Last month, participants of Wine Studio, an on-line interactive education seminar hosted by Tina Morey, delved into the intricacies of Mosel Riesling. During the first two weeks, we focused our studies on the lovely wines of Karthauserhof, a monopole property originally founded by Carthusian monks in the 11th century. (You can read the details in my post HERE.) But Tina wasn’t finished with us yet! She herded us all back into the virtual team bus and set the GPS to the coordinates of Weingut Max Ferdinand Richter, where Mike Shaw, longtime US sales rep for the property, and Amy Ezrin of Massanois Imports were awaiting us. We had two more wines to sample as they regaled us with the history and unique traits of this esteemed property.
Weingut Max Ferdinand Richter, always a family enterprise, dates back to 1813 when an ancestor galvanized local forces to prevent the sacking of Mülheim by Napoleon. Today, Dirk Richter and his son Constantine, represent the 13th and 14th generations to take the reins of this esteemed winery. Vineyards (95% Riesling; 5% Pinot Blanc) lie within the heart of the Mosel area, with total plantings of 43 acres and annual production of 10,500 cases.
But those cases of wine reflect the rich diversity of wine styles possible in the Mosel. Each vineyard expresses its own personality of Riesling, one that derives from the unique microclimate of that site: soil composition, elevation, and exposure to sunlight all play a part. For example, most of the steep vineyard sites lie atop grey slate soils intermixed with varying amounts of ferruginous matter, mineral quartz, or clay, each of which imbues the resulting wines with signature character and flavor.
As is typical of this cool-climate region, grapes here enjoy a long growing season (120-140 days) that ensures phenolic ripeness as well as sugar ripeness. It’s as though the grapes take a nice, relaxing summer holiday, frolicking in the sun for several hours each afternoon, working on their tans, reading a few good books, not exerting themselves too much. By harvest time they’ve never looked, felt or, dare I say, tasted better!
Vineyard and Winery Practices
The Richter family believes that great wines are made in the vineyard rather than the cellar, a non-interventionist approach that encompasses small yields, all-natural fertilizers, and sustainable farming. Because of the steepness of the vineyard slopes, vines are tended and grapes are harvested by hand, with special attention paid to maintaining the condition of the grapes as they are transferred to the winery. Fermentation occurs in 1,000 litre fuders (known as foudres in France,) large oak barrels used in Bordeaux, the Rhone Valley, Piedmont, and other wine regions. Significantly larger than traditional oak barrels, fuders allow for a less oxidative process than with smaller-size barrels and limit any overt oak influence on the finished wine while imparting a subtle richness to it. More important, they allow the winemaker to preserve the unique aroma and flavor profiles of each individual site. For properties like Richter, with several single-vineyard offerings, this means a side-by-side tasting of these wines will highlight their differences – a real revelation to those of us new to the nuances of Riesling.
Both of these wines were sent to me as samples for the Wine Studio seminar. They came free of any requirement to rate them or write about them. I will say that I am very happy to share my experience with you!
2015 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett (SRP $22; abv 7.5%)
Right off the bat you should know one thing: the name of this vineyard, Himmelreich, means Kingdom of Heaven, and I would opine that it is aptly named. This wine is one-hundred percent Riesling from 45-50 year-old vines planted on shallow, blue-slate soils. It is aromatic, with lovely notes of white flowers, peach, and wet rocks. On the palate it gives off flavors of white peach, lime, and a hint of pineapple. There is a slight bubbly sensation on the tongue, which surprises at first and then delights. For me, this could be an every-day wine, one that would be welcome on my balcony as an aperitif with friends. But it also has the legs to stand up to a delicious chicken dish: I paired this lovely wine with roasted chicken thighs topped with crispy shallots. Other ideas? Pork in almost any preparation would be stellar, especially if you’re including apples or pears in the recipe.
2015 Brauneberger Juffer Riesling Kabinett (SRP $22; abv 8%)
Named after a convent that used to occupy the vineyard site, Juffer is considered by enthusiasts of Mosel wines to be a “Premier Cru” site. Soils here differ quite a bit from those in Himmelreich: they are composed of Devonian slate that contains a high proportion of iron-rich ferruginous materials. They are darker in color and impart a tangible earthiness to the wines. The vines themselves are 65-70 years old, and lie on a steep, southward-facing slope that, at points, reaches an 80% gradient.
Thomas Jefferson adored wines from Brauneberger, purportedly claiming them as his favorites when he visited the Mosel back in the day. And who am I to disagree with such an esteemed character? On the nose, the Juffer offers up notes of lemon, lime, and a tantalizing honey-apricot aroma that wafts away just as you realize it’s there. A sip reveals lively citrus and peaches – oh, the peaches! As I contemplate this wine (and yes, it’s definitely worthy of contemplation) I think back to summers past, when I could eat ripe, juicy Red Haven peaches right off the tree. Looking past the fruit, I recognize a saline/mineral quality that makes all those peaches stand up straight.
While the alcohol by volume is low (8%) and the residual sugar places this wine distinctly in the off-dry to semi-sweet category, don’t run away from it if sweet isn’t your thing. This would be the perfect opportunity to experience the wonder of balance – specifically the death-defying, high-wire act that is Acidity vs. Sweetness. It’s what makes Riesling, even sweeter versions, so darn delicious with food. I say this all the time to friends who hesitate to dip a toe into the sweet pond: It’s all about the balance. With enough acidity to counter the sugar, a sweet wine will seem less overtly sweet to your senses. And the second part of the corollary goes like this: If you live in a tropical climate, where heat and humidity dominate your life, these wines are the perfect antidote. Refreshing, light, and satisfying, they’ll help you forget about the sweat running down your back and your bad hair day. Try them for yourself and see!
I paired the Juffer with citrus and honey glazed scallops to great effect, but fresh fish with mango salsa or lemon and herb pesto would also be nice. Thai, Indian, and Chinese dishes would be knock-outs with it, too.
Bottom line, if you’re looking for wines that exhibit varietal typicity, express their unique vineyard sites, and totally kill it on quality-to-price ratio, look no further than the stunning wines of Weingut Max Ferdinand Richter.