Vail Daily column: A river runs through Germany’s Rieslings
Vail, CO Colorado
The Moselle River emerges from France’s Vosges Mountains, traversing northeast along a brief border with Luxembourg and finally carving its way through the slate-infused valleys of Germany’s Moselle wine region.
The river makes an incredible number of twists and turns through solid-rock slopes on its way to join the famed Rhine River at Koblenz and creates a number of perfect microclimates for growing delicate Riesling grapes. The aesthetics of this unique communion are somewhat paradoxical: The aforementioned vineyards are some of Europe’s most foreboding in appearance and yet produce some of the continent’s most delicate wines.
In the Moselle Valley, the river is a critical to grape growing. It moderates the area’s temperature and helps to ward off frost, reflecting heat and light onto the vineyards that line its banks. The warmth and exposure offered by the river is sustained by the region’s dark Devonian slate soils – heat-absorbing and well-draining – which ultimately allow the late-ripening Riesling grapes to fully develop. The long, slow growing season combines with cool nights and moderate days to produce the region’s complex, elegant and racy wines.
Most importantly, Moselle is a source for graceful wines, low in alcohol with intense green-apple flavor, slatey mineral notes and an intriguing bee’s wax aroma. The Riesling grape’s growing location determines its defining characteristics, and classic Moselle Riesling is not replicated anywhere else on the planet.
In Germany, the wines are designated by the grapes’ ripeness levels during differentiated harvest times, called prädikats. Kabinett wines are generally lightly sweet; Spätlese wines are generally a touch sweeter; Auslese wines are dessert-wine sweet; and, finally, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese bottlings are intensely sweet and generally age-worthy.
Some producers are making fashionable trocken (dry) wines, but in general, the Moselle is still best-known for its Kabinett and Spätlese wines. In warmer years, vineyards that allow for more ripening frequently produce spectacular Auslese wines: Goldkapsel (gold-capsule) designated wines are the equivalent of Reserve bottlings and carry a much higher price than traditional bottles.
The widely produced Kabinett wines’ slight hint of sweetness perfectly balances out the variety’s racy acidity. Low in alcohol, Kabinett Rieslings can be paired with a number of delicate seafood dishes, light meat courses or fare with a slight sense of spice (heat) you wish to tame.
Sean Razee is the beverage director and sommelier for Spago at The Ritz-Carlton Bachelor Gulch on Beaver Creek Mountain. He is one of 170 people worldwide to have completed the Master Sommelier Diploma Exam and is the only person in the Vail Valley who holds the distinguished certification.