Müller-Thurgau – History and Origin
The Müller-Thurgau grape variety is a relatively new cultivar from the 19th Century. It was hybridised by the Swiss botanist Professor Herrmann Müller at the Forschungsanstalt Geisenheim in Thurgau in 1882. It was further developed at the Eidgenössischen Weinbauschule Wädenswil (close to Zürich).
To this day, this viticultural institution possesses a cutting of the original hybrid. In 1913, this grape variety was officially named after its cultivator and its region of origin, hence the name ‘Müller-Thurgau'.
Müller-Thurgau: Lineage and Pedigree
Professor Müller may not have been entirely sure about the parents he used to create his new cultivar. For a long time it was supposed that the grape variety Müller-Thurgau was either a pure Riesling hybrid or a cross of the grape varieties Riesling and Silvaner - an indigenous Austrian variety. Not until1857 was it proven that no genetic material from the Silvaner grape was present in the Müller-Thurgau variety. A genetic analysis carried out by the German Federal Institute for Viticulture in 1999 finally provided a clear answer: According to the analysis, the Müller-Thurgau grapevine is a hybrid of Riesling and the French variety Madeleine Royal, which in turn is a hybrid of the Pinot and Trollinger grape varieties. By crossing Müller-Thurgau with other grape varieties, a large number of new hybrids has come into being, among them the white Bacchus variety in 1933 and the red grape variety Regent . A red mutation – the Red Müller-Thurgau – was discovered in 1978 and added to the list of autonomous grape varieties at the Federal Bureau for Plant Varieties in 2014.
Müller-Thurgau: Wine Growing Regions
Müller-Thurgau grapevines are cultivated on approximately 42 000 hectares worldwide with over 13 000 hectares in Germany alone - and steadily rising. Müller-Thurgau grapevines were the most widely grown variety in Germany for many years, but were displaced by the Riesling in the mid-1900s. Müller-Thurgau is cultivated in almost all German wine growing regions, and is considered a so-called ‘Classic’ wine in seven of the thirteen official regions.
The largest areas cultivated with Müller-Thurgau vines can be found in Rhinehessen, Baden and the Palatinate.
Europe-wide, this grape variety is cultivated in Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic and the Slovak Republic. Müller-Thurgau is still the most widely grown grape in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. It is also cultivated in France (Alsace), Luxembourg and even England. With the exception of a few wine growing regions in South Tyrol (the Aosta Valley, Trentino), Müller-Thurgau is almost unknown in Sothern Europe. Other New World wine growing regions for this grape variety are New Zealand (downward trend), the USA, China and Japan.
Müller-Thurgau Wine - Ampelography
The Müller-Thurgau varietal can be described in ampelographic terms as follows: The shoots are thin and woolly, have a light green colour with a hint of red. The young leaves are light green and deeply sinuate, while the mature leaf is medium-sized, has five to seven markedly wavy lobes. The top of the leaf is lightly blistered and smooth, while the underside has a cobweb-like texture. The leaf edge is saw-toothed, and the stem has an overlapping V-shape. Grape clusters are often shouldered and have loosely filled to compact grapes that are oval-shaped and medium to large in size. Müller-Thurgau grapes are juicy with a delicate nutmeg note.
Müller-Thurgau - Yield
The Müller-Thurgau grapevine generally produces a consistently high-yield harvest. Traditional variations of Müller-Thurgau grapevines produce slightly higher yields than the more recent, tough-skinned clones. The vines yield an average of 80 to 150 hl/ ha, which can increase to over 200 hl/ ha in some years. Yields of 80 to 150 hl/ ha exhibit a must weight of 65 to 90 °Oechsle. The yield limitations introduced in the 1980s have had a positive influence on both the quality and potential of Müller-Thurgau wines. The must from some German wineries that produce superior quality varietal wines from the Müller-Thurgau grape can even weigh in at over 150 °Oechsle.
Müller-Thurgau Wines: Terroir, Location and Soil Requirements
It is possible to produce acceptable Müller-Thurgau wines under less than perfect conditions. When grown in better locations, however, they provide the basis for high-quality wines. These grapevines have vigourous growth and require fresh, deep soil that is not too dry. Too much dryness can distress this grape variety.
Due to its low lignification, Müller-Thurgau vines are relatively frost sensitive, and damage can occur at temperatures of only – 15° C. On the other hand, this variety also produces hardy blossoms, which makes them fairly resistant to late May frosts. The grapevines are, however, susceptible to plant pathogens such as Peronospora (mildew), Phomopsis (black spot disease), and especially Botrytis cinerea (grey mould rot). The risk of botrytis typical for this variety can be reduced by choosing the optimal harvest time.
Characteristcs and Notes of Müller Thurgau Wines
Must from Müller-Thurgau grapes is usually vinified into light, elegant wines with a mild acidic structure (in northern regions it is often more pronounced) and a fine nutmeg note. Depending upon location, its bouquet is more or less floral. Its colour of the can range from pale to light yellow, and the wine is medium-bodied.
The predominate practice of bulk aging in stainless steel tanks preserves the bouquet and freshness typical for varietal dry and semi-dry Müller-Thurgau wines well. With very few exceptions, Müller-Thurgau wines should be consumed young, otherwise their nutmeg note tends to fade. They taste best as ‘primeurs’ and in the first few years following vintage.
Rivaner (Germany, Austria, Luxembourg), Riesling-Silvaner (Switzerland, Austria, Luxembourg), Müller, Müllerovo, Müllerka (Czech Republic, Slovak Republic), Rizvanec, Rizvanac Bijeli (Slovenia, Croatia)
Food Pairing with Müller-Thurgau Wine
Müller-Thurgau wines are uncomplicated and known for their harmonious character. They go especially well with delicate, aromatic dishes such as pasta, asparagus, poultry and salads, as well as with fish, vegetable and pastry dishes.