Falling in love with Mosel Riesling

Today I fell in love with Mosel Riesling.  For months I’ve been hearing about its exquisite balance, its electricity on the palate, the fruit, the minerality.  I tasted some back in January, and I thought they were nice.  But today I finally got it.

vineyards in the Mosel

This afternoon a group of my classmates and I gathered after school for a tasting of one of Mosel’s premiere producers, Clemens Busch.  Johannes Busch – whose family has owned the winery since 1802 – is visiting California, and was kind enough to share his wines.

At the first sip, all the words I had heard about Mosel Riesling came to mind.  The wines had a honeyed aroma to them, along with varying levels of peach, apricot, sweet orange, magnolia, lemon, spice and lots of slate.

Slate is the predominant soil type in the Mosel (where it comes in three colors: blue, red and gray), and is commonly used to describe Rieslings from that region.  You might wonder how something can smell or taste like a rock, but next time you come across a slate paving stone (or one of those trendy cheese boards), try putting a few drops of water on it and smelling it.  It really does smell!  And you can taste it in the wine.

the Clemens Busch Marienburg Rothenpfad Riesling

The wines also had elevated levels of acidity.  Think of acid levels as you would think about lemonade, ranging from cloyingly sweet to undrinkably tart.  In this case, there was just enough fruity sweetness to balance the acid in each wine, so you get the refreshing tartness, but also the delicious fruit flavors.

I have heard great Riesling described as “walking a tightrope between acid, minerality and fruit”, and that pretty much sums up these wines.  They seem alive on the palate.

Here’s a run down of what we tasted:

  • 2011 Clemens Busch Grosses Gewächs Marienburg Rothenpfad Trocken Riesling
  • 2011 Clemens Busch Grosses Gewächs Marienburg Fahrlay Trocken Riesling
  • 2008 Clemens Busch Marienburg Falkenlay Trocken Riesling
  • 2010 Clemens Busch Marienburg Felsterrasse Riesling

You’ll notice that all the wines except the last one are labeled Trocken, which is German for dry.  This is because 2010 was a very cold year, which means the acids in the grapes were very high, so leaving a bit more sugar actually serves to balance it out – just like the lemonade example above.

The other thing to point out are the words “Grosses Gewächs” which literally mean “Great Growths” and are Germany’s equivalent to France’s Grand Cru, meaning the very top quality vineyards.

Many NYC wine stores seem to have Clemens Busch in stock, and if you live in California, you can order directly from their distributor here, Dee Vine Wines.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Riesling PSA

As you have probably gathered from the above, not all Riesling is sweet.  A lot of Rieslings – including most of the ones we tried – are dry.  The way Germans label their wines is not very helpful in figuring out whether a wine is dry or sweet from the label, so here are some tips:

  • If the wine says “Trocken” on it, it is dry (trocken is German for dry)
  • Wines labeled Kabinett are usually dry
  • Wines labeled Spatlese can be dry or somewhat sweet
  • Wines labeled Auslese, Beerenauslese or Trockenbeerenauslese are increasing degrees of sweet
  • Some wines have a handy scale on the back label, where they rate where their wine falls on a spectrum from dry to sweet

Confused?  I know, and I agree, but unfortunately, for now, that’s the way things are.  When in doubt ask your server, sommelier or salesperson.

an example of the IRF Riesling Scale, sometimes found on the back label of wine bottles