The Wine Drinker

This is the Dead Letter Office of my wine writing. These stories ended up not fitting on our company's Facebook page (Piedmont Wine Imports) or website,, for reasons that I think are clear once you scroll through a few posts. Less professional musings, impressions that ultimately never got past the rough prototype stage. Um... enjoy!

Monday, August 13, 2007

Monchhof/Von Kesselstatt

Need refreshing riesling for a hot August evening? The two wines I'm profiling this week are easy-to-find and delicious. As a wine enthusiast it's fun to write about the obscure, but I believe it's exponentially more useful to you if I point out a couple of good wines that can be procured without hours of reseach and a SWAT team of wine detectives. And prices are sane. Enjoy!

Wine #1 2005 Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Josephshofer Riesling Kabinett

The von Kesselstatt family started making wine in the Mosel in the 14th century. In the 19th century the estate purchased four monasteries whose vineyards form the core of the current domaine’s 36 hectares. By global standards this is not a large chunk of land, but in the Mosel 36 hectares makes you a notably larger than average estate. As part of its vineyard holdings, Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt has prime sites in the Mosel and its two major vine-growing tributaries, the Saar and the Ruwer. Few estates in the region have top sites in all three areas. So here curious wine tasters have a rare opportunity to taste the terroir differences between the area’s three valleys without the distraction of variance in producer style. Annegret Reh-Gardner is the current owner of Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt. Her family purchased the estate in 1978. Wolfgang Mertes makes the wines here.

In September of 2006, Megan (the wife) and I went on holiday to Germany and Belgium. It was a truly great holiday, a week away from the office spent riding bikes from village to famous wine growing village along the Mosel, and hiking up and along the steep hillsides that veer up from the river for miles. The most perfect fragment of hours on this vacation was spent at the Palais von Kesselstatt in Trier in the southern Mosel, a city we really visited for its Roman architecture and cathedrals. We were walking back through the city center looking for where we parked our car when the historic home of the von Kesselstatt winemaking empire appeared. As we sat in their little café garden and drank glasses of Riesling the rainy day turned to warm sun, and the lightness and vibrancy of Mosel wine made absolute sense. It turns out wines do taste better where they come from. We hadn’t booked an appointment to taste at von Kesselstatt, and probably for the wrong reasons. Wine geeks covet the obscure, the unattainable, and frankly in nerd circles I feel the reputation of these wines suffer because they are, well, available. They are not little gems you must seek out. So they have no indie cred… but they taste good. And the bottle prices at the Palais? Shocking. We bought lots.

Purchased by the von Kesselstatt family in 1858, the Josephshofer vineyard was under cultivation by 596. Megan and I biked past this site and its spired monastery near the town of Graach on our way from Urzig to Berncastel. I took nifty pictures. The site looks basically the same as many others on this stretch of the river (70% grade, but that’s common to the steep Mosel), except for the striking monastery building. The soil here is Devonian slate, common to the region and a defining part of the Mosel wine flavor profile. Often you will hear wines of this area described as slatey, flinty, minerally.

Ready for a second bottle? Check out 2005 Monchhof Urziger Wurzgarten Riesling Kabinett

This wine is softer and fuller than most estate bottlings from the Mosel. It could be the best value white in our bins. Dominated by apple, peach and nectarine aromas, this would pair well with Pacific salmon. A little lower in alcohol, so have a second, then a third, glass. Why buy this? Monchhof sources fruit from Urziger Wurtzgarten, Erdener Pralat and Erdener treppchen, all Grand Cru equivalent sites along the northern Mosel. The estate was founded in the 12th century. Urzig is my kind of sleepy town. Forgettable restaurants, zero commerce (excluding wine) but a slow river flows through its center, bordered by bike trails that stretch for days in both directions, and to its back Urzig possesses innumerable exhausting hours of hiking for tourists willing to explore its famous vineyards. The views from Urziger Wurzgarten, Erdener Treppchen and Erdener Pralat are indescribable, and for once I won’t try. Come by the store for a viewing of select holiday photos. Not for vertigo sufferers. To be momentarily serious, the creation of wine from this vertical landscape is heroic and an achievement all people should feel proud of. It is man harnessing nature and working within her to create something higher. Dozens of families own and work these vines- Megan and I could not understand how it is possible. Robert Eymael’s assistant Babak Alikaran said they have only suffered two accidents in a decade (though pictures inside Monchhof show they suffered an incredible flood as well, in 1993). I took two steps down a row and sanely scurried back up the slate hillside to our path. Rock faces and short (and long) drops to even more rows of vines below are numerous. At Monchhof (seit 1177) Eymael balances purity and weight to create wines that are both textbook examples and good entry-point wines for those wishing to explore the vineyards of Urzig. I encourage you to do so.


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