Wine Touring on the Mosel River. Part I
There is wine touring by car with a disgruntled designated driver, wine touring by bus with a load of strangers who all need to be poured off the bus after five hours and then there is wine touring by river cruise. The ultimate way to wine tour – a true voyage of discovery: Our ship was the Avalon Waterways Visionary, our waterway was the Mosel Valley, the Rhine Gorge and Rhine River to Amsterdam, and the wine predominantly Riesling but definitely not all.
We started in Trier in Germany not far from the Luxembourg border. Trier is the oldest city in Germany started by the Celts in 4th century BC and conquered by the Romans in 17 BC and named Trevonum. The Romans knew the slate and flint terroir of the steep hillsides of the Mosel River Valley would be ideal for vineyards and the Romans loved their wine. They also were shrewd business people and calculated that the location on the river would make it easy to ship the resulting wines to their armies and colonies in other parts of Europe.
Although the steep slopes today are now planted mainly with Riesling, the original Elbling grapes planted by the Romans predominated right up to the 20th century and Elbling is still grown extensively.
For wine lovers who find Riesling a little bland, Elbling is described as a tart lean wine with low sugar content and citrusy notes. It is good as a still wine but is more often part of the cuvée blend for sparkling wines adding more guts to the flavours.
Evidence of Trier’s former Roman importance can be found all around the historic German city which was a thriving hub in the eastern part of the Roman Empire by 400 AD when the.first Christian emperor, Constantine, had a palace built there.
The Porta Nigra, the last standing gate of the city wall dominates the downtown . Other ruins include a section of the Imperial palace, which was made over into a massive Protestant church after the Reformation. Also still in evidence is the massive underground labyrinth of tunnels for the incomplete imperial baths, which is a testament to Roman engineering.There is also a beautifully preserved arena.
Many of of the original Roman edifices were mined for building materials over the centuries but the foundation stones of red Roman bricks can be seen here and there providing shape and strength to the new buildings much like the role of Ebling in the wines.
Trier was our first stop along the corkscrew twists of the Mosel or Moselle River. It continued to have an important role in the region throughout history. In the Middle Ages, the Archbishop Elector of Trier was an important prince bishop of the Catholic church and one of the seven Electors of the Holy Roman Empire. Our next stop in Bernkastel was to reveal that one of the Trier prince bishops was to have a miraculous influence on the Moselle wine industry.
In the Trier town square, I ordered a glass of Elbling and had a fanciful vision of Roman soldiers quaffing wine at a nearby taberna . I raised my glass in salute with the Latin toast “Prosit!”