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Posted: Tuesday, September 29 2009. 18:05

Wine Feature: Top Guns of Mosel

If one were to select the five First Growths of Mosel, like the ones in Medoc, Bordeaux, the names of Fritz Haag, Dr. Loosen, Egon Müller, J. J. Prüm would certainly share the honours, writes Subhash Arora who visited three of them recently.

Mosel Saar-Ruwer region
now known as Mosel

There are wineries like Markus Molitor, Sankt Urbans-Hof , Selbach- Oster and  Reinhold Haart who might vie for the fifth spot. The small 7h/A estate of Reinhold Haart which owns the best vineyard sites in Piesport: Goldtröpfchen, and Domherr as also the Wintricher Ohligsberg (as explained in an earlier article, it means the Ohligsberg vineyard in the neighbouring Wintrich village) might be ahead as the fifth estate in the prestigious category.

The traditionalists might point out that the First Growth Chateau Haut Brion is not really in Medoc-it is in Pessac- Leognan in Bordeaux. For an equivalent comparison, Egon Müller is also not located by the Mosel-technically but by the river Saar, a tributary of Mosel, with a terroir that is quite different.

Mosel is the wine producing region in Rheinland- Palatinate (Pfalz). It used to be called Mosel-Saar-Ruwer till August 1 2007 when it was decided by the majority of producers to call the whole region as Mosel, to simplify for the customer.

I started my winery visits moments after I checked in the beautiful, Weinromantik Hotel Rishctershof in Mülheim, and drove over to the adjoining village Brauneberg.

1. Weingut Fritz Haag 

Dusemonder Hof, 54472 Brauneberg
Telephone: +49 (0) 6534 410
Fax: +49 (0) 6534 1347
www.weingut-fritz-haag.de
info@weingut-fritz-haag.de

This is a premium ‘First Growth’ 12 hA estate owned by the patriarch of the region, Wilhelm Haag. He is now being assisted by his son Oliver who has worked as a winemaker in Dönnhoff and Karthäuserhof. Brauneberg has two great growth vineyards- the prestigious Juffer Sonnenuhr and Juffer. Sonnenuhr (sundial) vineyards are considered the best in Mosel as they are located where the sun shines the most and helps in proper ripening of the grape. As the Mosel is meandering around, changing its direction, the Sonnenuhr vineyards also change their direction from village to village.

 It is quite exciting to spot a sundial in the middle Mosel (Mosel has three sub regions- the Upper Mosel which confusingly is in the lower part of the German map-as the river comes from France and passing through Luxemburg, it meets Rhine River  near Koblenz up North where it is called the Lower Mosel.

Located on the Middle Mosel, Wilhelm has been working in the winery for over 50 years. He has been smart enough to pick up the best possible parcels in these vineyards right opposite his village. The parabolic Juffer sundial vineyards have a steep portion in the middle, full of slate which makes the sun reflections heat up the slate the maximum during the day time, allowing for the excellent ripening of grapes.

The Haag family has been in the records as a family business since 1605 when it was known as the Dusemonder Hof based on the earlier name of the village which was changed to Brauneberg in 1925. All the labels still show the old address.

The lineage of wine making being followed over the centuries is amazing in Fritz Haag, like in most of the great growths of Mosel. So when I asked Oliver taking me around the vineyards, ‘what if some kids in the family do not want to continue with the wine-making business?’ was his pat reply. It is highly unlikely any family members won’t want to carry on the tradition and a world-famous name forward. Oliver’s wife Jessica already helps him, though Wilhelm is fairly active. Oliver’s son Fritz is growing up and ‘hopefully he will want to take over from me,’ says he.

Although Fritz Haag specialises in Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese-TBA (€225 for their 2007!) like most of the top rated producers, even the trocken (dry) was quite delicious. Striking chord was the ‘feinherb’ a term allowed to be used in Mosel after a fair amount of earlier litigation. Varying from around 15-35 gms of sugar, this off-dry wine is the perfect choice with hot Indian cuisine. The goldkapsel range was also outstanding. The TBA 2007 was amazing- no wonder that Gault Millau German Wine Guide gave the 2006 a perfect 100!

The great Rieslings go on living on and on. Despite Oliver not willing to venture beyond 30-40 years, even an unmarked Riesling from an older vintage which we tasted and polished off at the garden restaurant at the beautiful Richtershof Weinromantik Hotel was clean, fresh and vivacious, full of complex petrol and minerally bouquet- it was a 1985 vintage!

Fritz Haag is available in The Four Seasons Hotel in Mumbai and is imported on their behalf by the Wine Park. Obviously the wine knowledge and the taste buds of our top hotels are not yet fully evolved but it is a matter of time that these excellent wines will wine over the palates of wealthy Indians.

2. Weingut Dr. Loosen

St Johannishof, 54470 Bernkastel-Kues
Telephone: +33 (0) 6531 3426
Fax: +33 (0) 6531 4248
www.drloosen.com
Email: info@drloosen.de

That my question to Oliver was a valid one was proved the very next day when I drove over to meet Ernie Loosen, the owner of the 5-star winery Dr Loosen (pronounced as Loh-zun). Ernie is an archaeology graduate who was much more interested in Romans than Riesling when there was a crisis in his family. His father who wanted to retire in the 80s realised that no one in the family wanted to take over. Ernie decided to change his career path and the rest is history.

He studied winemaking at the world-famous German Wine Institute at Geisenheim, travelled all over in Alsace, Austria, Burgundy and California before coming back and taking full charge in 1988 to bring his two-century estate to glory in less than 15 years time. Seventies and eighties was a critical period in the history of Mosel and practically all Riesling producing areas of Germany, when the demand far exceeded the supply and the producers resorted to the obvious- over-cropping at the cost of quality, bringing the name of Riesling like the cheap Chianti.

I was really impressed by Ernie when I met him at a Riesling Revival seminar at Vinexpo in 2003. His quest and passion for excellence was contagious. Even today he spends a lot of time travelling, not only to meet his distributors throughout the world but trying to convince them about the great quality of Mosel wines.

Ernie’s winery-cum-residence has a lovely private tasting room from where you can watch the Bernkastel castle tucked away in the nearby forest, when your eyes wander from the serene Mosel (not always-it causes havocs every few years with major floods being recorded at least since 1607) across the street from his house. Invariably, he would show you the maps created in the early nineteenth century designating the vineyards, a-la Burgundy cru vineyards.

The Grosses Gewächs or the Erste Lage are the First Growths that bring to the memory vineyards like La Tâche, Richebourg, Romanée Conti ,Le Chambertin, Grands Échezeaux, Clos de Vougeot are some of the names that echo in your mind when he is describing Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Prälat, Erdener Treppchen.

As pleasant as Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 to the ears, these are the First Growth vineyards where he owns several small parcels- some as small as 4 vines. Although he has less vineyards like Bernkasteler Lay & Graacher Himmelreich, at a practically walking distance from his house and he buys grapes for an entry level but delicious wine called Dr. L- his reputation is made from wines from the above vineyards, be them Auslese, Spätlese, BA or TBA. I call him Mr. 7.5 percenter (does it ring any bells?) because most of his wines are around this level-give or take .5.

Brindco has been importing Dr. Loosen wines and many of the fine dining restaurants in 5-star properties carry a small range of these wines.

3. Weingut Egon Müller

54459 Wiltingen, Scharzhof
Telephone: +49 6501 17232
Fax: +49 6501 150263
Internet: www.scharzhof.de
email: egon@scharzhof.de

This small 7 hA winery is right in front of the Saar Valley, world famous Scharzhofberger steep vineyards. Though the winery address is Wiltingen, it is located about a km. out of the town towards Oberemmel, on the left. The GPS of my car refused to recognise his winery because of the rather incomplete address.  After going past his winery cum bungalow-type residence-I was able to zero in on the property right behind which are the famous Scharzhofberger where he owns about 4 hA of prime area.

Egon is a part of the Egon dynasty. He is Egon IV-Egon V was busy painting in the courtyard. His father Egon the third was a remarkable vintner who kept the Mosel Riesling flag high when many others had succumbed to the high demands of the time, at the cost of quality. ‘My father, J J Prüm family, wilhelm Haag and Von Schubert family (in Ruwer- covered in future articles)  were a few of the producers who really spearheaded the movement to maintain quality all throughout- Ernie Loosen had still not taken charge of Dr. Loosen,’ he said when I posed him the question of quality going down in the 80s and 70s.

He is not quite happy with the decision taken by the MSR region to call it Mosel. ‘The soil and terroir in our region is totally different than in the Mosel valley.’ However, he seemed to be above these classifications as he sells his wines on his name only. Since 19th century the wines from this winery have been commanding premiums outside the area.

The winemaking approach at Scharzhof is very traditional and minimalistic. Most vintners producing high quality wines believe that vineyards count for 90% winemaking. Not so at Egon Müller. “The quality of a wine is 100% made in the vineyard. In the cellar it is not possible to arrive even at 101% but it is no small achievement to be able to bring the full potential of the grapes into the bottle. My father used to say that and it is as true today,” he says. ‘We believe in the quality and the potential of our vineyards to produce the finest grapes and we do everything to enhance this potential.


‘We remain firm believers in the old Naturwein philosophy that was abandoned with the implementation of the 1971 wine law. We do not like to add anything to our wines with the exception of Sulphur Dioxide. We don’t chaptalise either under any circumstances. Even the crushing of the grapes is done in such a way that we don’t have to use any fining agent, ‘says Egon matter-of-factly.

The prices are quite high and generally not affordable by ordinary mortals, but those who can afford the luxury of top- notch wines-especially the sweet wines, are willing customers for the 70,000 bottles he produces every year.

Sanjay Menon of Sonarys Mumbai who has a palate for great wines has been working with Egon for several years. ‘I am happy to tell you that he has asked us to expand the range of our wines for India,’ he says. One hopes that is an indication of the affluent Indians shifting from Blue label whisky to this First Growth Mosel wine. Not many can afford the #14 (he has a unique system of numbering his wines-I tasted #1- # 16 which he had lined up for me on a nice table) Riesling Auslese Scharzhofberger Goldkapsel 2007 which has been reportedly auctioned for € 450 (!). The rule of thumb is that if you need to ask the price, you can perhaps not afford it.

The crescendo of the tasting and the visit reached when Egon opened a bottle of 1998 Eiswein. I threw the caution to the winds and sat with him till the bottle from one of the greatest vintages in the last century was polished off-hoping that the low alcohol and slow speed and my dark foreign skin would keep me away from a policeman because unlike in our motherland, you may drive 50 kms above the speed limit, but driving with the alcohol level beyond allowed by law would land you into trouble from which no money, power or political influence could save you.

Subhash Arora

More of the visited wineries to be featured in future articles.

Comments:

 
 

Marlies Grumbach Says:

I just read your wonderful article on the "Top Guns of Mosel". I am sure Oliver and Ernie will be very happy for your excellent article. It was a pleasure to read it. Have a nice evening and best regards. Marlies

Posted @ October 05, 2009 16:30

 

NicoRiesling Says:

Mr Muller is the best. I looove his wines. Thank you for the great post. Nicolas Pacific Rim Winemakers

Posted @ October 05, 2009 16:15

 

Subhash Arora Says:

Thanks for your comments. As you might have noticed from my 2 articles on your region, I love Mosel and its Rieslings. You will agree that the producers I visited and wrote about, are the absolute top producers. Frankly, I cannot afford to normally drink their mid-high end wines. It is producers like you who are affordable and yet decent- which is good- especially for India where you are working with FWM. I would have loved to visit you. But you are in enkirch-beyond Traben Trarbach down the river and on the date you gave me, I was in Trier till 6:30 pm. Sorry I could not make it.But I should tell you that I prefer to visit wineries represented in India so that I can write about the availability and the consumer can get direct benefits. I will be writing about 8 other wineries I visited in the future columns. But please be assured that I will visit you next time- I foresee many more such visits. Subhash Arora

Posted @ October 01, 2009 10:15

 

Ulrich Langguth Says:

Dear Mr. Arora, generally speaking your article may be a good PR for German wines but I admit quite frankly that many other producers whose wines are just as good if not better feel left out and so do I who was prepared to DO something for you..... best regards Ulrich Langguth

Posted @ September 30, 2009 10:05

 
       

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