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Everything happens for a Riesling in the Mosel

Updated: Mar 29

If you are a wine lover and have ticked off other famous wine regions like Burgundy or Tuscany then the Mosel should be your next wine trip The Mosel is one of the most famous, oldest and unique wine regions in the wine world. Trust me... as I have traveled the wine world and I can say the Mosel is truly a magical wine place. In this guide I will give you some insights that will hopefully make you thirsty for a Mosel wine tour.

In short Why as a wine lover you should visit the Mosel:The unique combination of climate, grape variety and 2000 year old vintner tradition culminate in much sought after, contemporary, elegant and mineralic wines of distinct character.

Marvel at the steepest vineyards in the World

Some of the steepest vineyards in the world are located in the Mosel region of Germany. The vineyards along the banks of the River Mosel and its tributaries Saar and Ruwer haved been carved out by the evololution and tectonic shifts in the earth over 200millions years ago create a steep gourge and river valley that flows over 250 kms from France all the way to Koblenz.

More than half of Mosel’s vineyards are considered very steep with an avergae of 30 degrees incline. Some of the steepest are in Urzig and Winnigen and the steepest is The Calmont near Bremm which is considered one of the worlds steepest vineyard with slopes that average 68% incline. Working these vineyards are not for the faint hearted with many blocks, small parcels connected by ladders and ropes. Not only are the vineyards steep they are very rocky. Since Roman times these steep vineyards have tried to be cultivated and conquered hence the need to try terrace and carve out workable shelves to mange the vines and build protective hand built walls. In saying that the steep slopes are the most labour intensive and generally reserved for the best wines and mostly Riesling which thrives on the steep, dry rocky slopes.

2000 years of History and glory days in the Mosel Wine Region

In 50 BC, Roman legions conquered the Mosel valley and in the year 17 BC the city of Trier (Augusta Treverorum) was founded. It is assumed that the increasing demand of both a growing military and civil population in Roman times lead to cultivation of vines on a large scale. In the Late Antiquity period the city of Trier counted around 60,000 inhabitants and, as an imperial residence, was one of the capital cities in the Roman Empire. 

Along the entire Mosel archaeologists have found remains of Roman estates, temples, mausolea and forts as well as various wine presses at the foot of several steep vineyard slopes. Today when you visit the city of Trier you pretty much welcomed by the Porta Nigra - the Roman City gate dating back to 170 AD.

After the decline of the Roman Empire, monasteries played a major role in the development of viticulture. During the High Middle Ages the Order of Cistercians brought knowledge of wine from Burgundy to the Mosel. In the 18th century, the last Prince Elector of the city of Trier, Bishop Clemens Wenzeslaus of Saxony, issued radical measures to improve the quality of viticulture, proving particularly beneficial for the Riesling grape; the effects of these innovations persist to the present day. Viticulture by monks ended after the French Revolution with the secularisation by Napoleon Bonaparte at the beginning of the 19th century. 

Estates owned by abbeys went over to noble and civil proprietors.

Mosel viticulture in the late 19th century experienced a period of prosperity. The steep slope Riesling wines became the most demanded and most expensive wines worldwide. They were savoured at court by monarchs from London to St. Petersburg and in world class gastronomy from Berlin to Paris at prices that exceeded the most famous Châteaux wines from Bordeaux or Burgundy.

Today the world’s most expensive bottles of white wines are produced in Mosel: The 2003 Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese from Egon Müller auctioned 2019 in Trier for €15,000 for a small bottle (today’s price is at around €25,000).

Huge demand for fruity white wines earned the area another boom after the end of World War II. The area under vines increased from 7,500 hectares at the end of the 1950s to 12,300 hectares at the end of the 1990s. Besides Riesling, other grape varieties were encouraged.

THE BLACK CAT & THE BLUE NUN.... Sweet death of German wine

unfortunately the success of fruity Riesling also meant there was a drive for commercialisation of fruity Riesling but not of always great quality. These were wines with added sugar and focused for an export market of drinkers that knew know better of say what a real Kabinett or Spätelese wine could be. While it had its success, and exports grew... like all trends the commercially wine world woke up to other more mass produced wines from America and even Australia from varieties like chardonnay that had fruit with out the sweetness.

Then like any sugar rush it all came crashing down with the Austrian scandal of the 80's. In 1985 Austrian “antifreeze scandal” was an incident in which several Austrian wineries illegally adulterated their wines using the toxic substance diethylene glycol

(a minor ingredient in some brands of antifreeze) to make the wines feel more rich and more full-bodied in the style of late harvest wines. Many of these Austrian wines were exported to West Germany, some of them in bulk to be bottled at large-scale at West German bottling facilities. At these facilities, some Austrian wines were illegally blended into German wines by the importers, resulting in diethylene glycol ending up in some bulk-bottled West German wines. When the news broke it killed off Germans international wine reputation and also killed off almost more than a quater of Germany's Riesling vineyards

Today Riesling has been enjoying a revolution with the VDP wineries asserting credibility and quality especially their GG... grand cru driven dry wines. And also a younger generation that missed the downfall of the 80's and only see world that should be drinking more Riesling

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