The Thursday just gone was one I had been looking forward to from the moment it went into the diary. It was a trip I’d wanted to do for most of my time, now nearly 20 years, in the trade. A quick “In and out” to the Mosel. So often our trips are quick ones, the email never stops, it would be lovely to spend longer looking at regions but the reality is different. Guy (Seddon) and I met at Heathrow for breakfast at 6.15 to get the early flight to Luxembourg. Everything ran to time and with only an hours drive the other side we were stood on the bank of the Mosel looking over at Wehlener Sonnenuhr by midday.
The scale of the Mosel is not something you can really get from books or videos and it was great to see it in the “flesh”. Obligatory picture/s (above) and social media updates done we parked up outside JJ Prum.
A very warm welcome awaited us. Mihailo who has just joined “Team Prum” taking us through to taste. What followed was two hours of Riesling bliss. Katharina Prum joined us as we discussed the exciting, but slightly small, 2017 vintage and the various vineyards. I often start my email offer of the Prum wines each year by saying there is probably no one producer that I drink more bottles of each year than Prum and I stand by that. Thanisch (see below) will certainly be joining this. The wines are so enjoyable, so adaptable and break peoples perceptions (always fun!).
We tasted through the levels, from Kabinett through Spatlese to Auslese and beyond and through vineyard to vineyard:
WEHLENER SONNENUHR (gets the morning sun)
GRAACHER HIMMELREICH (advantageous in hotter dry vintages)
BERNKASTELER BADSTUBE (and Bernkasteler Lay*)
These wines are so easy to taste, it is enjoyable which is not always the case with younger wines. The 2017 vintage seems to have a little bit of everything: Richness, purity, minerality, intensity and focusing acidity. I increasingly like Mosel Rieslings in middle age (4-12 years) when I think they show all elements of their being. I asked the lazy question “do the 2017 wines (not weather) remind you of another vintage?” at both our visits and was pleased do me told a fairly emphatic “No” on both occasions.
* Bernkasteler Lay has appeared a few times and for fear of looking stupid I had never fully understood what it was. Simply it is the Prum’s best part of Bernkasteler Badstube that they chose to bottle separately when the distinct quality and style stands out.
I love the vineyard differences here which is all the more amazing as they essentially run from one into another into another in the order they are listed above. Soils and aspects changing minutely yet significantly. It is, however, always Wehlener that combines everything for me. I used all my scores from 17+ to 19.5 out of 20 but nothing lower.
We finished the tasting with two 1999s, a few bottles of which will be released this year:
WEHLENER SONNENUHR AUSLESE Long GOLDKAPSEL (LGK) 1999
WEHLENER SONNENUHR BEERENAUSLESE (BA) 1999.
Goldkapsel and then Long Goldkapsel being selections from within the Auslese category – there’s a bit to learn but it is so well worth it. Beernenaulese being from hand selected grapes. This was not only interesting because of the pure quality of the wines (which were stellar) but because it highlighted to me the fundamental difference between Auslese (GK or LGK included) and BA. The difference is one of intensity and weight. BA is a syrupy experience to drink alone, however the LGK still has the soul of a table wine – well that’s how I would put it.
The tasting was a fairly intense two hours of discussion interspersed with good humour and a some good tales. The estates feels in a very content situation, very high quality and a great history. A delicious quiche (not two words I combine often!) set us on our way 10minutes south. I look forward to going back to Prum and to taking Katharina up on her offer of a vineyard tour (memo to self: sturdy boots!). I expected a lot and Prum delivered.
So, Thanisch or to be correct – Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch Erben Thanisch. This is a new estate for me, well new over the last year. We started with the 2016 vintage back in May which went down brilliantly. This was a great opportunity to look in depth, to see the “Doctor” vineyard and to taste the 2017s.
We made it into the picturesque town of Berkasteler, something of a tourist spot. 6,900 inhabitants but over 1million one night stays a year. Over the bridge and hang a left and there you have the Thanisch property on the banks of the Mosel. One of the many things that put us on to this estate was the strong recommendation of Peter Sisseck, a lover of great Riesling.
We were given the warmest of welcomes by Sofia Thanisch and her husband Hans. We settled in to a really thorough tasting of the 2017s. It was terrific to also be joined by Sofia’s daughter Christina who, after studies and some time making wine in New Zealand, officially started at the estate on the 1st September.
Thanisch is most famous for one specific site – Berncasteler Doctor – which is one of the jewels of the Mosel. It is a little over 3hectares (well under half the size of La Tache or Clos de Tart for comparison). You may think you have spotted a spelling inconsistency but the “C” in Berncasteler is correct only for this vineyard as it was trademarked. This gives you an ides of its significance. Another indicator is the fact that technically for a vineyard to be classified as top quality of Grosse Lage it should be 5 hectares, an exception was to be made and it is an exceptional site in every way. Steep with a great exposure, it always thaws the first when there is snow. Every possible wine style can be made here from dry (Trocken) to BA and TBA.
The tasting started with three impressive dry (“Troken”) wines:
Thanisch Riesling Trocken 2017
Bernkasteler Graben Trocken GG
Bernkasteler Doctor Trocken GG
We then moved on to tasting all the various levels from Kabinett to Auslese from both the Bernkasteler Badstube vineyard and the Bernkasteler Doctor vineyard. Including along the way a comparison of the Bernkasteler Doctor Spatlese and the Bernkasteler Doctor Spatlese Auction bottling (only 324 bts and 18 mags). I am not going to try and launch into an explanation of the Auction scene here but it is fascinating and the Auction bottling here was distinct from the “normal” (which is far from remotely normal). The whole range left us both pleased and excited.
Sofia generously then invited us to taste a mini vertical of the Badstuber Spatlese from 2014-2017. It was fascinating. 2014 the leanest but energetic, 2015 richer and fuller, 2016 stunning and so complete, 2017 possibly the most focused and may be the classiest.
The start of the vintage (which can last a month or more) is only a couple of weeks away and every change in the weather was noted, the news of hail down the valley in Trier being most unwelcome.
We were selfishly relieved when things seem to settle long enough for a trip up to the Doctor vineyard and into the ancient cellars beneath. I’ve seen a fair few vineyards in my time but nothing to rival this for steepness and complexity of aspect. The quality of the wines produced does not surprise me one bit!
Before it was time to make it back to Luxembourg airport for the 21.30 flight home Sofia very kindly gave us some hearty soup and a splendid mature glass of Berncasteler Doctor Auslese 1990 – what a wine. I asked about the Nr 15 on the label and that means cask 15. Back then the bottling would have been cask by cask.
We were sad to go but it had been a tremendous day of great insights and very generous tasting line ups. The Mosel was everything I hoped it’d be. There are some similarities in the nuances of the region with both Piedmont and Burgundy but comparisons are always lazy. The Mosel is quite something!