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08.26.2010

2008 Dr. Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese, Mosel, Germany

loosen_uw_08.jpgThere are a few categories of wine that qualify for the designation of "I just don't drink nearly enough of this stuff" in my house, and one of the top candidates is German Riesling. When it's good, it's just so damn good. It goes so well with food, and it makes you happy. What's not to love?

Of course, to the uninitiated (and that applied to me about six years ago) it can be an intimidating landscape to navigate. The inscrutable labels, the different levels of sweetness, the unfamiliar quality designations -- they all contribute to an unease for many wine lovers that I remember well. Luckily, I got over my fear and learned enough to navigate my way through the forest of umlauts and hard consonants, and have been rewarded with experiencing some of the most delicious wines on the planet.

This particular bottle is a near-perfect example of everything good that German Riesling has to offer, thanks to its legendary producer, fantastic vineyard site, and classic flavors.

The name on the label is one of the most well known in Germany's Mosel Valley, and even the country as a whole. The Loosen family has owned and farmed vineyards on the steep riverbanks for more than two centuries. The doctor on the label is one Ernst Loosen, who assumed control of his family's vineyard in 1988, and quite single-handedly took the estate to an entirely new level of quality in the three decades since.

Loosen had the good fortune to be working with some of the best possible raw materials on the planet. The Loosen family vineyards are some of the oldest and most distinctive vineyard plots in Germany, among which the vineyard that produced this wine, the Ürziger Würzgarten, may be the most superlative.

Translated to English, the vineyard's name means the Spice Garden of Ürzig, Ürzig being the little village that sits below the vineyard at the water's edge. Containing some of the oldest vines (some exceeding 120 years of age) owned by the Loosens, this vineyard is a mindbogglingly steep slope of bright red rock that sweeps up from the river's edge in a shallow bowl. Impossible to work mechanically, and dangerous to work manually, getting fruit out of this vineyard can only be described as a labor of love. It takes somewhere between 1000 and 1500 man-hours per acre each year to maintain the vineyard, whose old vines (many of which predate the phylloxera epidemic that wiped out nearly all of Europe's vineyards) yield precious little fruit.

The vineyard, like all of Loosen's Mosel vineyards, is farmed organically, and painstakingly by hand. The elimination of all chemical fertilizers and pesticides was one of Loosen's first decisions in his quest to elevate the quality of his family's wines. Likewise, the cellar techniques have been reduced to their most fundamental, with as little mechanical or chemical intervention in the winemaking as possible.

This wine is classified as a spätlese, which literally translates to "late harvest" and which means that the grapes used to make it were picked at least seven days after the normal harvest that would have yielded a dry, kabinett level wine. Confusingly the spätlese designation does not technically guarantee anything about the level of sweetness in the bottle, only that the grapes were a little extra ripe when they were picked. In practice, however, German spätlese, in particular, tend to be lightly to moderately sweet, this wine being no exception.

Dr. Loosen is now one of the most consistent and high-quality producers in the Mosel, and this is one of my favorite wines from his portfolio (the other being the spätlese from the fabulous Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard). I highly recommend it to anyone, from those looking to dip their toe into German Riesling, to those like me who can't seem to find enough excuses to drink the stuff.

This 2008 vintage wine has just been released globally, and may take a little time before being more widely available.

Full disclosure: this wine was sent to me as a press sample.

Tasting Notes:
Near colorless in the glass, this wine smells of lychee, ripe pear, and honeysuckle flowers. In the mouth, a wonderful silky texture marries with bright mandarin orange, pear, and honeysuckle fruit flavors, a light sweetness, and a crackling mineral undertone that does, true to name, yield to a light spiciness. Fantastically balanced, this wine keeps on giving through a very long finish. Effortless to drink.

Food Pairing:
I'd love to drink this wine with any sort of Vietnamese food, like Vietnamese noodle bowl and Imperial Rolls.

Overall Score: between 9 and 9.5

How Much?: $38

This wine is available for purchase on the Internet.

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