You may have noticed a bit of a break from posting recently, the inconvenience of a return to full time work is to blame for this. I’ve been meaning to blog about today’s wines for a while, but only now got around to finishing off the post.
Today’s focus is on a skin contact ‘orange’ Riesling from the Mosel, and beer inspired riesling collaboration between Meierer and the nomadic Mikkeller brewery, that both give new perspectives on this noble grape. For a final wildcard we have a mature Gewurztraminer from Alsace, living on borrowed time.
From it’s source in Vosges mountains of Alsace in France, the meandering River Mosel is joined by it’s two small tributaries the Saar and Ruwer near the borders with France and Luxemburg, before twisting it’s way through the heartland of the Middle Mosel and eventually joining the River Rhine at Koblenz. It is upon the Middle Mosel that the region’s historic reputation is founded, however many producers both upstream and downstream now produce wines of equal standard.
At such a northerly latitude Riesling struggles to ripen properly, and throughout the valley’s tightly twisting course there are dramatic changes in vineyard potential, due to the varying aspect, gradient and composition of the slate soil. Most of the best vineyard sites lie close to the river, sloping very steeply south towards the river, maximising their exposure to the reflected sunlight. The porous slate soils drain away the region’s frequent surplus rainfall, and play a vital role in storing and radiating heat. The composition of the blue, grey and red slate soils varies between sites, giving different characteristics to the wines. Along with the dramatic variation between vineyard sites, the convoluted history of inheritance over many generations means most vine growers own small plots spread throughout many different vineyards.
With some vineyards planted at a gradient of up to 70%, machine harvesting is impossible, with working and harvesting the vines being amongst the most manually labour intensive in the world. No other crop could be grown commercially on these steep vineyards, and with low prices and vineyard workers increasingly difficult to find, the overall vineyard area has been gradually declining.
Mosel Rieslings are typically light bodied and characterised by delicate floral aromas and intense green, citrus and stone fruit, with high acidity and low alcohol content, and stony minerality. Very dry Mosel wines can seem too austere, so many are at least off dry, balanced by their racy acidity. Most Kabinetts are best enjoyed young, but late harvest and selectively harvested styles from Spätlese upwards benefit from ageing, developing more prominent mineral, smoky and petrol aromas.
Centred around Trier, the Upper Mosel includes the Saar and Ruwer tributaries, both famous for their Riesling grown on grey slate. This picturesque area bears many resemblances to the English Lake District, covered with slate and water, dotted with late Victorian mansions, and with many permanent residents having lived and farmed there over multiple generations. From just north of Schweich, and extending to the village of Zell, the Middle Mosel passes the villages of Piesport and Bernkastel, renowned for their top quality wines. Many of the finest Rieslings come from this area, the slate soils producing wines with particularly stony minerality, with the best wines able to age for many decades. The Lower Mosel covers the area north of Zell, from Alf to Koblenz.
Skin Contact ‘Orange’ Wines
White wine production usually involves crushing the grapes, then quickly pressing the crushed grapes to separate the juice from the skins before fermentation, which contain colour, phenols and tannins that are conventionally not wanted in white wines.
Recent years have seen a trend for skin contact ‘orange’ wines, where the juice is left in contact with the skins for a period of days, weeks or months, similar to red wine making. This period of maceration gives the resulting wines greater colour, flavour, aroma and texture. This is effectively the opposite of rosé production, where the juice from red wine grapes is quickly pressed to separate it from the skins, giving the wine only a pinkish hue.
Weingut Werner is one of the oldest wine estates in the Mosel, having been in the family since 1650, and is now run by husband and wife Bernhard and Margaret Werner. They have 6 hectares of steep sloping vineyards, from which they produce dry, off dry and sweet Rieslings, and a rare Mosel Spätburgunder.
Their Riesling Nature is made from the grapes of the Schweicher Annaberg single vineyard site, made up entirely of red slate soil. The grapes are destemmed then fermented on the skins for two weeks using natural yeasts, before ageing for 18 months in used oak barriques, where it underwent malolactic fermentation.
The wine is classified as Landwein, the German category of wines equivalent to Vin de Pays, typically inexpensive, light and neutral wines. Unusually for Landwein, this wine is only classified as such because it doesn’t bit the criteria for higher classifications, it’s actually a perfectly serious, high quality wine. The term ‘Naturwein’ indicates that the wine has not been chaptalised, that is that no sugar has been added to the unfermented grape must in order to increase the alcohol level after fermentation.
Werner Riesling Nature 2014
Medium golden amber colour, autumnal leaves, mellow.
Medium intensity on the nose with syrupy tinned tangerine segments and vibrant fresh orange peel. There’s sweet acacia honey, notes of hay and straw, with some bready hints.
Pronounced intensity, dry, with medium plus acidity and body, medium minus alcohol. Tinned tangerine segments in syrup are forefront, along with distinct grapefruit and hints of orange and lime citrus. Some peppery pungent spice, juniper, crushed black peppercorn. Bready characteristics, rye and spelt bread, straw, with sweet barley sugar.
Excellent. Very distinctive, the skin contact is obvious, I’d struggle to identify this as Riesling if tasting blind. The fruit and savoury characteristics balance nicely with the acidity. A fairly approachable, not too challenging orange wine, not massively complex, but enough intrigue and sophistication to satisfy.
Mikkeller Beer Geek Riesling 2015
This wine is the result of a collaboration between Weingut Meierer of the Mosel, and via their Danish importer Herluf Trolle, Mikkel Borg Bjergsø of the nomadic Danish Mikkeller brewery. Mikkeller was founded in 2006 by Mikkel Borg Bjergsø, a former maths and physics teacher with a passion for home brewing, who now travels the world collaborating with other breweries to brew ambitious and experimental beers.
Beginning in 2011, the project created several iterations of Spontanriesling, a spontaneously fermented lambic inspired beer blended with riesling grape juice. Beer Geek Riesling came about in Spring 2013 when Mikkel asked Meierer to make a riesling aimed at beer drinkers in Mikkeller’s bars, with Mikkel helping make decisions during the winemaking process that have influenced the final result.
Initially quite restrained on the nose. There’s lemon citrus and a delicate spicy and herbaceous, hop like character, with white floral elderflower and lilac, honeysuckle, white rose petal.
Off dry/medium dry palate, medium body. Lemon citrus again, with some stone and tropical fruit, white peach and melon, and white grape juice. Honeyed mead like and honeycomb notes, with a herbaceous hoppy sensation. Mineral and chalky, with enough acidity to balance the slight sweetness.
Due to a misunderstanding I initially thought this riesling to be dry hopped, and while this isn’t actually the case it almost has that character, intensely herbaceous and floral, with a slight effervescence and spritziness. This makes for quite a distinctive, but nevertheless very enjoyable riesling, capable of holding its own alongside grain derived peers in a hipster beer bar.
Domaine Trapet Gewurztraminer Beblenheim 2006
Now for something different; not a riesling but a mature Gewurztraminer that was generously offered to me by Phoebe Weller of Valhalla’s Goat, after it was discovered festering under a large pile of cheese rinds and cardboard boxes in a dark corner of their storeroom.
Domaine Trapet is run by Jean-Louis and Andrée Trapet, balancing their time between Alsace and Gevrey-Chambertin, where the family domaine originated. Conscious of their temporary role as guardians of their terroir, they choose to farm biodynamically without pesticides and chemicals, instead using plant based compounds and nurturing the vines by hand, according to the lunar cycle, and at the mercy of the climate and weather.
Now ten years old, with a recommended drinking window between 2008 – 2013 this was somewhat of an unknown quantity, but turned out to be a lovely surprise.
Medium yellow, golden honeyed colour, quite glossy appearance.
Pronounced. Pear and yellow apple, soft ripe stone fruit, peach and apricot. There’s a honeyed, honeysuckle, sweet sensation, like sweet wet straw. Some rose petal and Turkish delight/icing sugar hints in the background, even hints of petroleum.
Medium dry, medium acidity, medium plus body. Lots of soft stone fruit, honey, tinned pears in syrup. Some sharper kiwi and melon, with a vegetal, courgette and cucumber like character, followed by orange juice with ginger and cinnamon spices. Still some stoney, pebbley minerality on remaining on the palate. Developed.
Excellent. The spiciness, rose petal and lychee characteristics typical of Gewurztraminer are quite restrained here, and the wine is quite reminiscent of an Auslese Riesling, rich and elegant. Drinking very well now, but probably at its peak and its vibrancy could start becoming dulled with much more time.