Markus Molitor, Wehlener Klosterberg, Weißburgunder *** trocken, 2005

Markus Molitor, Wehlener Klosterberg, Weißburgunder *** trocken, 2005

Uncertain what you are looking at here? Somehow strangely attracted yet also confused? Doubtful whether this actually belongs on a wine blog?

If this is what you feel looking at the above picture then welcome to my world of confusion and doubt about a wine of which I am not sure if it should exist at all. What do you do with a wine clocking in at 15% alcohol? How do you feel when you realise it is a white - and from one of the coolest wine regions of a cool wine growing country? Should Mosel winemakers really do this? Should any (white) wine be so strong? Is it actually drinkable? If you want a definitive answer to these questions, please do not read on.

Maybe we start with the simple things. I bought this wine in 2008, after a tasting at the Molitor winery. Markus Molitor is probably best known for his Riesling, but he also has a very good reputation for producing outstanding Pinot Noir. Other varieties are grown too, so we made sure to try some of the Pinot Blanc when we visited - and to get a bottle of this one, which we had not tasted, as it made me curious.

ne and a half years later, it was a cold winter night in London and a pheasant was roasting in the oven, I felt the Molitor's time had come. I had been scared of this wine for a while - 15% alcohol in a white wine. Would it be drinkable, would it be enjoyable? Could it be that I might be corrupted by Molior's evil offering and abandon my criticism of high alcohol level in wine?

Let's start with the bottle. It is a massive, heavy and very bulky one, a type that Molitor uses for Pinot Noir. I love the look of it, even though I think it works better with red wine in it. This might give you an idea of how bulky the bottle is:

To really appreciate and understand this bottle, however, you have to handle it. It is heavy, yet well balanced. In fact, if I wanted to do someone's head in with a wine bottle, this would be my choice. One or two hits of this could even stop an ox in his tracks.

In a way, this also describes the Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder).

The colour is a really dark, glowing gold. This is amazing colour, maybe the most intense and attractive I have seen in any white wine, perhaps with the exception of some of the sugar bomb, dry berry selection Rieslings (Molitor makes some of those with over 200g residual sugar per litre).

Still scared, I took a sniffy sniff. The nose, at first, was a little, shall we say, reserved. Eventually, I got over-ripe stone fruit, plum and peach, and also melon. The over-ripe fruit aromas almost gave the wine an alcoholic touch, but it would by no means be fair to say it smelled of alcohol. However, it had a touch of wax and medicine to it, but also lovely mineral. I was not quite what I had expected. I anticipated this would be a more oaky wine with toast aromas, but it was much more light and fruity, with an aged and very ripe component. I am not sure if this should be mistaken for a sign that the Pinot is beyond its peak: even after two days the nose was almost unchanged and the wine smelt (and tasted) as fresh and dynamic as it had on the first day.

And now the tongue sensation. Really juicy and creamy, lots of over-ripe fruit again with a touch of wood; prune, plum, damson - dried fruit, a touch of benzine perhaps and, here it comes, Zwetschgendatschi. 'Zwetschgendatschi' is a German/Austrian flan, cut in slices, with the dough covered roof-tile-like in quartered damson and sprinkled with crumble. Very popular in the south of Germany. After this cake bombardment, the finish brought a light and fresh touch with citrus notes.

The Pinot is creamy and smooth. It has substance and a good body. It is well rounded. It is juicy and tasty. It has lots of fruit. It delivers a good, accurate punch. While the wine snob can appreciate the slight mineral and petrol/wax touch, it is subtle enough not to scare away others.

So a really marvellous wine then, I mean to say? Yes and no. Molitor's Weißburgunder does not give off the heavy, alcoholic feeling you would expect, but the alcohol is still there. Two glasses with food were fine, but then I felt full, saturated. Not in an unpleasant way, but still. It is like the kind of really heavy dessert or sweet of which even the greedy only want to take a bit or two.

So what is the verdict then? First of all it shows that you can make white wine in Germany with scarily high alcohol levels; and that, surprise, these wines can be drinkable and even enjoyable. Secondly this wine again demonstrates that Molitor has real skill - the Pinot is undeniably very well made. While Molitor managed to contain the alcohol sensation very well and even made me enjoy the wine, I still have mixed feelings about it. Do we really need wine that is so strong? Just because it can be made, and made well, should it be made?

Honestly, I do not know how to rate this wine. I can recommend it to anyone who wants to try the unusual, impossible, and see it made possible. I can applaud the winemaking skill. I also really enjoyed a glass of it. However, having tasted it once, despite all its qualities, I think I prefer a lighter type of Pinot Blanc, a wine where finishing the second glass makes me not admire it, but actually want to drink a third straight away.

While I cannot deliver a clear verdict on the wine, I can at least focus my camera on the bottom of the bottle, so that, eventually, we can see it clearly:

Maybe someone else can enlighten me with regards to all of this?


Submitted by Gottfried Saturday, 06/02/2010

on the bottom you can find:
the company who made the bottle - mostly a sign
and a hint in millimeters of how high the level of wine in the bottle should be to have exactly 750ml

Submitted by torsten Saturday, 06/02/2010

In reply to by Gottfried

Thank you for the comment, Gottfried - and even more so for the discussion on Twitter. The bottom of the bottle actually says 'modèle déposé', meaning that it is a registered design. It also indicates that this is a 75cl bottle and mentions '63mm', so I assume that would indicate the bottle should be filled up to 63mm below the top. I now remember being told that Molitor uses heavy Burgundy bottles for these wines (which would explain the modèle déposé).

While I love the bottle, I am actually more curious about the high alcohol level and what to make of it (that is what I meant by 'enlighten'). I still haven't really come to a conclusion, but 15%...

Submitted by Julian Saturday, 06/02/2010

It keeps on baffling me, too. There is not only climate change, there's physiological ripeness vs. alcoholic ripeness, there's the german tradition of must weight as a measure of wine quality, there's the disturbing fact that often the better the producer (and who's better than Molitor), the graver the problem, because those are used to pushing hard for ripeness.

While I find it terribly hard to make sense of all this, I'm also finding it ever easier to take a stand: Just saying no to high alcohol. I've already given up on southern Rhone reds after a few tries, and just yesterday, I decided against ordering a few Pinot Noirs from a Rheinhessen producer because they were 14% across the board. If reasons for high alcohol are varied, so are counter-measures, e.g. harvest earlier, try biodynamic wineyard management, move to cooler sites and so on. As a wine snob, I expect the best wine growers and makers to get their act together, and find out what will work. As a consumer and customer, this is arrogance I feel I can afford.

Love the photo work, by the way.

Submitted by torsten Sunday, 07/02/2010

In reply to by Julian

I am very much with you on taking a stand. However, in this case I also have to admit that the wine has an undeniable quality to it. If Molitor could really only make it with 15%, would the world have been better off without it? In a way, I would have hated to have boycotted this wine - but then it was a curiosity thing. As an everyday wine this could never work for me.

Submitted by David Strange Wednesday, 10/02/2010

In reply to by torsten

15% is just a crazy level of alcohol for a Pinot Blanc. Pinot Blanc makes wines which are all about accessible fruitiness and ease of drinking. I agree entirely with Torsten's comments in the main article that Pinot Blanc is a wine you should be able to drink glass after glass of without feeling over-whelmed; a five-year-old 15% wine is unlikely to fit that ideal.

I can see that, as Torsten commented, this would make a good curiosity wine but not, oh no definitely not, for everyday, uncomplicated drinking pleasure. Julian is perhaps a little more extreme than me in his rejection of booze-monsters, but I certainly agree that there are perilously few 14+% wines I want to drink on a regular basis. Elegance, harmony and beauty are facets to be applauded in wine; just because it is possible to bake Pinot Blanc into a 15% beast does not mean that is a clever thing to be doing.


Submitted by Julian Wednesday, 10/02/2010

In reply to by David Strange

I think now that I rather overstated my case. I shouldn't have made it sound like high alcohol should be rejected categorically and indiscriminately. I do think, though, that factors like climate change should not override stylistic choice, the point being that there is nothing inevitable in rising alcohol, and it's we the consumers that can ultimately decide how wines will be made.