For most of its existence, the German wine region now known simply as the Mosel went by the more geographically inclusive moniker of Mosel-Saar-Ruwer.
It’s an important region because in a country known for Riesling, the Mosel produces the most noble renditions. To reach its full potential, Riesling needs extra days of sun; ripening is very late, usually not until the latter half of October. And in the Mosel, the climate accommodates its lateness.
In 1996, the vineyard area in Germany planted with Riesling exceeded that of Muller-Thurgau, thus making it Germany’s premier grape variety in terms of area in addition to nobility. And it has reigned supreme every year since.
The Mosel River is the sinuous spine of the region, changing direction so often as it flows northeast toward the Rhine that it meanders nearly 150 miles to cover about half that distance were it flowing in a straight line.
Together with its two small tributaries, the Saar and the Ruwer – hence the original, more expansive name of the region – the Mosel composes one geographical entity.
Although each river’s vineyard area produces a wine with its own distinctive personality, the three share a family resemblance: a fragrance reminiscent of spring blossoms, a pale color, light body and refreshing, fruity acidity.
Most of the wines display their finest charms in their youth, although the late- and selectively-harvested wines merit aging.
Along the serpentine route of the Mosel, the river banks rise so sharply that the vineyards carpeting the slopes are among the steepest in the world, with some planted at an astounding 70-degree gradient.
On these precipitous inclines, nearly all labor must be done by hand. That includes tying each vine to its own 8-ft. wooden stake, and carrying up the slate soil that has washed down with the winter rains.
It’s a job worthy of hazard pay, and the payoff is some truly magnificent wine.