I am very grateful to the German Wine Institute for arranging my visit to Germany in April 2014. They put together a great itinerary which included top quality historic wineries, co-operatives, large concerns and rising stars, alongside meetings with promotional bodies. My personal thanks go to Carola Keller and to Ansgar Schmitz.
Just occasionally (whether intended by the organiser or not) you get an extraordinary contrast on one day, in this case one Saturday morning. First thing in the morning, Janet and I visited the small, family firm of Pauly in the village of Lieser, who have built up their holdings from 3.5 to 9 hectares and have had to rebuild half of their winery due a fire (involving a mobile refrigeration unit), which turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Then we moved on to the family-owned Max Ferd. Richter in Mulheim, on the south bank of the Mosel. Here we were shown around by Constantin who is the 10th generation. We saw the current winery which dates to 1881 which includes 200 1000-litre barrels, some of which go back to 1961. This family bought the historic Brauneberg vineyard in 1643. It is hardly surprising that the latter estate with 20 hectares of its own high-quality vineyards concentrates on traditional Mosel classics, a remarkable 90% of which it exports. These are brilliant dry, off-dry and sweet wines. By contrast, Axel Pauly, third generation, is creating a highly contemporary take on Riesling with a few bottles of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir too. As Axel says, other people wash their cars on Sunday, I play with my Pinot Blanc! You can see Axel in the pictures on the perilous slope above the Mosel.
We had a great tasting at Richter. Constantin put on a series of pairs: 2010 and 2012 dry Spätlesen from the Brauneberger Juffer-S0nnenberg; 2011 and 2008 Mülheimer Sonnenlay Auslese; 2012 and 2010 off-dry Graacher Dompropst Spätlesen; two 2012 Kabinetts from different vineyards, Erdener Treppchen v. Veldenzer Elisenberg. The most illuminating pair of all was two vintages of Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese in the traditional sweet style, around 60g residual sugar balanced by 7-8g acidity. This is not just a great vineyard but also has 100-120 year old vines. The 2012 is mild and creamy with ripe apple and peach fruit with a touch of something tropical. By contrast, 2003 has developed quite powerful petrol notes, with a ripe, creamy palate reflecting both the hot summer and its development in the bottle, with remarkable length. The climax was the Mülheimer Helenenkloster Eiswein, Fass 121, 2004 with 223g residual sugar and 14.6g acidity. The style here is between Eiswein and TBA – luscious, intense concentration of mango and passion fruit with a touch of complexity from some botyrtis.
Across the water in Lieser, Axel Pauly is developing a new, lean, dry style to perfection. Like all the top wineries he is look to buy interesting plots of land when they become available, usually through retirements, but he is hoping for some cool north and east slopes. In the Mosel that seems counter intuitive but he wants dry wines of 10-11% alcohol which he believes both show great expression and are genuine wines to drink, not just to admire. His range starts with Purist, 11% as stated and just 0.6g residual sugar, linear, racy, pure green apple, very, very refreshing. It has been a real hit with sommelier who love the ability to match with a range of subtly flavoured dishes. Particular highlights include the richer, Drei Helden 2012, a big wine for Axel at 12.5% alcohol and 9g residual sugar (to avoid more alcohol). It has more concentration being from the hot vineyard in which we had stood but still with that ‘inner liveliness’ which Pauly aims for. We also enjoyed Generations 2013, named such because all three generations of the family enjoy it – 11% alcohol, 22g residual sugar, 9g acidity. Here the young fruit leaps out of the glass which is then held in check by its acidic structure.
While these two wine growers are very different they both have very distinctive bottle labels. But even here the contrast could not be greater. Richter use their lovely, old-fashioned labels with centuries old maps of the relevant villages, wrapped around with a vine with its azure flowers! Classy, reassuring and traditional. On the other hand, Pauly have gone to some trouble to design a smart contemporary label. When the bottle is upright you see the outlines of the hills of the Mosel region, when it is on its side you are presented with the faces in relief of the three generations.
If you think the Mosel stands for just one style of wine, think again. As Max Ferd. Richter and Pauly show, the Riesling grape grown beside the great river is capable of a myriad of subtly different expressions.