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Understanding Mosel Riesling Dinner hosted by Linden Wilkie & Michael Wu

Introduction – why Mosel? What strikes most about Mosel Riesling is the incredible way in which it delivers delicacy, charm… lightness, in defiance of its intensity and nuance. For me it is at the very front rank of the finest wines in the world. This special trick is pulled off by a unique combination of factors. For a start, the region is essentially too far north to ripen grapes adequately. Where the vineyard slopes are steep, south(ish) facing, with poor stony soils to limit yields, is it possible to ripen the grapes, and when autumn skies are kind enough to allow the fruit to hang for an extended time, it is possible. It’s said that great wines are made in the margins of what is possible. It’s certainly true here – that stony (often slatey) soil, sunshine without too much heat, cold nights to preserve acidity, and a long growing season to allow for complex physiological development, all these things contribute to a unique quality to the wines. In decades gone by, great vintages might come along two or three a decade, but recently the Mosel has enjoyed a long string of superb vintages that stretch continuously back to 2001. Perhaps global warming has nudged the scales in the Mosel’s favour? There has never been a better time to buy these wines. And this is not just about a great range of high quality wines being available. They are also undervalued by the market – to a ridiculous degree! If you visit Roman Niewodniczanski at Van Volxem, he will show you a 100 year old wine list from a leading merchant of the day, with wines from his Saar (Mosel) estate as the most expensive on offer – and considerably more than Lafite. In my copy of the Savoy

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Hotel’s circa 1914 wine list, 1893 Lafite was 12 shillings, the same price as an 1893 Berncasteler Doctor from Dr Thanisch in the Mosel.

I have nothing against Lafite – a wonderful claret, but in my mind the Savoy pricing of a century ago is about right – these wines are equals. Yet today, the Thanisch would cost you one twentieth the Lafite. You could look at that either way, but the simplest thing to understand is that these wines are way, way, way too cheap for their quality. So, it seemed fitting that we begin our current season of fine wine events in Hong Kong with a quick overview of Mosel styles. Same wine – different richness and intensity Flight One focused on richness and intensity from different ripeness levels: three wines from the same estate, the Middle Mosel’s leading producer – Joh. Jos. Prüm, from the same vineyard – the great Wehlener Sonnenuhr, and the same vintage, the classical 2007. The difference? The sweetness and intensity of the Riesling grapes that went into each bottle. The kabinett was light and airy, delicate and endlessly refreshing, the most elegant of the three, a style ideal as an aperitif (or to “drink ourselves sober” at the end of a long dinner, as Dr Loosen estate’s Ernst Loosen often says, tongue in cheek, at the end of the night. He’s right, of course. I sometimes keep Champagne back from the aperitif as a sort of pick up wine at the end of a dinner for the same purpose, but kabinetts are usually only around 7.5% to 8% alcohol). The second wine in the flight was a spätlese – or ‘late harvested’ example. This had more intensity and a slightly more candied fruit edge after the kabinett, and a very The Fine Wine Experience (HK) Ltd Room 402, 4/F, SBI Centre, 54-58 Des Voeux Road Central, Hong Kong S.A.R. Office +852 2230 4288 Email sales@finewineexperience.com Website: www.finewineexperience.com


noticeably long finish. There’s plenty of residual sugar here, but its not the sensation you notice. It’s still very crisp and refreshing in style, just a little more intense, more attention grabbing while you drink it. It could still be served as an aperitif (indeed, we served a 2001 Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr from Fritz Haag as our aperitif – the age of it had “dried” the finish just a little, and it was a perfect place to start the evening). The third wine was an auslese, or ‘selected late harvest’. More intense again, more concentrated than the spätlese but still elegant. Here the extra richness comes across as creaminess in the mid-palate, and tingling fruity juiciness on the finish. It tasted a little ‘younger’ than the other two. Auslese oftens needs extra time in the cellar to evolve. Same vintage, richness, different vineyards and producers The next flight focused on differences in styles across the Mosel, taking three different producers and three different vineyards, but all three from 2011 and all three at spätlese level. Egon Müller’s Scharhofberger was intense, racy, very mineral, with great ripness, and sleek line, very detailed, with a refined texture, and a super long ‘fantailed’ complex finish. A fantastic wine. Willi Schafer’s Graacher Domprobst had even more elegance, but in a more reserved, backward expression, very mineral in style, in need of cellaring to blossom in a few years to come. In complete contrast Dr Loosen’s Ürziger Würzgarten was exuberantly fruity, with a tropical tone, and lots of botrytis (that beneficial fungus that shrivels and concentrates late picked grapes, giving extra texture and flavour nuance), a flamboyant style, yet still well balanced, with lovely refreshing acidity and minerality in the texture. An added dimension to this flight was that all three spätlesen were “auction” wines. These are special wines submitted by producers to an annual auction on Trier. They are produced in minute quantities – sometimes just a handful of bottles. They are different from the ‘regular’ wines of the vintage because they have some very special characteristics – a parcel with extra botrytis, a single “fuder” (large neutral barrel) that was particularly special, or wine from a particular part of the vineyard with the oldest wines. The producer decides what to select, and the wines are auctioned off in September each year. The tiny quantities make them very rare and hard to obtain, and the special selections make them of particular interest to Mosel enthusiasts. (I will write more on this subject later). Same wine, different vintage The next flight focused on age, and on vintage variation. We took Joh. Jos. Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr once again, this time all at auslese level. The first two – the vintage pair of 2004 and 2003 – showed two very different styles of vintage. The ’04 – The Fine Wine Experience (HK) Ltd Room 402, 4/F, SBI Centre, 54-58 Des Voeux Road Central, Hong Kong S.A.R. Office +852 2230 4288 Email sales@finewineexperience.com Website: www.finewineexperience.com


a cool year – showed classic Mosel elegance and mineral/acid structure, auslese concentration, but with a feeling of almost leaness and strictness. It’s drinking well – indeed its style lends itself to savoury courses well – but I suspect it will be at its best in another ten or more years yet. In complete contrast, the 2003 came from a year with a record hot summer. This was a big bottomed wine, with a good stride. (Oh dear, did I write that?). More tropical in flavour, with a mid-palate feel of rich fruit a hint of honey, it still has good acidity and balance, and a long finish – the flavours are exotic, but the style is still very Mosel. Then we stepped back to 1990, a great classic vintage in the Mosel. This is a quintessentially great wine in every respect – perfect harmony, great intensity, but also now, at 23 years of age, perfect maturity. I remember first tasting this ten years ago and loving it, but thinking its better days were ahead of it. Today it is brilliant. Indeed – it got the popular vote for wine of the night. Rare Wines It wouldn’t be a Fine Wine Experience event without rare wines on show, and this was no exception. We put together a showcase of great producers, vineyard, and vintages stretching back to 1921. We began with a 1953 Joh. Jos. Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese. This is a lovely vintage – very round and elegant in style, not the power of ’59, or ’76, more stylish and delicate, the epitome of Mosel. I’ve had bottles of this before that were exceptional, but tonight’s bottle was a little off – fuzzy around the edges, not sparkling clear. Still nice, but feeling poorly and frail. A shame. Then a very rare wine, a 1921 Karthäuserhof Eitelsbacher Kronenberg Auslese Fuder Nr.12, with its long, slender hand-blown blue-tint bottle, and the estate’s trademark neck label (no ‘main label’ down below). The original cork was in good shape, and came out in one piece using my favourite opener for old wines, The Durand. and the wine – bronzed ‘old gold’ in colour, but bright and limpid in appearance, was in great shape at 92. It’s nose was smoky, earthy, but still with dried stone and citrus rind character, with waxy botrytis notes; the palate had great intensity and focus, great balance, smoky and mineral, the sensation of sweetness almost gone, but not entirely, with some glycerine to the mouthfeel. This must have been quite an auslese on release – potent and rich, laden with fruit and botrytis. The “fuder Nr.12” indicates this was a special bottling –a single cask selection. I felt privileged to taste it.

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The little neck label was an invention of the present owner’s great grandfather, who did so so he could chill bottle in the little stream at the property to chill them down. The fuller (amusing) story can be read here. The next flight was a complete change of gears. The 1995 Joh. Jos. Prüm’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese Goldkapsel Auction. An Auslese Goldkap has extra richness than a ‘regular’ Auslese, and often considerably more botrytis character. The versions sent to the annual wine auction in Trier, Germany, are a special selection made in tiny

quantities. This was delicious – very ‘auslese’ in character still, still elegant and fine, but very intense and long. It was upstaged in this pair by 1995 Egon Müller Scharhofberger Auslese Auction which had explosive richness, botrytis and complexity. A stunning, completely attentiongrabbing auslese – though in truth, this would in any other circumstances be labelled a Beerenauslese (selected late harvest berries), the first category we might consider a “dessert wine” level of richness. Such a rarity too – only around a couple of hundred bottles of this would have been sold at the auction. That’s it. Then a pair of 1976s – Dr. Thanisch Berncasteler Doctor Auslese Goldkapsel was perhaps the very best example this evening of mature Mosel elegance, for despite the extra nuance and complexity delivered by this sun-kissed year, by the extra botrytis character, this was very composed, harmonious, svelte in style, typical for this undervalued estate. The Doctor is one of the world’s greatest vineyards. Paired with this, 1976 Egon Müller Scharhofberger Auslese, less explosive than the ’95 auction version in the previous flight, more evolved and mature, richer and spicier than the Thanisch. A great wine. Finally, two Fritz Haag wines, a mature, very low key 1989 Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Auslese, and an elegant, low key, surprisingly mineral-elegant 2001 Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr Beerenauslese.

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Mosel and Food This seems to be a stumbling block for so many people I’ve talked to, including keen and very experienced wine enthusiasts and professionals. All of the wines we enjoyed this evening have residual sugar. Traditionally we are taught that this makes them “dessert wines”, and that they should be served with dessert, or on their own. I would certainly serve a kabinett, or a mature spätlese (as we did) as an aperitif, and I have been quite happy sitting around with friends on a long afternoon or evening, sipping on a “BA” (Beerenauslese). But these wines do so well with food. Basic concepts are useful to remember, but the idea of “matching” I think frightens many people into playing it dead safe. I prefer to turn it on its head an simply avoid dreadful clashes (there are very few), and just look for the following: 

Don’t think about a dish in terms of the main ingredient, unless that is also the main flavour. Often the sauce is the thing to match, not the fish/chicken/beef it is covering.

Match intensity with intensity – delicate dish, delicate wine, robust dish, robust wine.

Contrasts, I think, make the best matches. Think in Cantonese food, for example, of sweet and sour pork. The fattiness, the savouriness, and the saltiness of the pork are balanced by the sweetness of the pineapple, and the

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sourness of the vinegar. Mosel Rieslings – especially a spätlese or an older auslese – have great acidity and fruity sweetness to match fattier, richer meats, and dishes. 

Sometimes leaving out the ingredient the wine can fulfil, enhances the effect. Instead of sweet and sour pork (where the sweet and sour contrast of the sauce makes the dish complete without wine), try a Mosel Riesling with classic roast meats like char siu, siu yuk, or Peking Duck. Bingo! The low alcohol and the residual sugar of auslese, makes it an ideal pairing for mildly spicy dishes like mapo dofu.

We chose to host this dinner at a favourite “private kitchen” in Hong Kong – Kennis Ko’s Club Qing in Lan Kwai Fong. She loves Mosel Rieslings, and knew intuitively how to put together a great menu for our wines. We have some amazing events planned for Hong Kong in the coming months. Please keep an eye on our updated programme, or better still, subscribe.

The Fine Wine Experience (HK) Ltd Room 402, 4/F, SBI Centre, 54-58 Des Voeux Road Central, Hong Kong S.A.R. Office +852 2230 4288 Email sales@finewineexperience.com Website: www.finewineexperience.com


The Fine Wine Experience - Mosel Riesling Tasting & Dinner Review © Linden Wilkie