German Rieslings and the Various Categories

German Rieslings can be a bit confusing. Last time we took a look at the basic styles of German wines.  Most notable was the German term "Trocken" that means dry (no residual sugar).  So, if you are looking for a German Riesling that is not sweet, "Trocken" is the word to remember.

In addition to the different styles of German wines, there are also different designations. The German word Prädikatswein translates as "quality wine with specific attributes" and is the top level of German wines. But, Prädikatswein range from dry to intensely sweet. Unless it is specifically indicated that the wine is dry or off-dry, these wines always contain a noticeable amount of residual sugar.

The different Prädikat (quality) designations used for German wine (wein) are as follows, in order of increasing quality, price and sugar level:

  • Kabinett (Ka-bee-nett) - These wines are dry to off-dry and the lightest and most delicate style of German Riesling. Picked early in the harvest, with low sugar content, it is often very low in alcohol.  Off-dry Kabinett wines have an alcohol content of around 7-8% ABV and dry Kabinett wines are usually around 10-11% ABV. These are light-bodied and refreshing wines.
  • Spätlese [SHPAYT-lay-zeh] - While this translates as "late harvest," these wines are made from riper grapes (more sugar), not necessarily those picked late in the harvest.  These wines can be dry to sweet with more body, richness and intensity of flavor. These are often more like a medium-bodied wine.
  • Auslese [OWS-lay-zeh] - These "selected from the harvest" grapes are from particularly ripe bunches.  These very ripe grapes have high sugar content and often exhibit some amount of noble rot (botrytis).  These have very concentrated, intense flavors and are considered medium to full-bodied wines.
  • Beerenauslese [BEAR-en-ows-lay-zeh] - These "berries selected from the harvest," produce a very sweet dessert wine also made from botrytis grapes. These wines are produced from low yields, are often aged for decades, and are always sweet. These wines are rare because they are not made from every harvest.  Often Berrenauslese is only made two or three time per decade.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese [TRAW-ken BEAR-en OWS-lay-zeh] - Here's that word trocken again. But this time it indicates the grapes have been dried on the vine before harvest. This drying process results in a super sweet, syrupy, wine. These are extremely rare. And expensive!

So, I warned you, finding just the right German Riesling can be a bit confusing. But if you make note of these key terms you'll be on your way to finding the ones that best suit your tastes.

Next time we'll take a look at another great region for Riesling, Alsace in France. Until then, Prost!