Markus Molitor runs a very idiosyncratic estate, where buyers can choose from a list of hundreds of different wines that are in stock,with up to 3,600 bottle of every vintage held back for gradual release over the years.
Molitor assumed responsibility for his parent’s estate in 1984, at the age of just 20. Being the eighth generation in charge brought huge responsibilities, but Molitor set about changing the estate from the ground up, though much of that change was to look back to its history. “No selected yeasts, no enzymes, no fining,” he says about his wines, with the estate working more and more towards a “winemaking style of 100 years ago.” Molitor believes selected yeasts give a character that is very different from locally ambient yeasts – “why should we use yeasts from South Africa or the Loire in the Mosel?” he asks.
Under his direction the estate has expanded from just seven hectares to over 95 hectares, much planted with very old vines – some more than 100 years old. The steepest slopes are on an 80% gradient, and Molitor also has some vineyards in the Saar. Ninety-four percent is planted to Riesling, though his 3% of Pinot Noir has gained a very good reputation.
In another retro step, the estate is increasing its use of large wooden casks, gradually replacing stainless steel with wood. Currently the split is around 50/50, but they are aiming for 80/20 dominance by wood. Wines are kept on the lees for a long time, with extremely long fermentations because of the use of ambient yeasts. Markus Molitor explains that as the proteins are stabilised naturally through the micro-oxidative environment of the wooden casks, the slow exposure to oxygen makes the wines more robust and stable, which Molitor believes will help them age much better in bottle.
He also points out that the Mosel was a red wine area in the middle ages, when red varieties were planted because the temperatures were thought to be too cold for high quality Riesling. In the 17th century the bishop of Trier decreed that only Riesling could be planted, so Pinot Noir disappeared. Pinot has been allowed again only since 1988.
The vineyards for the estate’s top wines will be picked seven or eight times, each time with three baskets sorting the grapes into ripe, over-ripe and Botrytised lots (see photograph right).
On this visit I didn’t get to taste Molitor’s fabled Trockenbeerenauslese, which is the ripest wine ever harvested in the Mosel at an astonishing 331 Oeschlese. “Unfortunately we can’t taste it,” I am informed, “because it is still fermenting.
In fact, the wine has been fermenting for five years. With 780g/l of sugar, this is grape must with a potential alcohol of 46 degrees ABV! It may be extreme, but then Markus Molitor currently has 42 different TBAs from several different vintages going through a long, slow, stop-start fermentation governed by his policy of using only ambient yeasts and minimal interference.
In a world where winemakers are under pressure to conform only to what the market demands, this is an estate that does things differently, and is proud of the fact that it does.
The wines of Markus Molitor are available from independent wine merchants in the UK. For a list of stockists see wine-searcher.com
Brauneberger Klostergarten Spätburgunder ** Trocken 2005
A selection of old clones from Gevrey-Chambertin, and very low yielding vineyards planted on slate. Fantastic nose, with lovely 100% French oak, charry and cedary, and a ripe, earthy berry fruit. On the palate there is masses of spice, with the oak rather driving this wine, though the fruit does start to push through, with spices and robust, earthy autumn berry flavours. Fine tannins and although lacking a touch of flesh, a long, convincing finish. 90/100
Graacher Himmelreich Spätburgunder *** Trocken 2004
Striking, very complex nose, with again a lot of the character coming from the oak, with toast, sesame seed and liquorice, but there’s a high-toned, intense minerality too, with something bloody and earthy. The fruit begins to build as it opens, in a complex wine. The palate has a cool, concentrated, slightly sinewy character, with masses of spice and liquoricy concentration in the finish. Strikingly mineral Pinot Noir. 91/100
Molitor Trocken 2007
Fine apple and gentle wax nose, with some apricot skin leesiness. The palate has an intense lime and lemon rind waxy ripeness and richness. The acidity is ripe and full, leaving this simple, but fairly powerful and dry in style. 87/100. Retails for around 8.40 Euros
Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese ** Trocken 2004
Big blast of minerality here, with a slaty and stony character against complex wax and skin-contact yellow plum skin qualities. The palate is very dry, with a refined, but pithy character showing lemon pith and a certain nectarine skin bite and touch of grip. A rather intense, almost aggressive style, but seems of high quality. 88/100
Erdener Treppchen Auslese *** 2005
Quite a lot of honey and dried fig character, a touch of leaf tea. On the palate there is an initial hint of that rich, lush character, but this is actually pretty dry, with a nicely concentrated, juicy stone fruit character. Interesting fennel and aniseed notes, with the juicy, almost tropical fruit quickly cut and constrained by acidity. Quite unusual, and slightly confusing, but very good. Markus Molitor suggests pheasant, game or foie gras to match. 91/100
Zeltlinger Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett feinherb 2007
Plenty of minerality, waxy star fruit aromas and a touch of yellow plum, but masses of flinty character. On the palate the mineral quality powers through, giving a powerful, leesy edge to the wine. The sweetness here takes an edge off of the almost overpowering concentration, leaving this well balanced. 88/100
Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr Auslese 1992
Big, waxy, punchy nose verging on kerosene, with lime and quite leafy Kaffir lime notes. The palate has a very smooth, precise, poised, freshness, with good minerality and a very focused finish. The Auslese here has become a fairly dry, mineral style over 17 years. 89/100
Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2006
Big, quite intense character on the nose, with a mineral intensity to ripe, quite juicy, but fine talcumy fruit. The palate has delicate sweetness, with a fine background of pithy lemon acidity, but it stays quite refined and focused, with a shimmering ripeness and balanced acidity. 90/100
Zeltlinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2006
From oldest parcel of 120-year-old vines. More mineral, smoky and flinty than the Wehlener, with quite a powerful nose of stone fruits and plum skins. The palate has a real intensity too: that grape skin grip keeps this quite firm and focused, despite sweet, glacial fruit and very good balancing lemon acidity. It wears its 106g/l of residual sugar lightly. 90/100
Zeltlinger Deutschherrenberg Riesling Auslese ** 2005
This vineyard is one of very few that is on both sides of the Mosel. A second class vineyard, that in 2005 made a great wine according to Markus Molitor. Another very intense nose, of waxy, lime peel and yellow plum, with the acidity pushing through. Quite complex. On the palate a gorgeous, plush nectarine and downy peach fruit, with lovely sweetness (121g/l sugar, 9g/l total acidity). Very long, with a classic, shimmering tension, delicacy and balance. 91/100
Zeltlinger Himmelreich Riesling Beerenauslese * 2005
Of TBA level, with over 224g/l residual sugar (TBA minimum is 150) and 6.5g/l total acidity. Lovely dried apricot and thick, sweet nectarine flesh aromas, with some glacé fruit and pineapple: fruit in abundance. On the palate there is a limpid honey character, with the sweet extract of the fruit flooding through. Delightful intensity here, but wears the weight and sweetness lightly, with delicate nuances of tea and tobacco, and delightful acid balance. Long and pretty spectacular. 96/100
For a list of stockists see wine-searcher.com.