Visiting German vineyards, part 6
Dr Loosen, Mosel


Ernst in Wehlener Sonnenuhr

Ernst Loosen – referred to more informally as ‘Ernie’ – is one of the most dynamic winegrowers you’ll encounter. He’s a smart, lucid guy who’s a wine journalist’s dream. Every time he opens his mouth he says something quoteable.

He’s been running the family wine estate since 1987, but took over during a time of crisis. After completing a winemaking degree at Geisenheim in the early 1980s, Ernst had been studying archaeology at Mainz, but his father fell ill in 1986. The family wine domain had been little more than a hobby for his father, but Ernst had to make the difficult decision to either abandon his studies and run it, or sell it. He took the former choice.

The village of Urzig

When Ernst took over the vineyard manager and his team all quit, because they didn’t want the change that was coming. As well as this, Ernst inherited a debt of 500 000 Deutschmarks from his father. He had a difficult choice. If he apologized and asked the staff back, he’d never be able to control them. If he fired them, he couldn’t afford to pay the redundancy, which for the four people would be DM 50 000 minimum. So he just let them walk out.

Urziger Wurzgarten vineyard

Ernst appointed Bernie Schug as winemaker. Up till then Bernie had just been helping in the winery, but Ernst have him the standard oenology textbook, and a night to read it through, while Ernst checked on the state of the coming harvest.

There was a problem, though. The Loosen vines were spread throughout a number of vineyards in very small parcels. Ernst didn’t know exactly where. In one vineyard, for example, they had 36 plots. But Ernst had a brilliant idea. If he waited until everyone else picked their vines, the rest would be his. On 1 November the weather changed completely: the sun came out and there were blue skies, and the grapes ripened perfectly. He was lucky.

Looking down from Urziger Wurzgarten

Since the start, when Loosen had 8 hectares of vines, the domain has grown to around 25 hectares, spread throughout some of the Mosel’s most spectacular vineyard sites.

The soils in Erdener Pralat

We began a short tour in the Erdener Prälat (above), a small four acre jewel of a vineyard looking over the river to Erden. Ernst has the lion’s share of the vineyard, which is owned by 19 growers. The 120 year-old vines are ungrafted; the soils red slate; the aspect southerly. Above this lies the Erdener Treppchen.

Then we headed off to one of the world’s most spectacular vineyards: Urziger Würtzgarten (above). It’s a natural ampitheatre formed by a bend in the river, and the unbelievably steep slopes are formed of a reasonably thick layer of pulverized red volcanic and slate soil, over a harder base layer.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr (above) is quite different, with virtually no topsoil – just pure blue slate. The vineyard is currently being re-ordered a little because of the crazy number of small parcels each grower owns. A road is being put in for access and the plots are being graded and then reallocated. For example, in the 4.5 ha vineyard Loosen currently has 186 different plots; after the reorganization they’ll have around 8. Much more manageable.

Loosens vines in these and other vineyards are ungrafted. The roots of these vines go deep into the fragile slate cliffs, which are very well drained. The topsoil of most of the vineyards is broken down slate, and phylloxera can’t survive in this.

From each of the seven ‘Grand Cru’ vineyards that Loosen have vines in, a selective harvest is made, using a number of buckets. For example, healthy grapes are harvested separately from botrytised bunches. A bunch that is 70% shrivelled would typically go to beerenauslese. Totally dry shrivelled grapes would go to trocken beerenauslese. Each vineyard tends to specialise a bit (it would be impossible to make every level of sweetness from every vineyard – the result would be 60+ wines per vintage). As an example, Bernkastel Lay gives delicate racy acidity, so this usually makes Kabinett.


Most of our tasting was looking at the 2008 vintage. Ernie describes it as ‘a classic vintage: ripe, but not overripe, with lovely minerality from a long hang time.’ He says that the ripeness levels were similar to 2007, but with 0.5–1 g higher acids.

Dr Loosen Riesling Qualitätswein 2008
7.5% alcohol. Very fresh with a limey, mineral nose. Lean palate with grapefruit characters as well as some applet notes. Some richness but the driver here is the acidity. 88/100

Dr Loosen Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Kabinett 2008
Taut grapefruit and mineral nose. The palate has lovely melony richness with grapefruit precision and delicious fresh minerality. Very bright and crisp with real intensity. Lovely stuff with beautiful precision. 92/100

Dr Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Kabinett 2008
Very mineral and precise with a persistent, pure, limey character. Really high acidity, with firmness and minerality. Quite lean, but wonderful freshness and purity. 91/100

Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Kabinett 2008
The palate is rich and a bit spicy with some tropical fruit notes but also lovely precision. Riper and fuller with lovely crisp lemony fruit as well as richer tropical notes. 91/100

Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2008
7.5% alcohol. Really fine, limey, crisp nose with lovely mineral character. The palate is linear and crisp with wonderful intensity and high acidity. Real focus. 92/100

Dr Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Spätlese 2008
Precise, crisp and intense with lovely rich texture and focused lemony fruit, with some minerality. Fresh and precise with complexity and focus. 93/100

Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 2008
Beautifully pure, precise fruit here: melony richness combines with fresh acidity. Broad, pure melon and pear fruit dominates. Ripe but well balanced. 93/100

Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Spätlese 2008
7.5% alcohol. Rich melon/tropical fruit nose. Ripe and full with some fresher citrus notes. The palate is really rich and melony with spicy citrussy notes and some sweetness, although the high acidity keeps it fresh. Deliciously broad yet refreshing. 93/100

Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese 2008
200 cases made. 8.5% alcohol. Very fresh lemony nose. Rich pure lemon and grapefruit palate is broad, sweet and pure but still really refreshing and quite complex. Lovely precision here. 94/100

Dr Loosen Ürziger Würzgarten Riesling Auslese 2008
200 cases made. 8% alcohol, 100 g/l residual sugar. Minerally, crisp and tight with a lovely spicy nose. The palate is smooth and fruity with amazing purity and intensity. Mineralic with grapefruit, lime and melon fruit. 93/100

Dr Loosen Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese 2008
130 cases made. 7% alcohol. Complex, minerally, quite rich and ripe. Deeper and richer than the other Ausleses. Very ripe palate with dense peach, pear, apricot flavours. Viscous and dense yet with taut minerality. Precise and complex. 95/100

Dr Loosen Erdener Prälat Riesling Auslese Goldkapsel 2008
50 cases made. 7% alcohol. Very pure. Wonderfully complex, mineralic, taut palate with rich peach and pear notes, as well as apricot and spice and some creaminess. While this is very sweet it also has amazingly fresh acidity and a long, almost eternal finish. 95/100

Dr Loosen Riesling Beerenauslese 2006 (1/4 bottle)
Very rich, fresh lemony nose. The palate is fresh and herby with lovely texture and some spicy notes. Very crisp and fresh with lovely balance and some minerality. This is largely from Bernkasteler Lay, but is simply labelled as BA and sold in very attractive quarter bottles, making it affordable at £10 a pop. 92/100

Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Eiswein 2007
Very pure and fresh grapefruit and peach nose. Amazingly intense lemon and grapefruit palate with pure, viscous fruit and lovely precision and purity. Really intense. 93/100

Dr Loosen Bernkasteler Lay Riesling Eiswein 2007
Light coloured. Very pure, fresh, precise lemony notes on the nose. Fantastically aromatic. Sweet, pure lemony palate with some spicy notes and massive intensity. Super-sweet yet quite delicate. 93/100

Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Spätlese 1979
8% alcohol. Intense, waxy, mushroomy nose. Ripe and sweet with lovely fresh citrus notes as well as richer apricot characters. Sweet, rich and full. 91/100

Dr Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Auslese Feinherb 1988
Minerally and quite lean with lovely citrus fruits and some evolution. Crisp and a bit herby with a long mineralic finish. Lovely precision. 93/100

Dr Loosen Erdener Prälat Auslese Goldkapsel 1976
Waxy, intense and herby; bold, limey and honeyed. This is deliciously taut with some sweetness. A very expressive old wine. 93/100

Part 1: Introduction
Part 2: Leitz, Rheingau
Part 3: Dönnhoff, Nahe
Part 4: Gunderloch, Rheinhessen
Part 5: Paul Furst, Franken
Part 6: Dr Loosen, Mosel
Part 7: JL Wolf, Pfalz

Wines tasted as 05/09  
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