There is no greater event to attend in September than the auction days in the Mosel valley. I know it is a bit of a bold claim, but two days of tasting the very finest wines that are produced in the valley, followed by an evening where winemakers share some of their cellar treasures, be it out of sheer enthusiasm or motivated by a battle of egos, all topped with a ‘wet’ auction is very difficult to top. I had the pleasure of being invited for the third time, and was as in the last three years, immensely pleased by the wines presented. First up, a report on the Meisterwerke tasting held the day before the auction.
For a detailed report on the 2018 vintage in the Mosel valley, no one tells it better than the guys over at Mosel Fine Wines, so I highly recommend any reader to check out their publications and to subscribe to them. In general, almost all winemakers are pleased by the vintage as yields where enormous thanks to the hot and dry summer. When it comes to quality though, it falls a bit short of being a ‘vintage of the century’ as it has been touted in the press.
Every winemaker will agree that dry times are preferred over a washed out summer, but a vine needs to get to water at some point, especially in a cooler climate where varieties are not exactly adapted to almost Mediterranean weather conditions. Winemakers with old vines were in luck though, as the roots will have access to deep water reserves. Ripening was ridiculously fast, and I remember that a lot of producers were already smack in the middle of harvest when they had to present their wines at the auction last year. Dry conditions continued in September, which gave winemakers flexibility on when to start picking which vineyards, and in general I think that the ones who picked earlier to preserve some acidity made the best choice.
Now when it comes to the wines, it has been a bumper year for dry wines. Big and bold is the theme for some, which sometimes is a bit of a shame when it comes to finesse and elegance, but in general there are several excellent wines to be found.
My top pick for the dry wines would be everything produced by Clemens Busch, who has really been on a role in recent years, presenting some of the most precise and elegant wines I have tasted from his estate. The wines can often be difficult to assess when young, I remember a lot of reduction from last year, but 2018 is a year of a bit more grace. The vom Roten Schiefer (red slate) gets my preference over vom grauen Schiefer (grey slate) as usual, as it manages to capture just a bit more freshness and energy, whereas vom grauen Schiefer is quite fruit-driven.
The Marienburg GG comes across a bit subdued at first with a bit of worrying ripe white fruit, only to have a pristine mineral core pulling the wine together. It remains quite compact, but it lives on a lot of potential. The Rothenpfad GG is a bit rounder but has a punchy spiciness to it. I would prefer the Marienburg GG for earlier drinking, but the Rothenpfad is one that I would enjoy most in a couple of years.
I was wary when it came to the wines of the Terrassenmosel, the warmest subregion of the Mosel Valley, and partially this was confirmed by the wines presented by Heymann-Löwenstein. Although the estate has in recent times moved away from density and power, the shift has not always been compensated by balance In particular the Schieferterrassen, while having a lovely herby edge to it, was dominated by ripe, almost tropical fruit. The GGs fared a bit better, but were all over the place. I loved Uhlen Blaufüsser Lay as it came across as the most complete wine, ticking the boxes of sponti smoke, green herbs and a fruity yet fresh core. Quite tight towards the finish, but given time it will only find greater harmony. Röttgen and Stolzenberg managed to nicely express the mineral character that I find defines Heymann-Löwenstein in cooler years even though the ripe fruit clearly takes over on the palate.
I remember Matthias Knebel showing his wines at the Meisterwerke presentation in 2017, his first year upon being admitted into the Grosser Ring, and I am as impressed now as I was then by what was no the table. Uhlen was hands down my favorite dry wine last year, and comes very close again now with an enormous complexity of slate, liquorice, yeast and smoke. Where he has really outdone himself tough is in the sweet wine range, which I will get to in my next article. Suffice to say when it comes to the dry collection, go for the Winningen Alte Reben and the Uhlen. They do not come cheap anymore, but that’s what you get with world class!
The cooler regions of Saar and Ruwer have done exceptionally well this year, with the wines of Maximin Grünhaus being the ones to look for. In cool vintages, the wines are bordering on austere in their youth, so here the warm weather has been kind to those who cannot resist opening a bottle a little early. Both Bruderberg GG and Herrenberg GG shine with the herby and fresh character that I love in Ruwer wines. This was the first time that the estate released a GG from the Bruderberg vineyards, and it is bang on. Crisp, zesty and thirst-quenching without giving in on complexity (spoiler: I made a bid in the auction but did not get it). Herrenberg is often the tauter one in the lineup, but there is actually quite a lot of forward fruit. Absolutely lovely though, but if I can still find Bruderberg somewhere, I would definitely go for that one.
I was a bit skeptical on the thought of Grünhaus GG wines when they rejoined the VDP a couple of years ago, and have in the past often preferred the Superior wines (those with residual sugar above the arbitrary 9 grams required for GGs) but in a year like 2018, these wines simply shine and are exemplary of just how good the wines of the Ruwer can be.
When it comes to Saar, a stop at van Volxem was obligatory. With the enormous winery inaugurated earlier this year, the estate has firmly settled at the top of Mosel producers with a solid 95ha under vine (more than 50ha Grosse Lage!). The ambitious of Roman are clear, and while I was really impressed by the GG lineup last year, 2018 was a different story. Don’t get me wrong, these are all fantastic wines, but I was a bit disappointed in the lack of individuality. If you can pride yourself on some of the greatest vineyards like Altenberg, Scharzhofberger or Gottesfuss, you really want to bring out the key characteristics of each of these sites, yet in a blind lineup, for the life of me I would not be able to say which was which, even after having tasted them before. Maybe site characteristics are easier to find in cooler vintages?
Finally we get to Schloss Lieser, one of my favourite Mosel estates. I have tasted the 2018 Gutswein as well as the Pradikatsweine several times of the year, and at times they are fantastic, whereas at other occasions they are ripe and simple. It has been a bit of a toss—up until now, but luckily, on the first chance to taste the 2018 GG lineup, the wines were in a good mood.
The Lieser style can be divisive, especially when tasting the wines young as they are very sponti-dominated, reductive and on the verge of being closed for business, but there is an invigorating energy to them that is hard not to love. There is a lot of yeast in the nose for all the wines, but on the palate you can really make out their personality. Wehlener Sonnenuhr is never ready when you taste it, yet there is a nice spine of acidity that makes it irresistible. Lieser Niederberg Helden is a bit more open, but then simply throws rocks at you, only to end on a crunchy note that is quite confidence-inspiring. Absolute favorite though is the Piesporter Goldtröpfchen, what a wine! Green herbs and smoke, ripe acidity on the palate and lovely extract, very pure in style yet with a wild edge to it. One of his best dry wines yet I would say.
Up next: Prädikatsweine!