High-end Mosel wine producers are (slowly) battling for the identity – and the future – of German Riesling.
“We don’t aim to produce perfection,” Annegret Reh-Gartner told me over lunch at Schloss Marienlay, a beautiful estate on the Ruwer in Germany’s famed Mosel region.
Annegret is the driving force behind Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, a Mosel wine icon with roots dating back to 1349, and now one of only a handful of producers with vineyard holdings on the Mosel as well as its tributaries, the Saar and Ruwer. She is welcoming and open, the only things that hint at her family’s wealth (her father is probably one of the richest people in all of Germany, and their family holds several expensive vineyard areas in the region) are her keen sense of style and the impressive stone building housing our lunch table.
“We aim to produce personalities. You need soul.”
She states her views on Mosel wine matter-of-factly, with a surety that comes from clearly having considered the matter deeply. Despite being affable, warm, and small, she cuts an imposing figure when talking about the state of Mosel Riesling, even when seated. When she mentions the future of Mosel wine, her voice never raises but it does quicken.
“We can’t limit ourselves to super, well-balanced wines with residual sugar. We have to catch mice with bacon.” By mice, Annegret means the modern German wine consumer – Wine drinkers in Germany have rebelled against the explosion of cheap, bad, cloyingly sweet wines that plagued the reputation of German wines for decades. But instead of seeking out good, well-balanced wines from quality estates, those consumers have nearly abandoned sweet wines from Germany altogether, and are voting with their wallets in favor of bone-dry Rieslings…
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Personally speaking, I don’t believe in a Hell. But if there is a hell, I imagine that it would strongly resemble US Airways Flight 703 from Frankfurt Germany to Philadelphia on May 21, 2009, sharing the back of the plane with about fifteen of the most obnoxious German airline passengers ever to assemble in one place for eight and half consecutive hours.
And by “one place,” I mean directly over seat 36C, where they poured brandy into each other’s plastic cups of Coke-a-Cola and showered the passenger in between them (that’s me) with spittle as they discussed their lives at an ever-increasing volume, all the while leaning heavily on the back of my seat to ensure that I achieved as little sleep as possible.
And so that’s how my press junket to Germany, compliments of Destination Riesling, ended – in stark contrast to the wonderful people that I’d met (both winemakers, hosts, and fellow travelers) the four days prior to my return flight (which I’ve dubbed “Operation Belästigen die Amerikanischen” or “Bother the tiny American”) during which I traveled through Germany’s Rheinhessen, Pfalz, and Mosel winegrowing regions with four members of the press and a guide from the German Wine Institute.
My return trip aside (and even that was so comically bad that I started laughing about it already), I’ve returned Stateside much richer for the experience, in the level of knowledge I’ve gained about the state of German winemaking (much more to come on that in the next few days), the people I’ve met, and the intimate deep-dive tasting I’ve had with Riesling wines (some readers might recall that I picked a Rheinhessen sparkling Riesling Sekt as the #1 most interesting wine I’d tasted in 2008, and which convinced me beyond a doubt that Riesling is the most noble white wine grape variety, period)…
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Hey, wanna talk about ethics in wine media?
Chances are, if you’re in wine media, the answer is “Yes! Please!”
If you’re not in wine media, I’m willing to bet the answer is “Huh? Who gives a sh*t?!??” I suspect that the population breakdown looks something like this:
So, when I title this “Last Word…,” I don’t mean it’s the final statement to end all navel-gazing debates when it comes to the ethics of covering the wine world. I just mean that it’s the last time I’m going to touch the topic.
I do have a vested interest in all of this ethics-debating, mind you. I was myself the target of an ethical stone or two thrown last year, and there’s been some damn fine writing lately on what constitutes ethical behavior in the world of wine coverage. Also, in case you haven’t noticed, I do write about wine. Sometimes. When I’m not drinking it, I mean.
I’ve long been an advocate of moving the wine writing ethics discussions off of wine blogs and onto other forums. Of course, in order to make that argument, I need to dredge up the topic here on my own wine blog. The irony…
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You really like my limousine
You like the way the wheels roll.
You like my seven inch leather heels
and coming to all of the shows.
Do you love me?
– KISS, Do You Love Me (from Destroyer, 1976)
The American Association of Wine Economists has released another working paper, which often is great fodder for wine-related discussion, unless of course you want to talk about the wine itself. And it might piss some women wine lovers off…
This particular working paper, No. 25, is titled “WHEN DOES THE PRICE AFFECT THE TASTE? RESULTS FROM A WINE EXPERIMENT” and details an experiment performed on approximately 130 people (average age: 29) to measure how knowledge of a price of a bottle of wine impacts people’s perception of that wine (good or bad). The experiment gave three different scenarios to the subjects:
- Taste then Rate the wine with no price info. given (control).
- Give the Price, taste, then rate the wines.
- Taste the wine, give the price, then rate the wine.
There were some interesting findings from this little study, including a reinforcement of the subjective nature of tasting wine:
“Objective measures of wine quality are not easily defined, and consumer tastes with regard to wine are highly heterogeneous…”
as well as what seems like the AAWE’s obligatory dig at professional wine tasters and judges (they love to do this, I think):
“Tasters are only marginally better than a random guess at distinguishing vintage years from non-vintage years from the same vineyard, or reserve bottlings from regular bottlings from the same vineyard and year, despite very large differences in price.”
and an underscoring of a not-so-revolutionary finding that seems to have been proven for nearly any kind of marketed consumer good:
“…extrinsic information provided prior to first-hand experience with the good in question has a significant effect of how the good is experienced, whereas extrinsic information provided after the experience does not.”
WARNING: Some women may want to stop reading at this point.
The most interesting finding was the gender bias that the AAWE claims resulted during the study.
“…an expensive wine gets considerably higher ratings when tasters are informed about the high price before tasting, relative to tasting “blind” – but only from female tasters. By contrast, women that taste the wine before being told the price do not assign significantly higher ratings, suggesting that once they form a first-hand opinion the attribute information has little effect.”
It seems that some women at least think that they prefer expensive wine, even if the wine they’re given is not really expensive. In other words, Chicks dig pricey wine (even if it’s not really pricey)!
The finding is interesting but I’m guessing it would hardly prove a revelation to any guy who has ever lied to a date about the price of wine and dinner.
Now, I know what some of you guys are probably thinking.
“Egads! Does she really love me, or just my expensive wine?!??”
Take heart, guys – the wine doesn’t have to really be expensive, she just needs to think that it’s expensive!
But seriously, before any wineries out there up their prices, put a picture of a shirtless hot guy on the label, and contact their marketing department to start running commercials during Desperate Housewives – you all need to know a few things about this AAWE study.
As far as I’m concerned, the study isn’t scientifically reliable, and supports no real conclusions, until such time as it’s repeated (possibly with larger & larger subject groups). Otherwise, it’s just guessing based on a very small sample size.
So – guys with deep pockets and deep cellars, don’t dump your better halves just yet. Because chances are they are really just that – your better halves!
(images: hollywood-elsewhere, wine-economics.org)