I was in the Mosel this week for the annual “réunion plénière” of our company.
Each year we take all the winemakers of the AXA Millésimes properties, together with our principal commercial and administrative managers, to a wine region where we mix business with pleasure (as in fact we usually do in this particular business) by holding our internal meeting, exchanging information about what everyone has been doing over the past year, but also visiting a few wine producers from regions other than our own.
It is a great opportunity for everyone to catch up -as you can imagine, the team from Hungary do not often meet the team from Portugal during the course of the year- but also a chance to broaden our horizons by immersing ourselves in a wine world that is a little different from the ones we know.
Last year we had a great visit to Jerez. This year was the turn of the Mosel.
The photographs may give the misleading impression that every one is just having a good time. But I am sure it is obvious that in order to understand fully a wine region it is necessary to taste extensively the wines that are produced there. And so we make a big effort to do this.
It was in fact a great learning experience. This is perhaps the moment for me to admit that the German wine labelling system has not always been entirely clear to me. I am sure that I am in a small minority here, which is why I hesitate to make this admission. I have so often opened a Kabinett expecting it to be dry, only to find it fruity and sweet, or a Spätlese expecting to find it fruity and sweet and finding it dry or half dry that I have always been a little confused about how it works.
During our first tasting at Dr Loosen I had a sudden moment of illumination when in one magic phrase Thomas Loosen made everything clear. I had never understood before (and this is rather embarrassing to admit) that the terms Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese etc. refer to the richness of the must after pressing and before vinification. After that the winemaker can vinify them dry, semi-dry, or sweet. This was an astounding revelation. I felt that I once was lost, but now was found, was blind, but now I saw. All my previous confusing experiences now had an explanation.
And I am full of admiration. I find it quite glorious to have created a whole complex system of classification that gives no idea whatsoever to the consumer what the wine will taste like. Brilliant. In a world where people are always trying to simplify what is complex and fascinating (think restaurant wine lists that depressingly try to classify wines as “rich and fruity” “full bodied” “dry and refreshing” – which I normally take as a sign that I might be in the wrong place), I find the opacity of this system, and the degree of hard work that is necessary to begin to understand it, very refreshing.
Or I did. I discovered later in the trip that as from 2012, this classification system will only be allowed for semi-sweet or sweet wines, so the possibility of a dry Kabinett or a dry Spätlese will no longer exist. I admit to being a bit disappointed by this. Having mastered the full extent of the system’s complexity, I was slightly taken aback to hear of a simplification. But perhaps I misunderstood.
Be that as it may, we tasted some wonderful wines. Both dry and semi dry, sweet and very sweet. My own preference has always been for a spatlese with some residual sugar, a low level of alcohol, and ten to twenty years’ bottle age. We tasted some magnificent examples of these wines, at very generous, informative and extensive tastings at Loosen and Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, and finally at the Joh.Jos Prüm tasting dinner at the end.
Here is a photograph of me being bewitched by the beauty and charm of Katharina Prüm who very kindly came to dinner with us to show a selection of her great wines. (They have not started making red wines as far as I know: we finished with a glass of Quinta do Noval Vintage Port).
It was a wonderful visit and I think we all came away with a glowing impression of the quality of the wines and of the warmth and friendliness with which we were received.