Saturday, August 14, 2010

Dr. Loosen Winery (Mosel Valley) – Bernkastel-Kues, Germany

During more the 200 years of family ownership, Dr. Loosen has compiled a scattered collection of plots in some of the best vineyards of the Mosel Valley. Dr. Loosen has plots in the Ürziger Würzgarten, Erdener Treppchen, and Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyards, which are among the best of the region. When Ernst Loosen took over the estate in 1988, he sought to capitalize on the mature vines from these great vineyards by refining vineyard management and production techniques to improve the quality of the wine. By eliminating chemical fertilizers from the vineyards and pursuing less invasive production techniques, Dr. Loosen has sought to develop the nuances of the terroir of their vineyards which feature the range of slate soils in the region (red, blue, and grey).

Their success in producing top quality wines and their substantial footprint in the valley has led them to develop partnerships with other wineries that wish to capitalize on their winemaking experience. Specifically, Washington winery Chateau Ste. Michelle has purchased vineyards in the Mosel region where they grow the grapes and utilize Dr. Loosen’s production facilities and expertise to develop competitive wines.

Dr. Loosen produces approximately 15% dry (trocken) wines primarily for the continental market. Dry wines released for the international market are typically under their JL Wolf label. The vast majority of their export wines are the sweeter Rieslings that the connoisseurs of German wine cherish. Generally, the emergence of greater production of trocken (dry) and feinherb (half dry / semi-sweet) wines can be attributed to the shift in global preferences towards drier wines. It has also, however, lead to greater confusion among consumers when the distinction between trocken, feinherb, and “sweet” wines are often blurred. Dr. Loosen has sought to mitigate this confusion by using blue foil caps to designate feinherb, white caps for the traditional sweet wines, and gold caps for botrytis selection.

On my recent visit to the estate in Bernkastel-Kues, I sampled an array of their current releases. Perhaps reflective of my personal preferences, I was not enamored by the trocken selection.
  • 2009 Dr. Loosen Blauschiefer Riesling (€ 9.10 at the estate) – This dry Riesling is derived from a blue slate vineyard and possesses some minerality and crisp acidity.
  • 2009 Dr. Loosen Bernkasteler Lay trocken (€ 11.10 at the estate) – Grown on a combination of blue and grey slate in the Bernkastel region, this dry Riesling had similar acidity and had distinctive, perhaps pungent, alcohol on the palate.
  • 2008 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Qualitätswein trocken (€ 14.90 at the estate) – This dry Riesling is from a single vineyard which is among the best on the Mosel. Dr. Loosen is second only to J.J. Prum in acreage in the Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard which is split among approximately 210 producers. Featuring crisp acidity and muted apple flavors, this was a decent wine for a trocken selection and is grown on blue slate soil.
  • 2009 Dr. Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett feinherb (€ 11.10 at the estate) – The first feinherb presented for evaluation, this wine had lighter acidity balanced by apricot flavors. Generally on par with the previous trocken selections.

After a slow start, the winemaking skill of Dr. Loosen began to emerge. All except the last Beerenauslese were single vineyard selections from top locations. Each conveyed a unique character that reflected the quality that can be derived Mosel Valley Riesling.
  • 2009 Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett (€ 11.10 at the estate) – This Kabinett had an excellent balance of crisp acidity and residual sweetness. Derived from volcanic soil, green apples and citrus were prominent in this fine wine. Roughly a 7+ / 10.
  • 2009 Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese (€ 14.30 at the estate) – The Erdener Treppchen vineyard is aptly named due to the “stairs” predominate the steep hillside exposure. Distinct minerality combined with acidic effervescence presented an appealing first impression for this fine wine. The nose of citrus and pineapple predominate, giving way to the pleasurable effervescence and sweet residual. Very nice 8 / 10.
  • 2008 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese (€ 27.30 at the estate) – Over-ripe fruit and a residual suggestive of raisins characterizes this fine Auslese with 7% alcohol by volume. Apricot flavors predominate. Very nice 8 / 10.
  • 2006 Dr. Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese (€ 44.00 at the estate) – Honey, sweet apricots, and peach characterize this gold label botrytis selection with 6.5% alcohol by volume. The 2006 vintage was particularly bountiful in botrytis grapes and skewed the production towards Beerenauslese. As a result, this was a slightly more affordable Beerenauslese that highlights the intricacies of botrytis affected Riesling. 8+ / 10