Riesling for Summer

The calendar says April and spring but the thermometer says it’s summer already.  It’s time for some refreshing, light wines.  A new one has just arrived from Germany’s Mosel Valley.

The Joy Riesling Semidry comes from the Mosel where the best vineyard sites are on the steep slopes where the sun exposure and water drainage are at maximum. The river winds around rock outcrops and gouges the Hunsrück plateau leaving steep slopes on the outsides of the curves and flatter promontories on the insides.  The inside promontories are a mixture of sand and pebbles of river silt deposited over eons.  Vineyards planted there give pleasant but rarely distinguished wines.  The soil on the steep slopes is a variety of slate ranging from black to red and blue.  The soil is the big difference.  It’s all about terroir.  Wines from these slopes are characterized by bright acidity and loads of mineral, the Sancerres of Germany.

The central part of the valley where the best slopes face southward and get the most sun has the most famous vineyards and some of Germany’s most expensive per vine.  The vines can only be worked by hand due to the steepness of the slopes and the density of planting.  Workers start at the tops of the slopes in the morning and prune or pick their way to the bottom.  Spraying can be done by helicopter but that is the only consolation.  The great amphitheater of vines behind the town of Piesport begins this stretch of the most noted vineyards.  The next south facing slopes are at Braunneberg followed by Lieser and then Bernkastel, one of the prettiest and most visited villages on the Mosel.  The vines on the Doctorberg behind and above the town are the most expensive in Germany and rarely for sale.  From there, the great sweep of vines is unbroken through Graach, Wehlen and Zeltingen until Ürzig and Erden where the river turns and the high, south-facing slopes are on the other side.

The Doctorberg, the most expensive vines in Germany

The common concept in America of the variety is that it is always sweet.  Most American Riesling is planted in indifferent soil, an afterthought by producers and a far cry from the Mosel where Riesling is king.  Riesling can be made in styles from bone dry to some of the greatest dessert wines on earth.  The dry wines are made by harvesting early for lower sugar content and then fermenting most or all of the sugar to alcohol.  The very dry wines can be a little too sharp for some tastes.  Later-harvested grapes yield more sugar but can still be made dry or semi-dry, halbtrocken in German, through the spätlese level.  In years when the weather cooperates, the lush dessert wines from auslese through beerenauslese to the zenith of trockenbeerenauslese can be made.  These wines require the help of botrytis cinerea or noble rot which comes late in the harvest and can remove water from the grapes leaving highly concentrated must.  It’s always a gamble to make these wines as the weather and the rot can’t be predicted.

Riesling has high acidity which is the preservative in the wines and allows them to age gracefully for decades.  I have had Riesling wines older than I am, which is saying something these days.  The new Joy Riesling Semidry is from one of the top producers in the central Mosel Valley.  I worked with him to get a wine that shows the bright green apple and lime notes of Mosel Riesling with the bracing acidity of wines from the region.  We settled on 12 grams per liter of residual sugar which adds some roundness to the wine without overt sweetness.  It’s meant to be enjoyed in its youth with grilled seafood or chicken, Asian cuisine or light pasta dishes.  It’s also a perfect start to grilling by the pool.  The screw cap is a plus when boating.  It’s the third in the line of Joy wines joining its older siblings, Joy Spätlese and Joy Auslese.  Enjoy!

Joy Riesling Semidry 2015 – Mosel, Germany     $11.99 (750mL)

Joy Riesling Spätlese 2015 – Mosel, Germany $13.99 (750mL)

Joy Riesling Auslese 2015 – Mosel, Germany     $19.99 (750mL)

Brad Lewis, Contributing Writer

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