Eats and Drinks
Published: November 7, 2012
Drinking wine can get you dizzy. So, in some instances, can making it. Just ask the grape growers bravely tending the vineyards of Germany’s Mosel region, among the steepest vineyards on the planet. Pitched vertiginously above the Mosel River, on slopes as extreme as 75 degrees, vines in this cold, northern climate find the sun exposure they need to survive. Vineyard workers can’t always say the same—some have fallen to their deaths. The crystalline Rieslings produced here lend deeper meaning to the phrase “dangerously delicious.”
This landscape demands some of the most labor-intensive grape cultivation in the world—as much as seven times the man-hours of comparatively flat wine regions, by one expert’s account. Climbing skills come in the job description. Helicopters are more useful than tractors for vine maintenance. Hand harvesting is a necessity, not just an option chosen by quality-conscious vintners.
The labor theory of value posits that the worth of goods can be determined by the work required to produce them. So perhaps you can understand how Mosel wine prices—not just the hillsides—might seem a bit steep. But don’t let sticker shock scare you off from the Melsheimer Reiler Mullay-Hofberg Riesling Kabinett 2009 ($25-ish, 11 percent ABV, melsheimer-riesling.de). A bottle holds a bit more than five standard 5 oz. pours, and by my belly-up theory of value, that’s about $5 a glass—a couple bucks less than you’ll pay for plonk at just about any public house.
German wine regulations are pretty anal (imagine that!), and the labels take some getting used to. In this case, “Melsheimer” identifies the producer; “Reiler” indicates its origin, near the village of Reil; and “Mullay-Hofberg” specifies the vineyard. Steep even by Mosel standards, Mullay-Hofberg features vertical slate walls buttressing terraces, some with just a single vine row. This organically farmed Riesling gets vinified in the Kabinett style, the driest classification in the German system.
In the glass, it shines pale gold, with aromas of slate, citrus peel, and white mushroom. Medium-bodied, with nervy acidity balancing faint sweetness, its bright flavors of green apple and nectarine ripen with air time and linger on a wisp of chalk dust. Riesling makes a great food wine—this would pair gorgeously with sushi or salmon—and for many a wino, it’s the go-to white for turkey and trimmings. I’ve already invited it over for Thanksgiving.
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