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If you have a hankering for fine German wine and food, why not consider the Mosel region of central western Germany on the border of Luxembourg? While I can't guarantee that you'll find a bargain, I know you'll have fun on this fact-filled wine education tour in which we review a local white Riesling tasted with several meals and paired with imported cheeses.
The Mosel Valley has long been considered one of the world's most beautiful river valleys. This region, formerly known as Mosel-Saar-Ruwer in honor of its three rivers, is proud of its Riesling wine. Some of the greatest Rieslings in Germany and in fact in the entire world come from the Mosel Valley. Experts can often identify Mosel Rieslings because of the slate in the local soil, which may impart a taste of flint. Mosel vineyard slopes are among the steepest in the wine-producing world. They sometimes attain a whopping 70 degrees. The soil is so precious that every spring local workers lug pails of soil up these slopes. This arduous activity temporarily reverses the effect of the rains that wash the soil down every winter.
Mosel is fifth among the thirteen German wine regions with respect to both vineyard acreage and total wine production. Slightly over three quarters of the wine produced here is classified as QbA and somewhat less than one quarter is higher quality QmP wine. Only one percent is table wine. More than half of all Mosel wine is Riesling. The German hybrid Mueller-Thurgau represents about 20% of the wine production. In third place is the historic variety Elbing that dates back to Roman times and is the major grape variety in the neighboring country of Luxembourg. Only about 2% of Mosel wine is red.
Basically the Mosel Valley runs from Koblenz not far from Germany's former capital Bonn to the city of Trier that sits very close to the border. These two cities are linked by the Mosel Weinstrasse (Mosel Wine Road), which is about 140 miles (224 kilometers) long on the eastern side of the river and somewhat less on the western side. Of course, you could take the autobahn to get between Koblenz and Trier at breakneck speed. If you do, you'll miss the interesting little towns and vineyards along the way.
Bernkastel-Kues is a town of about eight thousand that sits astride the Mosel River with Bernkastel on the east bank and Kues on the west bank. Bernkastel is about seven hundred years old but the area itself was first inhabited thousands of years ago. Bernkastel's medieval town square is lovely with numerous half-timbered houses, some of which were built in the Fifteenth Century. St. Michaelsbrunnen (St. Michael's Fountain) is right on the square and other historic fountains are nearby. Make sure to see the ruins of Burgruine Landshut (Castle of Landshut) for an excellent view of the city and surrounding vineyards. The first weekend of September marks the annual Weinfest der Mittelmosel (Wine Festival of the Middle Moselle River Valley) that includes a festive procession and a great fireworks display.
Bernkastel is home to the Bernkasteler Doctor vineyard producing one of Germany's most expensive wines. According to popular legend a Fourteenth Century Archbishop of Trier was too sick to be helped by traditional medicine. He tasted some local wine, and after his unexpected recovery said, "The best doctor grows in this vineyard in Bernkastel." Due to questionable changes in German wine laws wine bottles labeled Bernkasteler Doctor may now be made by thirteen producers instead of three as previously. Let the buyer beware.
Kues was home to the Fifteenth Century theologian and philosopher Nikolaus Casanus, founder of the St.-Nikolaus-Hospital that operates a wine estate and the Mosel-Weinmuseum (Mosel Wine Museum). The museum's library is open for tours and its wine cellar is open for tastings. Several local winemakers hold Tage der offenen Weinkeller (Open wine cellar days) in which they present and sell their wine in their own wine cellars.
Before reviewing the Mosel wine and imported cheeses that we were lucky enough to purchase at a local wine store and a local Italian food store, here are a few suggestions of what to eat with indigenous wines when touring this beautiful region. As a first course try Gaensestopfleher (Foie Gras). For your second course enjoy Entenbrust an Brombeerjus (Duck Breast in Blackberry Juice). And for dessert indulge yourself with Schokoladencreme (Chocolate Mousse).
OUR WINE REVIEW POLICY All wines that we taste and review are purchased at the full retail price.
Wine Reviewed St. Urbans-Hof Riesling Kabinett 2005 8.6% alcohol about $20.00
Let's start by quoting the marketing materials. The 2005 Piesporter Goldtroepfchen Riesling Kabinett - still manages to show true Kabinett delicacy on the palate, which Weis attributes in part to earlier harvest and frankly in part to this site's compatibility with higher yields. Skin contact and minimal clarification in the cellar help compensate for any danger of dilution. (Lower-yielding parcels nowadays must result in Spaetlese or Auslese.) Pineapple, grapefruit, black currant, and Golden Delicious apple dominate the proceedings, suffused with an aura of smoky, crushed stone, and mouthwatering acidity. This is once again a 'little' Mosel archetype and a terrific value ... And now for the review.
Before my meal I tasted this wine on its own. It was delicately acidic and palate cleansing with light bubbles. Then I started with commercially prepared sweet and sour barbecued chicken wings. The wine was fine with light acidity. Now I was ready to begin, so to speak. My initial pairing involved a commercial barbecued chicken leg with the paprika-coated skin, potatoes roasted in chicken fat, and some disappointing pickle slices. The wine's fruit intensified to meet the chicken's fat. This Riesling was quite in the face of melt-in-your-mouth potatoes.
The next meal was a cheese omelet (a local Provolone) and Turkish salad. The wine was round, thick, and pleasantly sweet. The word feathery came to mind. It sort of floated especially after the Turkish salad. Then I savored a high-quality, chocolate-coated vanilla ice cream bar. The wine retained its acidity; it was almost a good match.
The final meal was really more of a snack. I consumed some Texas corn fritters with generous dollops of 14% sour cream. The wine was bold, sweet, and pleasantly acidic but frankly wasted on such plebian fare. I did finish the bottle with home made barbecued chicken to which the wine did honor. Even though the barbecue sauce wasn't sweet the combination was excellent.
The first cheese pairing was a nutty Dutch Edam that was a bit fatty and somewhat sour. The Riesling's sweetness seemed to step up a notch and it displayed tingling acidity. It's been quite a while since I enjoyed a wine and cheese pairing this much. Then I went to a mild-tasting Italian Friulano. The wine was acidic with sugar in the background.
Final verdict. This Riesling is a winner. I wouldn't hesitate to pair it with a top of the line German poultry dish, the kind that you pay big bucks for over there. At 8.9% this is one of the least alcoholic wines that I have tasted in a long, long time. And you know what, I didn't miss the extra alcohol a bit.
Levi Reiss has authored alone or with a co-author ten computer and Internet books, but to tell the truth, he would really rather just drink fine French, German, or other wine, accompanied by the right foods. He knows what dieting is, and is glad that for the time being he can eat and drink what he wants, in moderation.
He teaches classes in computers at an Ontario French-language community college. Visit his new wine, diet, health, and nutrition website www.wineinyourdiet.com and his global wine website www.theworldwidewine.com