The Mosel River gets its start in the lower elevation Vosges mountain range in eastern France, flowing through Luxembourg before making its way to western Germany. It joins with the Rhine in Koblenz, but its middle section, known in German as the Mittelmosel, is where a series of conditions come together to produce some of the greatest white wines in the world.
Between the riverbanks and the steep slate slopes that jut skyward at seemingly impossible gradients, villages of varying degrees of bucolic charm dot the Mosel Valley. These sites offer wine lovers travelling the region plenty of places to stay, eat and explore one of Germany’s true treasures.
The history of wine cultivation in the Mosel Valley goes back to Roman times. Vineyards were planted along the river to provide wine for troops stationed in the region rather than transporting it from further afield. While the Mosel Valley represents Riesling royalty, for many Germans, the region stands out as a vacation spot for camping, cycling and gourmet dining in the valley’s quaint and quiet villages.
A river runs through it
The Mosel (along with the Douro Valley) may be one of the only wine regions in the world where you can see all of the valley’s top vineyard sites from the water. One of the best ways to get a real sense of the Mosel’s Grosse Lagen (equivalent to grands crus) is by riverboat. While there are several multi-day Mosel cruises, you can opt for a much shorter trip. A slow-winding, one-hour boat ride leaves from Bernkastel-Kues almost hourly in the high season and will take you past many of the most famous Riesling vineyards in all the world.
From the famous Bernkasteler Doctor above the town of Bernkastel-Kues with its legendary wines, the boat cruise passes Graacher Domprobst and Wehlener Sonnenuhr. It winds its way north to the steep red slates of Ürziger Würzgarten and Erdener Prälat. From there, you can disembark and visit the ruins of an ancient Roman wine press near the town of Erden, at the base of the region’s top vineyard sites.
Base camp in Bernkastel-Kues
The town of Bernkastel-Kues is well located for the Mosel Valley’s wine highlights, top vineyards and charming villages that dot the valley. The Bernkastel side of the river is particularly charming. It has a bustling character that lasts into the evening when some of the Mosel’s sleepier villages have shuttered for the day. The town has adorable half-timber architecture, a picturesque atmosphere, tiny alleyways and a lovely market square right out of a storybook; it’s a great place to station yourself to explore up and down the river.
Bernkastel-Kues sits in the shadow of the ruins of the Landshut castle that looms tall over this part of the Mosel dating to the 1200s, and some of the region’s most famous vineyards like Bernkasteler Doctor and Bernkasteler Lay. Pass through the Graach Gate, and you can wander the legendary hillside vineyards within 10 metres or so of town.
Bernkastel-Kues is complete with a number of great local restaurants, hotels and wine shops that carry some of the hardest-to-find Rieslings in the world.
Let’s face it: you came to the Mosel to taste some of the world’s best Rieslings, so you likely have a few places in mind. There is such a range of Riesling producers in the region and they can vary greatly in their size and accessibility. Do not plan to arrive without a prior appointment, or you may be greatly disappointed.
In the tiny village of Graach, the iconic Willi Schaefer has been making wines for generations. The ethereal Rieslings are some of the most sought-after and still reasonably priced in all the world. It is a family operation (of two people), so appointments are required, and you should reach out as far in advance as possible. They will do their best to accommodate you. Appointments are from April to July only.
Weingut Willi Schaefer
54470 Graach an der Mosel
Tel: +49 (0) 6531 8041
In the village of Wehlen (just across the river from Graach), another name in Riesling royalty is that of J. J. Prüm. Perched just above the river with exceptional views of the sundial at the Wehlener Sonnenuhr Grosse Lage, the source of some of its most sought-after wines. The Rieslings are pure classic, off-dry expressions of clarity, depth and brilliance that refuse to chase the stylish Grosses Gewächs category. A visit to the tasting parlour at J. J. Prüm is highly sought after, and appointments are required.
Weingut Joh. Jos. Prüm
Tel: +49 (0) 6531 3091
Dr Erni Loosen is the greatest ambassador for the Mosel to the rest of the world. He has winery projects in the American states of Oregon and Washington, as well as Germany’s Pfalz. Loosen is a large producer with uncompromising quality. From dry Grosse Gewächse to numerous other wines made from Grosse Lagen to value Rieslings available at Costco, there is a high quality across the entire range. The Loosen winery has a large tasting space and patio to accommodate guests in the summer. Appointments are required for tasting.
Weingut Dr. Loosen
St. Johannishof 1
Tel: +49 (0) 6531 3426
The Riesling that Thomas Haag makes at his estate, Schloss Lieser, needs no introduction. Named for the adjacent Schloss Lieser castle, the winery and tasting room is open to the public. Haag, whose father Wilhelm founded Fritz Haag, restored the reputation of Schloss Lieser with the help of his wife Ute in the early 1990s and then purchased the estate. Schloss Lieser makes a wide range of Riesling, from classic Kabinett to bone-dry Grosse Gewächse wines, at a wide range of prices. The tasting room is open Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday: 10am-5pm and Saturdays: 11am-3pm.
Weingut Schloss Lieser
Am Markt 1-5
Tel. +49 (0) 6531 6431
How to get there and around
There are two airport options close to the Middle Mosel. The large international Frankfurt Airport is less than a 2-hour drive away, but direct UK flights also go into Frankfurt-Hahn. A rental car is your most reliable way to get around the Mosel Valley. Given how small the villages are, public transit service is intermittent. Cars can be rented at either airport location.
Your Mosel Valley address book
German food is highly underrated, and the villages of the Middle Mosel are dotted with some fantastic restaurants. Here are my top recommendations.
You came to the Mosel Valley to drink Riesling, and no one has the list that Zeltinger Hof has assembled. The list features more than 2,200 bottles, over 2,000 of which are Riesling with vintages that date to 1901. In addition to a deep list, the restaurant offers wines at reasonable prices from names that are tough to find, like Keller, Schaefer and nine different wines by Egon Müller. The food at Zeltinger Hof is a fresh, seasonal take on German classics with plenty of creative preparation, and all of it is very reasonably priced. In the summer, there is plenty of outdoor seating at a charming square in the village of Zeltingen.
Tel: +49 (0) 6532 93 82 0
High gastronomy and an extensive wine list with 10 pages of Mosel Riesling are on offer at Culinarium in the well-pointed Weinromantikhotel Richtershof, which boasts over 380 years of local history. The hotel is a former winery dating to the 17th century in the sleepy village of Mülheim. The restaurant serves thoughtful preparations, multi-course options with local specialities like the Bavarian duck breast and crispy pike perch. You can opt to pair dessert with a Trockenbeerenauslese from the 1940s or 50s.
Tel: +49 (0) 6534 9480
The 19th-century castle is now a Marriott Autograph Collection property offering hotel accommodation and a fantastic dining experience at Puricelli, with prix fixe options of both three and five courses with local wine pairings. Puricelli offers fresh modern takes on the German classics of both duck and venison, which pair well with local Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir).
Tel: +49 (0) 6531 98 69 90
Deinhard’s is one of the first buildings you’ll see as you enter Bernkastel. The hotel is part of a larger complex that includes a spa, restaurant and a private members’ wine storage vault. Modern and luxurious with views across the river to the Kues side, or into the vineyards above the town, Deinhard’s is well-priced and perfectly located with a fantastic breakfast, parking garage and large, air-conditioned and well-furnished rooms. Deinhard’s opened in July of 2022 with a brand new interior inside a 17th-century building.
Tel: +49 (0) 6531 971540
In addition to being one of the region’s leading names in wine, Erni Loosen is quite the host. The Dr. Loosen winery has a number of new guest rooms available in a building adjacent to the winery and tasting room. Accommodation comes with air-conditioning and breakfast included. There is always the possibility that you’ll bump into Erni or his equally famous dog running around the winery.
Weingut Dr. Loosen
St. Johannishof 1
Tel: +49 (0) 6531 3426