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Reviving German wines

An ambitious new generation in the Moselle region returns to its roots.


The generational shift has brightened the Moselle's fortunes. Many wine lovers, tired of buttery Chardonnays, have turned to Riesling. Ernst Loosen says Riesling sales worldwide have tripled over the past two decades. At the same time, many of the Moselle's poorest vineyards have been ripped out. All told, Loosen says the Moselle vineyards are down to less than 9,000 hectares, from their maximum of 13,000.

Admittedly, a few caveats remain in order. All too many German producers continue to make bitter, watery wines, so it remains advisable to stick to the best names. And if your taste runs to rich, buttery, oaked, high alcohol white wines, stay away. Moselle whites, courtesy of their far northern provenance, are pungent, low alcohol (often only 8 or 9 percent) affairs.

Also, a word remains in order about price. Without a doubt, the best-value German white wines are the budget basic Kabinetts. Even at most top estates, they sell for about 8 to 10 euros (transport and distribution costs often double that price in the United States). Expect to pay about double or even triple for richer, more concentrated Spatlese and even more for even richer and more concentrated Auslese. These last two types are suited to a special occasion and are more dessert than table wines.

Christoph Koenen still cannot make a living from his own small wine estate. So he consults for many other wine growers. His wife works with him — the two met during oenology course.

It's a family story that exemplifies the revival of the Moselle: Koenen's parents never studied winemaking, but their son earned a degree in oenology. When Christoph began bottling his own wine nine years ago, he had no customers, so he went to wine fairs and little by little built up his business.

Now, almost all of Koenen's sales remain inside Germany. But he would like to find foreign merchants to begin importing his wine. And he hopes soon to buy or lease additional vineyards and eventually live off of his own wine.

"Many young winemakers here share this vision," he said. "We build our business little by little, year by year. It is hard, but fun. If we make fantastic wines that make customers happy, I am confident we will succeed."

Moselle tasting notes

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