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  ABC Wine Issue 20, June 2004   
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Mosel-Saar-Ruwer

Homeland of the enchanting and delicate wines of Germany, this region, which goes along the course of three rivers, is renowned all over the world as a synonym of elegance and finesse

 Germany has always been associated, according to an enological point of view, to its white wines, as well as to its excellent eiswein, both considered as examples of elegance and finesse. Among the many wine regions of Germany, the one that more than any other else is remembered for its delicate, refined and charming wines, certainly is Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, usually simply defined as Mosel. The magic and charm of wines from Mosel is represented both by the environmental conditions - most of the time prohibitive - in which viticulture is done, and by the grape which made great this region and Germany, now considered as an international grape appreciated and looked for in the world: Riesling.

 This enchanting region is located in the western part of Germany and goes along the course of the Mosel river from the point in which enters Germany, in the borders of France and Luxembourg, to the neighboring of the city of Koblenz where the river joins the Rhein. This wine region also includes the neighboring territories of the Saar and Ruwer rivers - two tributaries of Mosel - whose names complete the definition of the wine region, or according to the German language, of the Anbaugebiet, that is quality wine region. Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is among the most northern quality wine areas of the world and it is located around 50° latitude north, just a little above than French Champagne.


The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wine region
The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wine region

 The Mosel-Saar-Ruwer region presents absolutely unique characteristics, not only for the elegance and the finesse of its wines, but also for the view that can be enjoyed from these places, where the cultivation of vine is both difficult and suggestive because of the geological conformation. Vineyards in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer are among the steepest of Germany as well as of the world. Vineyards are planted in the steep slopes that go down to the Mosel river, a condition which makes difficult - as well as heroic - harvesting. The characteristic inclination of the soil also makes difficult taking advantage of sun rays, a resource that in these lands is both precious and indispensable in order to ensure vine good conditions of survival. Climate is pretty cold and it is indispensable that every sun ray is to be exploited by vines, moreover - a factor that should be considered - the amount of sun shining in this region certainly is lesser than the one shining, for example, in Italy.

 For this reason the cultivation of the vine is done in places that can ensure the best and higher exposition to the sun, by taking the best advantage from environmental and climate conditions. Vineyards in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer are therefore planted only in slopes facing towards south. However this represents only one of the fundamental factors that allow good results to be obtained in the cellar. The best vineyards, besides being planted in slopes towards south, are also found near the course of the Mosel river, a condition which contributes to the increasing of the quantity of sun in vineyards thanks to the sun rays reflected by water. The environmental and climate condition of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer - according to what was described so far - it should make think about great difficulties in order to obtain perfectly ripe grape with the result of highly acid wines with little alcohol. This is what exactly happens and the full ripeness of grapes is seen in this area as an exception which happens only in some years.

 The secret of success in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is also ensured by other essential factors: grape and composition of soil. In conditions like these it is pretty hard to think about cultivating varieties of grapes which need full ripeness in order to give their best, here it is necessary that grapes can give excellent results when they are not ripe. The answer is Riesling. This grape is capable of making wines of extraordinary elegance and class, and luckily, these results can be obtained when the grape has not reached full ripeness. Even the composition of soil in this region plays a fundamental and essential role. Slate, of which the soil of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is particularly rich, is highly porous and it is an excellent heat accumulator, in fact it is capable of absorbing the heat of the sun - as well as to reflect it - and then to pass it to vineyards therefore favoring the process of ripeness in grapes.


 

 The presence of slate in vineyards is extremely precious to ensure the best condition for cultivation as well as to give wines of this region a pretty mineral taste. Because of the strong inclination of vineyards, during rains the slate rocks slip down to the bottom of the slopes therefore depriving the soil of this precious support. In order to ensure the best condition in vineyards, at the end of rains the slate rocks are gathered from the bottom of slopes and are took back to the vineyards. In other words, the cultivation of vine in this region cannot certainly be defined as easy and comfortable, but the surprising aspect of Mosel is the result they get from this lands, not only they are successful in making wines, that make excellent wines, appreciated and looked for everywhere in the world and considered - rightly - extraordinary examples of elegance, class and finesse. Wines of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer are among the most longeval of all Germany: thanks to their high acidity, white wines can also be aged in bottle for tens of years.

 Wines produced in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer are typically sold in tall and thin green colored bottles, the characteristic flute, also known as Rhein or Alsace bottle. In Mosel are not only produced dry wines, here are also produced excellent eiswein, certainly among the best ones of Germany, the renowned sweet wines produced with grapes harvested when the juice is frozen and from which is obtained a genuine and incredible grape syrup, thick and concentrated, rich of intense flavors and enchanting aromas. The main grape cultivated in Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is Riesling which represents the higher percentage of the whole production in this region. Other grapes cultivated in the region are Müller Thurgau - used for the production of wines of lesser value - and Elbling, mainly used for the production of Sekt - the famous German sparkling wine - pretty ordinary and of lesser value. Other grapes cultivated in the region are Auxerrois, Bacchus, Kerner, Optima and Ortega, and they all are white berried varieties.

 

The Classification of Wines of Mosel

 Mosel-Saar-Ruwer is one of the thirteen quality wine regions of Germany (Anbaugebiete). Wines produced in Mosel are classified according to the system used in the country. The system is made of two main categories and precisely table wines and quality wines. The “table wine” category includes the denominations tafelwein (table wine) and landwein (regional wines). The “quality wines” category - besides representing the best qualitative level of the German production - also represents about 95% of all wines produced in Germany. Quality wines are classified in two categories and precisely: Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet (quality wines produced in determined region) - abbreviated as QbA - and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (quality wines with predicate) - abbreviated as QmP - representing the highest level in the German system.

 Wines belonging to the denomination QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet) are all produced in one of the thirteen quality wine regions - including Mosel-Saar-Ruwer - produced with grapes having a pretty low level of ripeness and the must can be chaptalized, that is sugar can be added in order to increase the alcohol percentage. One of the main criteria on which is based the German quality system is the level of ripeness of grapes, a concept on which is strongly based the highest level of the system: QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat). In fact this class includes six distinct categories and each defining a specific level of ripeness for grapes. In QmP wines chaptalization is not allowed. The categories for QmP wines - from the lowest level of ripeness to the highest - are:

 

  • Kabinett - wines produced with grapes harvested during the normal harvesting time. These wines are usually light, with little alcohol and dry
  • Spätlese - (literally late harvest) wines produced with late harvested grapes, generally more intense and structured than kabinett. These wines can be both dry and demi-sec and have a pretty high quantity of acid, therefore any possible sweetness is usually covered
  • Auslese - (literally selected harvest) wines produced with very ripe grapes whose bunches have been manually selected in the vineyard before harvesting. Aauslesen wines are usually produced in the best years only which had particularly good and warm climate condition
  • Beerenauslese - (literally harvest of selected berries) wines produced with grapes whose bunches have been scrupulously and manually selected. Grapes used for the production of wines belonging to this category, abbreviated as BA, are usually affected by noble rot (Botrytis Cinerea), a characteristic that gives them aromatic richness and structure
  • Eiswein - (literally ice wine) particular wines produced with frozen grapes. Grapes are left to ripe in the vine and harvested in wintertime, when the grapes are frozen because of the low temperature which cannot be, at the moment of harvesting, higher than -7° C (about 19° F). Grapes are being pressed soon after harvesting with the result of obtaining a very concentrated must, rich in acid and sugar, by separating them from the ice - and therefore water - contained in the berries. The result is a wine having a high quantity of sugar and very balanced acidity
  • Trockenbeerenauslese - (literally harvest of dry selected berries) wines belonging to this category certainly are the richest, sweetest and expensive of all German wines. These wines, abbreviated as TBA, are produced in the best years only and by using grapes affected by noble rot (Botrytis Cinerea). The must produced from these grapes is extremely rich in sugar which sometimes makes difficult the fermentation process to start and the alcohol percentage in these wines is usually of 6%

 German wines are also classified according to the quantity of sugar:

 

  • Trocken - dry wine with a quantity of residual sugar lesser than 9 grams per liter
  • Halbtrocken - demi-sec wine with a quantity of residual sugar lesser than 18 grams per liter. It should be observed that because of the high acidity of German wines, halbtrocken practically have a dry taste

 

Mosel

 The area of Mosel is the part of the region which goes along the course of the homonym river up to the neighboring of the city of Koblenz. The area is pretty wide and in the northern part - the one near Koblenz and defined as Lower Mosel, Zell-Untermosel in German - because of its latitude and the cold climate, ripeness of grapes is pretty difficult - even for Müller Thurgau - however also in this area it is possible to find interesting wines. The most interesting part of this area certainly is the middle one - called Middle Mosel Mittelmosel in German - where are located the places from which come the best wines. No matter there is no formal definition of Mosel, the middle part is usually defined in the area going from the city of Klüsserath to the one of Enkirch which is located about 50 kilometers (about 30 miles) from Koblenz and which defines the bereich - the first geographical division of anbaugebiete - of Bernkastel. In this area are found the most celebrated and renowned grosslagen - groups of vineyards, called einzellagen, whose quality should be both high and homogeneous - including the ones of St. Michael, Michelsberg, Kurfürstlay, Münzlay, Badstube, Schwarzlay and Nacktarsch. The area continues to the south with the so called Upper Mosel, Obermosel in German - in the border of Luxembourg and, finally, with the Moseltor, in the borders of Luxembourg and France.

 

Saar

 Whether the environmental and climatic conditions are usually considered difficult in the Mosel, in the Saar area are even more difficult and not every year it is possible to have grapes with the right level of ripeness. This area goes along the final course of Saar river - a tributary of Mosel - and from which takes its name. Grapes cultivated in this area generally reach the right level of ripeness three or four years out of ten, and in the less favorable years, when sugar in grapes is low, wines are characterized by high acidity and therefore their most typical destination is for the production of Sekt sparkling wines. However when grapes reach a good level of ripeness - in particular thanks to a higher quantity of sun rays - wines produced in Saar are extraordinarily elegant and enchanting, moreover the production of eiswein in Saar is among the best ones of the whole region. The main grape of this area is Riesling and the composition of the soil is made of slate. The best wines of Saar - that is the ones produced with grapes having a good ripeness - have fresh fruit aromas, a pleasing touch of honey and a pretty crisp and mineral character.

 

Ruwer

 The wine area of Ruwer takes its name from the homonym tributary river of Mosel. Ruwer is a pretty small area and generally suffer from the same problems found in Saar, that is ripeness of grapes is a condition which is not ensured every year because of the low quantity of sun rays. When this happens, wines are pretty acid and their typical destination is the production of Sekt. However, when grapes have reached an optimal level of ripeness suitable the production of wine - therefore containing a good quantity of sugar - wines produced in this area are characterized by an amazing elegance and finesse, certainly among the best examples of the region as well as of Germany.

 




 Editorial  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 20, June 2004   
Mosel-Saar-RuwerMosel-Saar-Ruwer  Contents 
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