Those interested in trying the wines of J.J. Prüm (not to be confused with S.A. Prüm), might consider an overnight at Weinhaus Moselschild in the unpretentious village of Ürzig, between Bernkastel-Kues and Traben-Trarbach where the river heads straight east. The town is not far from the Prüm estate and the nothing-special hotel has an above average restaurant with a very good, but reasonably-priced, wine list.

Ürzig is a long, skinny town stripped along the west side of the river. It attracts few tourists and seems to depend entirely on the wine trade. In half an hour's walk you can see what there is to see, then go back to the hotel to sit on your balcony and watch traffic on the river. There are distinct advantages to staying in off-the-beaten track towns like Ürzig. Obviously it's cheaper, but there's a special kind of charm to it as well.

Americans are still somewhat of an oddity and perhaps treated a bit more warmly than in places where they run in packs. There is also less fanfare and red tape at hotels. It all seems very casual. You sign the registration — or sometimes not — get a room key and that's it. No credit card in advance. You are treated the way German guests are treated. The Moselschild was like that. We showed up in the middle of the afternoon without a reservation and the hotel seemed deserted. After nosing around for a couple of minutes we found someone in the dining room who simply handed us a room key and said we could sign the book later. She also took our dinner reservation.

Our smallish room (Number 14) overlooked the river—and the street—from a spacious balcony equipped with a table and two chairs. The bathroom was only adequate; not well lit with little room for toiletries and done in '70s style drab, dark tile. It was clean, however, and had a serviceable corner shower. Not a lot more can be said for the sleeping room: dark wood trim and furnishings, and one of those ugly, free-standing minibars that double as a TV stand. There was also some traffic noise but we considered it worth it to be near the water.

But one doesn't come to the Moselschild for the rooms, its restaurant gets Bib Gourmand/Red Menu designations from Michelin. We were given the choice of a table on the terrace or inside. It was cool so we chose the latter. The two second floor dining rooms are pleasant and comfortable, not grandiose. There are green tile floors, off-white tablecloths, candles, real flowers and red or blue velvet chairs, depending on the room. Leaded windows look onto the terrace and then to the road and the river. One marginal dish among several excellent ones keeps the Moselschild from a higher recommendation. An opener of carpaccio was so light as to be almost transparent. Virtually no oil and the mildest vinegar drizzled over about a dozen (per person) rounds of raw, razor thin, slices of Rinder (beef) filet. On top, chopped chives and parsley soaked in the sprightly dressing. The offending dish of the evening was an off-tasting lamb shank covered with a thick, gooey, tomato-based, almost black, sauce. This was served with green beans and undistinguished crescent-shaped chunks of polenta. On the other hand, thin, flat rounds of liver, sautéed with bits of apple and the sweetest onions this side of Walla Walla, were heaven on earth. Riced potatoes laced with butter were a fine accompaniment. Also included in the price (about $14) was a small salad of lettuce in a light dressing that only suggested the presence of vinegar and oil. The not-too-heavy desserts had wonderful and unusual flavors.

Both Erdbeer variation mit Koffee Eis and something called Potpourri Moselriesling demonstrated that this is no meat-potatoes-Coupé Denmark kitchen. The strawberry variations included strawberry sorbet, a whole strawberry dipped in chocolate sauce, a bite or two of an intense strawberry gelatin, thin slices of fresh berries with chopped mint, and a tiny cup of cold strawberry soup, served around a scoop of coffee ice cream. The Potpourri consisted of an egg-shaped scoop of French vanilla ice cream drizzled with chocolate, a dollop of sorbet, a demitasse of Riesling gelatin in Riesling grape juice, and a slice of chocolate covered with strawberries. Both dishes were splashed with powdered sugar.

On the wine list we spied several bargains but, since we so rarely see it in the U.S. anymore, chose a bottle from our old friend just down the road. The '81er Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett was a treat and the best wine value in memory; 18-years old and absolutely fresh, crisp and just a hint of gold. We paid $20. What a wine. What a bargain. Next morning's breakfast was superb and included beautifully cooked scrambled eggs, creamy liverwurst, and house-made apricot jam bursting with the taste of the fruit. The dinner for two without beverages was about $50 and our room about $90. Though we've pointed out a number of its failings (especially the lamb) our whole experience at the Moselschild was greater than the sum of its parts. It would be worth going back if for nothing more than another bottle of the Wehlener Sonnenuhr.

Street Address: Moselufer 12 - 14
City: Ürzig (Urzig/Uerzig)
Country: Germany
Phone: 011 49 65 32 9 39 30
Fax: 011 49 65 32 93 93 93
Quality: Rating: 2 stars
Value: Rating: 2 stars
Price Level: $$--
Type: Hotel