonderful study of how the subtle influences of a winemaker’s personality can have a profound effect on the finished product. Busch’s wines are round and creamy, with honeyed spice that sometimes gestures at botrytis influence, but with plenty of acid and mineral structure. Löwenstein’s are precise, jewel-toned and rectilinear, with vivdly juicy fruit often framed by a distinct phenolic component. The former are distinctly spiritual experience, the latter veer toward the intellectual, though a quick browse through some of Löwenstein’s literature reveals an occasional flirtation with madcap mysticism.