Great German whites
If you had to name the steepest vineyards in the world, which country would spring to mind?
The answer is Germany - and for good reason. The country’s best vineyards are all on incredibly steep slopes of river valleys, the best known being the Mosel, which I cycled along for three days this month. Talk about a wow experience.
The gradient of the region’s vineyards is so steep, it’s almost impossible to believe, even when it’s staring you in the face from your bicycle as you cycle along the Mosel River, which is home to the steepest vineyard on Earth – Calmont Klettersteig in the picturesque village of Bremm.
Great wines come with great risk on these highly labour intensive vineyards. The gradient of this one (and, no doubt, many others) is 65 degrees. This makes vine planting, pruning and tending rather tricky, not to mention harvesting the grapes. It also means that pulleys and cable cars are essential tools of the wine trade here. Not that you see them at every turn in the river.
This is the second time I’ve visited the Mosel and it won’t be the last. Riesling is the most planted grape in Germany, occupying about 23 per cent of the country’s approximately 101,000 hectares of vineyards. Riesling is also the most planted grape in the Mosel, so it is king and queen in this dramatically beautiful region with its pretty villages and its beautiful wines, the best of which are so finely tuned that they over deliver more than any other wine style I know of.
The best wines tend to be lighter in body and alcohol too, which is another plus. Due to climate change, this region’s winemakers now often pick their grapes earlier than they traditionally did. And since those grapes have higher oeschle (the German must-weight measurement, which determines the alcohol content of the wines), they also contain higher alcohol levels than in the past, so the wines are drier as a result. This doesn’t mean they are austere or high in alcohol. Far from it. Today many of the wines of the Mosel that used to contain 7% alcohol are now verging on 10% or 11%. Which is still significantly lower than most dry and off dry wines on the market today.
The wine highlight of the three day cycle tour I did from Trier to Koblenz was a visit to Weingut Schloss Lieser. It was a blast from the past and a glimpse into the future at the same time. There we were 17 days ago visiting Lara Haag, who opened everything from a long line up of 2017 wines right back to a 14 year old wine; the 2004 Schloss Lieser Riesling Spatlese, which tasted medium dry, despite being firmly in the sweet camp with its 75 grams of residual sugar being super finely balanced by refreshing acidity.
The majority of the wines she opened were dry. They often contained less 4 grams of residual grape sugar – which would have been really unusual for Mosel Riesling back when I first visited the region 17 years ago and met her grandfather, Wilhelm Haag of Weingut Fritz Haag, whose eldest son, Thomas, is Lara’s dad.
Thomas began Weingut Schloss Lieser in 1997 in the village of Lieser. He has since acquired land holdings in many of the Mosel’s most revered vineyard sites, such as Wehlener Sonnenhur, Piesporter Goldtropfchen, Graacher Himmelreich (whose name, understandably when you taste the wines, means heaven), among many others.
The jewel in his crown is a block in the nearby Niederberg Helden vineyard, just outside the village of Lieser. Thomas Haag is making dry Grosses Gewaches wines from this relatively large vineyard and it’s staggering to see that they sell for between $30 and $60 NZ, most of the time. This blew me away more than the wines themselves did.
Here are these exceptional, concentrated, insanely delicious and affordable wines from some of the world’s great vineyards.
Talk about a privilege to taste them all at the winery and to visit this region. Although, as Lara knew, it was also a massive relief to visit her mid afternoon when the blazing sun and 35+ degrees was starting to get us down just a tad.
The Mosel is Germany’s best known wine region and is the longest tributary of the well known Rhine River. We cycled approximately 220 kms in three days, staying in wine villages along the river on the way; our luggage being delivered each day by the cycle tour company that provided our bikes, guide books and hotels. It was a pretty modest cost, all up, and would have been marginally more, had we the time to cruise the river in six to seven days, as most cyclists do.
It’s one of my favourite places and I have planned to cycle the length of the river ever since my first visit there 17 years ago when my daughter was a toddler. Back then I bought a couple of bottles of German Riesling and opened one with her on her 18th birthday this year. It was the 2000 Weingut Fritz Haag Brauneberger Juffer Auslese with 7% alcohol. It was stunning. Medium dry, fresh as a daisy, luscious like liquid honey but with a dry-ish finish and amazing flavours of limes, green apples, ripe peaches and honey. An incredible wine. Just like the region it comes from.
Buy the wines of Schloss Lieser and Fritz Haag
The wines of the Mosel are built to last, like the vineyards they come from.
We have both Fritz Haag and Schloss Lieser wines in store at Regional and we look forward to introducing you to them.
In the meantime, here are a couple of snaps of the meandering and marvellous Mosel River.
2016 Schloss Lieser Mosel Niederberg Helden Riesling Spatlese $55.99
Schloss Lieser is one of the owners of the great Niederberg Helden vineyard in the Mosel, which is home to 90 year old vines on slate soils which provide great ripening for this rich and powerful Riesling, which can age, if you have willpower…
2016 Schloss Lieser Mosel Neiderberg Helden Auslese $84.99
Amazing intensity and so refreshing it’s hard to believe it even contains alcohol… every sip contains massive pleasure.
2018 Schloss Lieser Mosel SL Riesling $35.99
Zesty fresh Riesling from grapes grown on all of the vineyards owned by the family… light, long and lovely.