Rieslings from Mosel

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This guest post comes to us from Mira Advani Honeycutt, author of California’s Central Coast, The Ultimate Winery Guide: From Santa Barbara to Paso Robles. She frequently contributes wine and travel pieces to the Good Food Blog.

Most Americans think of Riesling as a wine on the sweet side. But Rieslings from Germany’s Mosel region are dry, refreshing the palate with a riot of stone fruit aromas and steely minerality.

Recently I attended a tasting of SA Prüm wines from Mosel, a lineup that started with a range of aromatic bone dry wines and ended with a perfumy dessert Eiswein.

Vineyards in the Mosel region (a 90-minute drive west of Frankfurt) have been planted for nearly 2,000 years. The Prüm family’s wine-growing roots date back to 1156.

At the helm of this wine dynasty is Raimund Prüm, who was in Los Angeles with his wife Pirjo Oksanen to educate us on Rieslings. “This is not a sweet wine and it has great food application,” commented Prüm.

I was especially surprised to hear Prüm state that his Rieslings have been paired with filet mignon and other red meats by noted American chefs. Obviously, this aromatic German wine is not just dedicated to cheeses, foie gras or Asian food!

“The secret of a Geman Riesling is a balance of sugar, acid and minerality,” said Prüm. Although he added: “Don’t chill it too much as you will lose the aromatics. Decant it for two to three hours.”

Riesling’s balanced character comes from vineyards planted on mineral-rich slate slopes rising dramatically from the edge of Mosel river that winds through the villages of Wehlen, Graach, Ürzig and Berkenstal. Over millennia, the slate layers have morphed into vertical folds along the steep hillsides that enable the vines’ roots to penetrate as much as 50 feet down in the soft rock.

“These conditions stress the vines to produce limited yields and concentrated fruit,” said Prüm. “And the slate, dating back million years, gives the wine its hallmark notes of stone fruit aromatics.”

These heady aromatics exploded on my palate in the first wine — the 2004 “Old Vines” Grosse Gewächs dry Rielsing from Prüm’s prized Wehlener Sonnenuhr Erste Lage (equivalent to a Grand Cru vineyard site). The vines on this site averaged 120 years on original, ungrafted rootstocks, giving the wine a lean, racy style and a forward acidity.

The 2006 vintage was more open and complex. “The 2006 is not a wine to sip, but to pair with food,” said Prüm. His suggestion: venison, gamey meats and steak.

Pirjo Oksanen and Raimund Prüm (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

The 2007 single vineyard Graacher Dompropst Grosse Gewächs (designated as Great Growth) was bone dry and complex and aged for 12 months in 60-year-old oak barrels. This wine, Prüm noted, can age for 30 years — or more!

The 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten (which means spice garden) Kabinett Riesling was aromatic and light-bodied with low alcohol. Its elegance came from the vineyard’s unique red slate soil. While Prüm suggested red meats for the first three Rieslings, is choice for this wine was Diver scallops and Asian cuisine.

He also advised against decanting a Kabinett wine. “It’s too elegant and racy, you need freshness in this wine.”

We end our tasting with the 2004 Graacher Himmelreich Eiswein. Grapes for this gorgeous dessert wine were harvested during deep frost in January 2004 and pressed while frozen.

A few basic terms to note about Rieslings: Kabinett wine is medium dry, light and refreshing. Spatlese is medium sweet with ripe stone-fruit notes.

Select picking of late harvest grapes produces Auslese, which is medium sweet to sweet with medium body and rich fruit flavors. The golden-colored Beerenauslese is a full bodied and rich dessert wine with aromas of sweet nectarine and caramel.

The elegant Trockenbeerenauselese is the ultimate noble dessert Riesling produced from a botyritis-infected dried (trocken) berries with high sugar content.