Sitting at lunch with Egon Müller, I asked him to pass me the spittoon. He looked at me in a kindly, but confused way, the sort of look you might give a friend who’d just made an idiotic blunder – like pinching the bread from someone else’s side plate or using the table cloth as a handkerchief.
As he passed it to me, he whispered, ‘you keep it, I won’t be using it. These wines are too precious to spit out; they will never be made again.’ I nodded and took note.
The vineyards which Egon Müller owns and makes wine from in the Mosel were planted by the Romans. Thereafter they were tended for centuries by Monks until they were sold (following the French Revolution) to one particular monk who eschewed his religious vows and had 7 children. Six generations later we reach Egon.
He’s a tall man, fit from working his vineyards by hand and with the deep, confident assurance that comes from decades of hard work. He really knows his wines. His vineyards are in the Wiltingen/Saar region of Germany and for those of you who studied history; you might recall that the Saarland like many parts of the Franco-German border is a place that has flown a number of different flags during the last 250 years. Despite this, the wines he makes are emphatically German; definitively German, in fact.
The beauty of German white wines lies in the tension played out between sweetness and acidity. The best examples are etched with a mouth-watering sharpness and offer the beauty and opulence of layers of sweet fruit flavours.
Quick translation here – Scharzhofberger is the name of the vineyard, Auslese means that the grapes have been selected for their quality, Goldkapsel means gold capsule and indicates that this is a wine which is of extremely high quality. The grapes, not mentioned, are always Riesling.
The wine has an amazing texture because it’s both light on the palate and richly full bodied. The small crop in 2010 means that the wine is incredibly concentrated: intense, refreshing and sweet with long, lingering dimensions of flavour and perfect balance.
Watching Egon taste his wines was a bit like peeking at someone looking over family photo albums from summers past, remembering with fondness the days of those years. ‘This wine,’ he remarked ‘still has a little puppy fat, when it loses that it will be more pure.’
1990 Scharzhofberger Trockenbeerenauslese
The word Trockenbeerenauslese may be too long for some of us to try and pronounce (TBA is a handy abbreviation) but the wine itself is divine. It is a wine that is as easy to like as it is difficult to produce.
To make this wine at all is a huge gamble and beyond the mere cooperation of Mother Nature it also requires assiduous hard work and painstaking dedication as the dried grapes are hand selected at their moment of readiness.
The wine is crystal clear, although deeply amber coloured; it is richly sweet and offers dazzling refreshment; it is concentrated with great weight yet graceful. It’s a haunting wine and unforgettable.
I once sat next to Goldie Hawn at an event. What struck me about her was that she was so fabulous (and famous) yet she was really normal, charming and easy to get along with. Now, I do hesitate to compare wines to people, however, the TBA is a superlative wine in every way, and yet there it is: obviously beautiful but not at all demanding. Even though it costs a lot, it’s worth every penny.
The 1990 was the year Egon took over from his father and it is a testament to both men. Egon’s father had to rebuild the estate in the years after 1945 and was barely able to make a living for his family. Indeed one of the things he worked towards was to bring the business up to the point where it could support two families, his own and his son’s.
I’m very glad that he succeeded and hope to be able to enjoy these wines again for many years to come.