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!




Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week


2015 Gerd Anselmann Pfalz Trocken Riesling ($14)

This German Riesling, from the region of Pfalz, is "Trocken" meaning dry (little to no residual sugar). So, while many German Rieslings are sweet, this is an example of one that, while having little to no sugar content, is not sweet yet still exhibits the sweet fruit flavors of green apple, citrus and peach. An excellent example of a dry German Riesling that has bright acidity. When well chilled, this is a wonderful wine to enjoy with cheeses or a lighter meal. 

The Basic Styles of German Wines

Germany, where Riesling originated, today produces nearly half of the world's Rieslings and ones that are considered the best the world has to offer. German Rieslings have bright acidity and equally big sweet fruit flavors of green apple, citrus and peach.

As discussed last time, Riesling can be a bit confusing, especially German Riesling. So, to start to understand German Riesling, there are a few things to know about German wines in general.

The first thing you need to know about German wines are the basic styles:

  1. Trocken is the German word for dry. On a wine label, it indicates a wine that is dry (little to no residual sugar).  If all you are looking for is a dry Riesling, Trocken is the one word to know.
  2. Halbtrocken translates as 'half-dry.' These wines are off-dry meaning they will have higher residual sugar and be a bit sweet.
  3. Lieblich or restsüß is a semi-sweet style
  4. Süß or Edelsüß is a flat-out sweet style of wine

The next thing to know is that there are two major categories of German wine: table wine and "quality" wine.

Table wine includes the designations tafelwein and landwein. These are inexpensive, light wines. They aren't very exciting, are not produced in large quantities, and account for less than 5% of Germany's production.

So, next time we'll move on to the good stuff - quality wine. Until then, Prost!





Riesling - Seemingly Confusing and Often Misunderstood

Riesling is a wine that is most famously produced in Germany where nearly half the world's Riesling grapes are grown. Other great producers of Riesling include the Alsace region of France, Australia, Austria, Canada and the United States. Riesling that is grown in cooler climate regions result in highly aromatic wines with great acidity and big, bright fruit flavors. But mention a Riesling and most often you'll hear "Oh, that's a sweet wine."

One of the reasons that Riesling is considered "a sweet wine" is because it has flavors of sweet fruits - green apple, apricot, nectarine, peach, pear, and pineapple. Flavors that our brain associates with sweetness. Another reason for Riesling's sweet flavors is the fact that it is rarely aged in oak. Not having the rich, toasty and butter flavors of oak lets Riesling's bright sweet fruit flavors shine though. Also, Riesling is rarely blended with other grapes. So, what you get are the pure sweet fruit flavors of the Riesling grape. And the final reason that Riesling is considered sweet is that many Rieslings are, well, sweet.

But not all Rieslings are sweet. They can span the range from dry to sweet. The Alsace region of France is known for its dry Riesling. And warmer climates, such as California, Oregon and Washington, produce dry Rieslings that typically have more muted fruit flavors, are more medium to full-bodied.

Next time we'll look into more detail about at the world's largest producer of Riesling, Germany.  And, yes, German Riesling can be a bit confusing. But, learning just a few key terms will help to cut through the common misunderstand of "sweet" Rieslings and aid in finding the one that's just right for you. Until then, Cheers! Or, "Prost!" as they say in Germany.