On a sunny Saturday afternoon in September I found myself at the tasting pictured here. At first glance, it looks quite big, what with around 50 different wines on display. Was it with an importer presenting the different producers he works with? Surely this was not at some kind of cooperative or a bulk producing factory? Seeing as it was in the Mosel region, had I accidentally slipped from my quest for wines with personality, ending up in the dreaded Moselland?
Luckily none of the above is true, and I was happy to attend the 2016 vintage presentation organized by Markus Molitor, one of the Mosel’s top producers. What started out as a humble family estate has grown to one of the largest independent players in the region. On average about 50 to 60 wines are produced at the estate on a yearly basis, yet still Markus’ portfolio keeps on expanding. The vineyards covered amount to about 110 reputable hectares nowadays, thanks to a tiny lease taken on in the famous Bernkasteler Doctor, the joint replanting project of Ockfener Geisberg with Van Volxem and the acquisition of the Serrig state estate in the Saar.
The scale of the whole operation is impressive, but when you then notice the degree of control exercised by one man on nearly every aspect of winegrowing and winemaking, awe would be a more suitable reaction. The focus lies on vines planted on steep slopes, only in excelling and classified Lagen, and where possible treated organically. All wines ferment spontaneously and are given the time they need to find their own balance, often being held back for a couple of years before bringing them on the market. Year on year they get top ratings, and it is then no surprise that Eichelmann and Gault-Millau rank the estate among the top of not just the Mosel, but Germany as a whole.
It can be quite a challenge to get a grip on what exactly the Molitor style is as the range of wines goes in all directions, but in typically German fashion the estate offers a legend: rigorously structured, yet still plunging you in the deep end if you do not have a notion of the Pradikat system.
- Level 1: capsules, white for dry, green for feinherb, golden for sweet wines.
- Level 2: Pradikat (find a refresher here), regardless of capsule colour, always ranging from Kabinett to Auslese, and in golden including BA and TBA
- Level 3: stars! * to *** depending on the strictness of the selection in vineyard and cellar
As there is only so much wine a person can taste in one day (those who complain/brag about 200+ wines in a day make me question their judgement), I made a completely arbitrary selection of vineyards and styles that piqued my interest at the time: Zeltinger Sonnenuhr and Graacher Himmelreich.
If you stand on the bridge facing Zeltingen-Rachtig and you look to your right, you’ll first spot the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr. A bit further on, shy of about 5km, you can just make out the first vines of Graacher Himmelreich. It is not easy to grasp that vineyards so close can produce wines that deliver such different expressions. The differences in vineyard site seem minute but are key to creating a unique style. Sonnenuhr is southwest facing, slightly steeper than Himmelreich, and with a thin topsoil, forcing the almost ancient vines planted here to find their way through the slate and stone. The vineyards at Himmelreich are at a higher altitude and composed of a slightly different colour of slate and perhaps a bit more clay.
What struck me in the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr wines was their power. These are bold and intense wines, yet at the same time polished and harmonious. Quite ripe on the fruitside, with orange aromas running through all of the wines tasted. Comparing the dry Auslese** and Auslese *** (white capsule) makes it quite clear that the stars are based on concentration. *** carries more weight on the palate, quite rich and creamy with a bit onesided fruitiness for the time being. ** Is more approachable, showing citrus and floral notes in the nose, followed by a juicy impression, only to end completely clean. Both wines would only improve with a bit of patience, although they are already stunning now.
Moving on to the golden capsule wines, the differences between ** and *** are huge, with *** in particular being very difficult at the moment, more sponti aromas than anything else on the nose, luckily some punch on the palate. I would and have put my money on **, which is already quite extrovert, candied orange, toffee and a slight Middle Eastern spiciness to it, carrying a loftier element in the finish.
The comparison for Graacher Himmelreich is a bit different, all wines tasted are *** in the three categories. Overall they come across a bit more nuanced, a bit stonier as well surprisingly, and more on herbal-smoke than on overt fruitiness. *** white is extremely linear and focused in structure A smokey note dominates for the moment, but on the palate, there is a gorgeous presence of fennel, mint and dill.
*** green and gold are characterized by what I consider to be a note of truly great Mosel Riesling: saffron. It is not often that it pops up, but when it does it is just drop dead gorgeous. Egon Muller’s auction Kabinett had it, as well as Peter Lauer’s wines from time to time, so it should not come as a surprise that these are the ones that tend to blow a hole in my wine budget. Aromawise green is a bit onesided, saffron and herbal notes, whereas gold is simply marvelously balanced: saffron, slate, smoke, mint, aneth with an immensely pure impression on the palate, waterlike, but with such a crystalline intensity to it. One for the long haul!
A tasting of Graacher Himmelreich is not complete without Molitor’s pinot noir. Although a lot of people are skeptical, I am really optimistic on the potential in the Mosel valley. There is a historic basis to it, as Pinot Noir was quite commonly planted until it was forbidden and uprooted by the Nazi’s. Producers like Molitor and Twardowski are attracting a lot of attention, in part because of their ambitious pricing, but if you look at Stephan Steinmetz for instance, there is great wine to be found. Molitor’s Graacher Himmelreich*** 2014 is the top wine in the red range, at a whopping 95 euros, but there is something to it. It is aching more towards a Burgundian style, built on freshness and savouriness instead of warmth and wood which is so often characteristic of Spätburgunder, yet with a lovely crunchy red fruit note to it.
Finally, two of the highlights in residual sugar wines: the Brauneberger Mandelgraben Eiswein and Eiswein*. If a producer manages to produce icewine, it will always be in minute quantities, so you have to be just a bit crazy to even then make two distinct wines. The Mandelgraben vineyard is characterized by two things: steep but not too hot, so acidity can be maintained, and a mixed soil containing gravel and quarzit next to slate, and it is the acidity as well as the quite direct minerality that makes these wines so fantastic. The Eiswein* is simply one of the best wines that I ever had the pleasure of tasting. Dried flowers, apricot jam, honeyed fruit makes you go straight on to creamy texture, only to be floored by a dazzling, energetic acidity. There is just so much liveliness on the palate, so much going on that I was just left speechless. Hands down one of most perfect wines produced in 2016, and proof of Markus Molitor’s level of skill. 100 euros for a 375ml bottle, which would be considered expensive, but it is a bloody steal for a wine that oozes such personality and wonder.