Making the most of the Mosel

It doesn’t take long to be impressed with Barbara Rundquist-Muller. She’s warm (especially for a German), smart (but not intimidatingly so) and direct (always a big plus with moi).

BarbaraSo when the owner of Weingut Dr. H. Thanisch talks about sustainable farming and painstaking work in the winery and the uniqueness of riesling, it sounds like anything but a well-practiced platitude.

Frankly, she had me at “My aunt gave me [the winery] as a Christmas present when she was 91.” But it’s what Rundquist-Muller did after that 2007 “gift” that impresses, both in words and the glass:

“I had 30 years marketing wine, so suddenly I’m producing it. I took a close look and decided that those old walls could use a fresh look.

“The old vineyard manager retired, so I hired a very young estate manager, a very passionate guy [Maximilian Ferger]. That turned out to be a match made in heaven. He brought in fresh wind, new ideas. We’re now all sustainably grown, as close to nature as feasible. We don’t use artificial fertilizer or insecticide, only fungicide as needed. Our vines were planted 100 years ago, and if we don’t use fungicide, we could lose it all in 24 hours.

“Our vineyards have a 60-percent grade so we hand-work the canopy management and Vineyardwe go through each vineyard three or four times to ensure optimum ripeness, physiological ripeness. The pips are brown because with green pips you get unripe acidity and give people heartburn.”

“We also brought that philosophy to the cellar. It’s all hand-worked. We bring in grapes, squeeze them carefully, let them sit 12 hours and let natural enzymes and natural yeasts go to work. It’s dangerous, and takes a lot longer. There are many strains, so fermentation comes and goes. We ferment mostly in stainless steel, plus 1,000-liter oak barrels that don’t give off any flavor.

“A lot of producers go for instant pleasure, with dominant fruit, almost reductive. We want to be beautiful when young with character but also the personality to mature and be more interesting.”

As she talked and I sipped the wines crafted by Edgar Schneider, a phrase from childhood popped into my head: no brag, just fact. The Dr. H Thanisch wines are gorgeous, complex and elegant, paragons of Mosel riesling. The “entry-level” just-under-$20 Estate 2011 is juicy and layered, a great intro to the genre. Again, Rundquist-Muller is merely being factual in pointing out that “Our Estate wine is so dry that people who do not like sweet wine find it appealing but people who like riesling also find it appealing.”

One of her new crew’s earliest decisions was making the Trocken wine “on the Spatlese level body-wise. Kabinett was too light in style, Auslese too alcoholic, 14-plus.” The 2011 is ripe but minerally, with a surprising touch of citrus and a fruity but dry finish, a bargain at $25.

But it’s the wines from the storied Berncasteler Doctor vineyard that showcase how Thanisch 3profound this varietal can be, as well as how much Dr. H. Thanisch is kicking’ it. Local
lore has it that Berncasteler Doctor got its name in 1360 from Archbishop Boemond II of Trier, whose doctor declared him terminally ill until, lo and behold, he quaffed some juice from the vineyard and regained his health.

What’s beyond dispute is that Dr. H. Thanisch owns one of the vineyard’s 3.24 hectares, 100-year-old vines with original rootstock and, in Rundquist-Muller’s words, “tons of character and expressiveness.”

The 2010 Kabinett was one of the most delicious wines I’ve tasted all year, and Spatleses from ’05 (silky, rife with character), ’07 (voluptuous, endless) ’09 (soft, almost spritely) and ’10 (spicy, supple) showcased the quality of the terroir and the spectacular way that the best rieslings evolve. All for around $40. Amazing.

“Rieslings are unique in the way they change,” Rundquist-Muller said, “from fruit-driven, lively wine that has some elegance, they become more elegant with beautiful acidity.”

No brag, just … well, you get the picture.

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