Monday, October 1, 2012

New Wine (Federweisser) in Bernkastel-Kues in the Mosel Valley, Germany

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with a Glass of Federweisser in Bernkastel-Kues

The wine harvest begun in Germany in mid-August with the early ripening grape varities, including Ortega, Siegerrebe and Solaris. These early-ripening grapes are also used for the New Wine (Federweißer). Federweisser is a very particular form of wine, available only for a limited timer after the harvest.

This year, I had my first glass of Federweisser in the charming town of Bernkastel-Kues in the Mosel valley.

New Wine (Federweisser)

Federweisser is grape must, which is in the process of fermenting. The term in principle includes all stages of fermentation from fresh must to finished wine.

Pictures: Federweisser and Zwiebelkuchen in Bernkastel-Kues

Typically, when you buy Federweisser, it is at the early stage of fermentation. Ideally, it should have 4% of alcohol or a bit more. Due to the carbonic acid, Federweißer tastes quite refreshing, not very different from grape lemonade or a sweet sparkling wine. Over time, as it continues to ferment, the sweetness goes away. This process goes on until an alcohol content of about 13 percent has been reached. At this final stage, the Federweisser assumes a dry and often bitter taste; it has become badly made wine. The yeast particles contained in Federweißer are responsible for its name, which literally means “white as a feather”.

Federweisser is available in Germany from early September to late October, and is generally served together with hearty, savory food. The classic combination is Federweisser and Zwiebelkuchen (onion tart).

Two final points: As the fermentation of the Federweisser continues in your stomach, it is advisable to limit consumption to a glass or two at the most. Federweisser has nothing to do with Beaujolais Nouveau, which is finished wine that however has not benefited from any or very little aging and is sold starting the third Thursday in November of each year.


Bernkastel lies at the heart of the Mittelmosel ('middle Mosel'), between Graach and Wehlen to the north and Piesport to the west. The town of Bernkastel and the village of Kues (on the opposite side of the Mosel river) amalgamated in 1905 to become Bernkastel-Kues. The town's Lay and Doctor vineyards have been classified by the VDP as Erste Lage (to be renamed Grosse Lage).

Picture: Bernkastel-Kues

As its name suggests, Bernkasteler Lay ('slate') is composed predominantly of blue shale. Weingut Dr. Ernst Loosen and other world class producers source fruit from this 8 ha vineyard, which faces west to south-west, and has an incredibly steep gradient of 50 percent.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller with Ernst Loosen in Washington DC and in front of the Dr. Loosen Winery in Bernkastel-Kues

Berncasteler Doctor is one of the most famous vineyard names in the world. The Doctor is a small (3.3 hectares) plot – south-facing, and with an extremely steep slope of between 45% and 60%.

Pictures: Christian G.E. Schiller at the Berncasteler Doctor in Germany and Annette Schiller with Barbara Rundquist-Mueller, Owner of Weingut Wwe. Dr. Thanisch - Erben Mueller-Burggraef and Stefan Bollig, Weingut Bollig-Lehnert in Washington DC

The Berncasteler Doctor was owned by Count von der Leyen until 1760, and in 1794, under French rule, declared community property. During most of the 19th century, the Doctor was leased to one family and it eventually became the property of Dr. Hugo Thanisch and his wife Katharina. The vineyard is planted exclusively with Riesling vines, about 45% of which are ungrafted. In 1988, the property was divided in two equal parts after a disagreement amongst the family members on how the business should be managed: Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch - Erben Thanisch, now owned by Sophia Thanisch-Spier and Weingut Wwe. Dr. H. Thanisch – Erben Müller-Burggraef, now owned by Barbara Rundquist-Müller. The labels of the two wineries look almost identical.

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