A Journey Along the Mosel
Now before you think I have mis-spelt whine, I am not writing this to complain about the apparent sweet white wine of the Mosel region in Germany. I chose this destination because it has wine, it is one of the old world regions and I have never been there before. It also helped that my girlfriend’s pallet is attuned to the Riesling grape, in particular the sweeter variety. Lastly I wanted to try out the new car and tent I have acquired recently. Living in Amsterdam, it was a good distance away to try out the 1999 Subaru Forrester and has many campsites in the area so we didn’t need to book. Given all these requirements you would think we would have planned this trip, but no, it was decided on the Wednesday we would go somewhere, and on the Friday we were on the road. A weekend away is always a good idea, and if there is wine I have not tasted before even better!
The autobahn is an adventure to the uninitiated. I have driven a few times in Germany, but when a Porsche flashes by at over 200 KM/hour you look that little bit further behind you when overtaking the 156th campervan on the road, that is standard in the vacation period on Northwestern Europe. To our surprise there was a festival in the village near our campsite we had decided upon. It was already in full schlager-swing which we visited after setting up the tent. They had a bar set up serving wines from the local area, you also get a souvenir glass to taste from. It is inexpensive and a good way to test the waters…
Now before I get into too much detail I would like to point out I am no wine expert. I like wine, I know what I like, and that is a more in the vain of a blow you taste buds to pieces Australian Shiraz, or a delicate Burgundy. The Mosel region was not high on my list of wine destinations, however I am willing to try anything, and I am never going to say x wine is better than y wine because it is subjective. However, I would like to give you my take on the variations of production which synonymous with the region. If you are interested you will see some of these on the labels of German wine, they show the level of ripeness of the grapes that go into the bottle:
Kabinett – the first pick of the harvest. The grapes makes wine… To me it covers costs for the season just in case the weather turns and the rest of the harvest is ruined. If you have experience of this part of the world you will know there can be 1 week of summer and then you are heading into winter in June… They contain low alcohol and are fresh and great for a mid afternoon sip on a warm day.
Spatlese – the second whip-round the vineyard. The literal meaning in English is late harvest. This produces a wine with a bit more alcohol and maturity and body. It is not outrageously priced, but a decent wine. To me this is where they wineries can start making some profit. This stuff is perfect if you’re making Duck a l’Orange.
Auslese – the literally translation being selected harvest. This is another step up in body. This has more character and depth when you compare to Spatlese. If a season is good the winery may select more grapes for this ripeness and to make more quality wine. In most seasons though, a winery will make a selection of Auslese.
Beerenauslese – the best of the Auslese selection. Again, more depth and character. The pick of the “regular” crop. The owners of wineries are rubbing their hands together if they have a high enough yield to start producing these types of wine.
Trockenbeerenauslese – the very very best of the best… Hand selected grapes out of the ones picked. These wines are expensive! So much so I have not tasted any. I guess they are good, but the time and effort to make them must mean they do not get too much of margin even at the prices. You may be surprised to know that often they also have a very low alcohol content, because they are left to shrivel to intensify the flavor. This means the amount of sugary goodness you can get out of them is minimal. But if you have a spare 500 euro I suppose it is worth it in a good year. Not for me though…
Eisewien – literally ice wine. Picked in winter when the grapes are frozen. The grapes are shriveled and only the best are selected for winemaking. The time and effort and risks involved to produce these make them quite expensive. However if you get to see one and want to indulge yourself it is worth the money!
Ok now that is out of the way, it is down to the business of finding wineries. Despite our previous experience with driving around in circles in small villages trying to find places recommended on a very out of date website, we did not have a detailed map or navigation system with us. We knew the towns we wanted to look around and hoped they had signs pointing out the wineries. They didn’t… So it was not the best planning on our part, but it was an adventure!
In Bernkastel-Wehien we drove around and found some places, however many were closed, either not open on the weekend or they were on vacation. S.A. Prum was open though! We tried, we enjoyed and the women there was quite helpful. She had some Australian Shiraz there too! A connection to the Barossa via some family friend…We picked up half a dozen bottles, the pick of them was a 2003 Wehener Sonnenuhr Spatlese Riesling. No Shiraz, I will save that for the next trip to Australia.
We then headed to Piesport and again were not able to try anything due to the entire town being closed apart from a very touristy roman themed complex where we had lunch. After a large frisbee sized schnitzel we managed to find a sign to Lothar Kettern winery Not the greatest producer, but passable and good value if you are willing to go for some hit and miss… You just may find a gem. We picked up a few bottles there the pick being a 2007 Auslese Riesling.
On the drive back we had a severe thunderstorm with a lot of rain and wind, and seeing this you begin to realize why there isn’t always so many verity of ripeness each year in this region. At the camp site the tent had survived! The campsite was a bit less busy though, I think a few had packed their tents and taken up the bed and breakfast options. There are many in pretty much all the towns along the Mosel. It was then back to the festival, which was still going strong despite the storm. I tried some reds there, and it was a bit hit and miss for my taste, but worth further investigation.
Sunday was time to head back. We headed to Dernau and found the winery Kloster Marienthal. It is an old abbey and has great grounds to have a look around. This is in the Ahr region. They grow the mysterious grape Spatsenburger. To most people this is Pinot Noir. I also discovered a new grape to me by the name of Fruhburgunder. It is only grown in this region of Germany. As explained to me by the man serving us, “it is a pain in the boom, very temperamental”. It has to be harvested a few weeks prior to the Spatsenburger, so it is not very good for employing temporary pickers because they work for a week and then have little to do for a couple of weeks and then start picking the Spatsenburger. However I got a couple of bottles and some Spatsenburger. I must say, I do like saying the work Spatsenburger!
Some tips for people who want to visit:
- Driving time – 3 to 4 hours from Amsterdam, Brussels, 1 hour from Frankfurt or Cologne.
- Accommodation – Bed and breakfasts, also at many wineries and campsites are everywhere so no real need to book.
- Wineries – are also in every town. Do some better planning and take the GPS or detailed maps (there’s a great app for this available on tablet computers) as not too much is signposted. Also call ahead if you have specific places you have picked out to see. Some may not be open on weekends or closed in the vacation period for tasting.
- Bring lots of money if you want to buy Eisewien or Trockenbeerenauslese.
It is well worth visiting for a day or a weekend. If you have more time enjoy a trip to bigger towns like Trier, ride a bike, or go on a boat. And the castles are a must see if you have time.