Hello from Germany, France, Italy and Spain.
Hello from Germany, France, Italy and Spain. This trip is more about breadth than depth. I arrived safely on Thursday morning in Frankfurt, picked up my rental car and instantly found myself on the no-speed-limit road Germans are so famous for. I kept it under ??? for safety and now understand the need for paddle shifters. Plan was to spend a few days in the Mosel River Valley and after a morning appointment in the Rheingau, I arrived. The Mosel is famous for Blue Divonian Slate and very steep slopes. Have a look.
Let’s talk Riesling. More than any other white grape varietal, Riesling is a window to terroir. It thrives in cool climates, throwing bright flavors, huge aromatics and searing acidity. What else do you like that has such high acid? Think lemons. Do you drink lemon juice strait or do you add sugar? More to the point is … how much sugar? My answer? Just enough. Wine nerds call this balance, and a balanced Riesling from a great vineyard and a good winery is worth searching for.
The wines are traditionally off-dry because the acid is so high. When they are vinified dry, they are just too harsh. The sweet trend of the ‘60s and ‘70s went too far. The Germans countered with a dry trend that went too dry. My taste is to find the middle. Here’s how:
The three categories in the Mosel you need to know are Gross Geweches (GG), Kabinett and Spatlese. GG is a dry style that has been approved by a quality board. The wine has to be under 9 grams residual sugar (RS). Grapes have sugar that is eaten by yeast during fermentation. CO2 and alcohol are the result, the first of which is allowed to escape into the atmosphere. A dry Riesling in the 7-9 grams RS range is what I recommend. Six grams RS and below start to pull the enamel off your teeth. Ask a restaurant Somm or wine shop employee the RS level. It’s not listed on the bottle and you need to know before buying. I usually don’t get so technical but GG and troken (dry) Riesling is being pushed right now. Too dry and you’ll be unimpressed.
Kabinett and Spatlese are the next two fancy words to know. They are the mainstay quality levels of the sweet style category. It’s helpful to know RS here, too. I recommend 30-grams to 60-grams RS. Kabinett and Spatlese are levels of concentration measured by weight and do not singularly indicate sweetness. Why even take a chance on sweet wine if you know you prefer dry? Two reasons: First, if you are eating spicy food, sweet is the only wine that will cool the fire preparing you for the next bite. At Chez Joshua, we have Reisling and Mexican food dinner parties. Second, these slopes are built on special geology — the kind that fill wine bottles with layers of complex flavors and textures. For our senses to find these rewards the acid cannot be too overwhelming. A 30-gram Kabinett or 50-gram Spatlesse from a top vineyard allows our senses to enjoy an experience of depth. For collectors, these wines will age gracefully for 10-20 years.
The best wines I tasted in any category are from Meulenhoff and Loosen. Here are a few links:
OK, realizing most of you are not going to dive too deep into the Riesling world, here’s a look into a wonderful experience I had in the Mosel. At one of my winery appointments, I met a young American waiter from Oregon with German heritage and New York restaurant skills. Alex is interning at wineries in the Mosel. As a solo traveler and seeing an opportunity to pick someone’s mind, I made a new friend. Alex and I went out for dinner together at the local restaurant known for having some older bottles in a separate cellar. This is one of those off-list, you-just-have-to-know-about-it experiences.
We sat at 8:00 p.m. in a very busy restaurant and asked for the chef/owner to take us to the magic room. The sweating waiter told us, “Impossible tonight. He’s cooking and we are too busy. You’d have to wait an hour.” We waited. The following picture is a classic that truly shows how these things go. The owner is a wine nut who has a lot of wine. The wines cost a tenth of Burgundy. He paid for some, we paid for some, some were amazing, some were vinegar. We covered four decades and walked out at 1:30 a.m. Classic. Alex came with me to my Loosen appointment the next morning and we are besties.
One last shot at selling you Riesling. The Mosel in southwest Germany is three hours from the Alsace and, trying to stay on the breadth not depth theme, I pivoted for a day. I am so glad to have done it. Acid in grapes is directly correlated to ripeness. More ripe, less acid. The Alsace, also known for great Riesling, is three hours south of the Mosel. That’s three hours warmer for those of you following along. The punchline is that dry Alsatian Riesling has just enough less acid to be in balance at 5 grams RS. Most good producers are making wines in this dry range. Even easier is the concentration categories are out, Grand Cru is in. Harder is that there are 51 Grand Cru vineyards and hundreds of average to minus producers. Ask for advice and take notes when you find one you like. Or just buy Meyer Fonne or Albert (not Justin) Boxler and enjoy.
The Alsace is also known for excellent and varied geology. The history is that the Vosges mountains cracked in half. One half remains today as the western border of the region and the other half was dispersed by different forces over 100 million years. It makes for wines of depth and differing styles.
Next week: Tuscany. I leave you with this video from the Alto Adige, just over the Austrian border in the Dolomiti ski region. Crisp white wines from Kuenhoff are wonderful. Being on a “road” like this sometimes makes me wish I hadn’t asked the guy to show me the vineyards. Enjoy.