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German rieslings


Ron Johnson
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I drink a lot of Alsatian Riesling because I know from the label and the producer how sweet or dry of a wine I am buying. I rarely buy German rieslings because making the same determination is so much more difficult. I, for one, enjoy a wine with some sweetness or residual sugar provided that it has the acidity to balance, as is the case with good German rieslings. However, most of my non-wine-geek friends will not touch a wine that is sweet.

I know that "trocken" denotes "dry" for German rieslings, and that "halbtrocken" is "off-dry" or literally half-dry. The problem is that I almost never see the term "trocken" on any German rieslings and I only rarely see halbtrocken. Instead I always see kabinett, spatelese, and auslese. While these terms have more to do with level of quality and point of harvest of the grapes and therefore are somewhat of an indication of the sweetness of the wine, I often end up with a wine that is either sweeter or drier than I wanted. I have been told that Kabinetts are often drier than spatlese or auslese, but that has not been my experience.

So whats the secret to knowing how dry or sweet of a wine you are buying when purchasing German riesling?

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Ron,

I'm curious how you "know from the label and producer" about the sweetness or dryness of Alsatian rieslings. In my experience, the sweetness has more to do with the vintage than anything else. German rieslings at least give you an indicator on the label. Trocken rieslings are out there, you may have to special order them, though. Personally, I think it is hard to beat an auslese from a great producer in a great year. 2001 and 2002 are both incredible vintages for Germany (2001 in the Mosel, 2002 in the Nahe and Pfalz).

Mark

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At the highest quality classification of German wines (there are three), known as QmP, the level of required residual sugar does increase depending on the classification of the wine. The sub-classification scale within QmP, from lowest levels of sugar to highest, goes like this (please forgive misspellings): Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Berenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenberenauslese.

The point you mention, that Kabinett might sometimes seem more sweet than something at a higher classification, can happen because each class specifies a minimum sugar level and also there is slight overlap between levels. So you could taste a Kabinett at the high end of the Kabinett sugar content scale, next to a Spatlese that is at the lowest possible sugar content amount for Spatlese. I have also been told that the sugar levels per class do vary by region within Germany.

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I'm curious how you "know from the label and producer"  about the sweetness or dryness of Alsatian rieslings.

Because I drink a lot of it, have been for a long time, follow each vintage closely, talk with distributors, importers and a few of the winemakers about their product each year, and know to expect a very different wine from Zind-Humbrecht than I do from, say, Trimbach. Also Alsatian lables will denote SGN and VT, which are further indication of what you are about to drink.

I'd prefer to keep this thread on german rieslings.

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I basically always buy QmP Kabinetts. That pretty much ensures its going to be off-dry.

With a riesling, even at Kabinett level you are going to get some residual sweetness. But with the germans, the acidity is so high, that its going to be in balance, so for me that's not an issue.

Once you start drinking a lot of Rieslings, even Spatslesen and Auslesn are not that sweet, once they start to mature after about 4 years old.

Also, if you can find a QmP Kabinett from the Rheingau region, I think they have a slatier and earthier terroir, which makes them feel less sweet than other Kabinetts.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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I'm curious how you "know from the label and producer"  about the sweetness or dryness of Alsatian rieslings.

Because I drink a lot of it, have been for a long time, follow each vintage closely, talk with distributors, importers and a few of the winemakers about their product each year, and know to expect a very different wine from Zind-Humbrecht than I do from, say, Trimbach. Also Alsatian lables will denote SGN and VT, which are further indication of what you are about to drink.

I'd prefer to keep this thread on german rieslings.

VT and SGN are both in reference to the sugar in the grapes at harvest, the Alsatian and German systems are based on the sugar in the grapes at harvest. Zind-Humbrecht has recently added a 1 to 6 scale on their labels to indicate sweetness as a result of the somewhat opaque Alsatian labeling system. There are bone dry VT's out there and there are sticky sweet VT's with the new 6 point scale Olivier is using it will be clear how sweet the wine actually is; 1 would refer to a dry wine and 6 would be an intense dessert wine. The German system refers to a minimum alcohol as well as well as harvest date, the wines in order of richness are:

Trocken - dry

Halbtrocken - slightly off dry

Kabinett – part of the main harvest, higher RS than halbtrocken and alcohol usually under 8%

Spalese - harvested at least a week after the main harvest, again usually higher RS and alcohol than Kabinett wines.

Auslese - harvested as individual bunches based on ripeness, some sweet enough to be dessert wines

Beerenauslesse (BA) - sweet dessert wine, usually affected by botrytis

Eiswein - hugely concentrated, usually very sweet, grapes are harvested and crushed while frozen

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) - made from dried, botrytised grapes, picked by hand, very sweet.

It is not uncommon to find a lower pradikat bottling that is as sweet as the next level wine as many German producers declassify some of their Spatlese and Auslese wine and sell it blended as Kabinett. This is likely to change as more and more people discover how good German wine is. The general rule is that the wines increase in sweetness as you move from one pradikat to the next (spat is sweeter than kabinett, BA sweeter than auslese, etc).

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Alcohol content is usually a pretty good indicator. A 8% wine will be sweeter, while a 12% drier.

Right - because as the alcohol content rises, it's doing so by "consuming" the sugar during fermentation.

The literal translations from the German "ripeness at harvest" classifications are somewhat helpful:

Kabinett – part of the main (First) harvest, higher RS than halbtrocken and alcohol usually under 8%

Spatlese - harvested at least a week after the main harvest, again usually higher RS and alcohol than Kabinett wines.

Auslese - harvested by hand as individual bunches based on ripeness, some sweet enough to be dessert wines

Beerenauslesse (BA) - Beeren = Berry. So this is individual berries/grapes picked by hand for ripeness.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) - Dried (Trocken), Individual Grapes (Beeren) Harvested by hand based on ripeness (Auslese) made from dried (raisinated, hanging on the vines until long after the first harvest), botrytised grapes, picked by hand, very sweet.

Eiswein - hugely concentrated, usually very sweet, grapes are harvested and crushed while frozen. It was my understanding that this catergory was last in the "time-from-first-harvest" heirarchy because it implied that the grapes had been touched by frost. So were talking like October/early November here. However, the meaning and clasification my have changed from the original meaning nowadays if they are simply freezing the berries manually, so to speak. Does anyone wish to correct me/give us the true answer?

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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Eiswein - hugely concentrated, usually very sweet, grapes are harvested and crushed while frozen.  It was my understanding that this catergory was last in the "time-from-first-harvest" heirarchy because it implied that the grapes had been touched by frost.  So were talking like October/early November here.  However, the meaning and clasification my have changed from the original meaning nowadays if they are simply freezing the berries manually, so to speak.  Does anyone wish to correct me/give us the true answer?

Eisweins are usualy harvested in November and are infact the last fruit harvested. In California where we don't actually get winter wines like Eisrebe from Phelps are made by tossing clusters of grapes into the freezer and pressing them once they are frozen solid. Eisrebe lacks the acidity of its german counterparts but is still quite nice and much more affortable.

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My question would be if eiswein has a sugar requirement at harvest by law like the other pradikats. I think it is awarded solely on the grapes being frozen. Obviously, they would have high sugar content due to long hang time, but I think the big time sweetness comes from pressing the not-frozen juice quickly so the water crystals stay behind. And I don't think you can freeze them manually.

Firefly Restaurant

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The literal translations from the German "ripeness at harvest" classifications are somewhat helpful:

Kabinett – part of the main (First) harvest, higher RS than halbtrocken and alcohol usually under 8%

Spatlese - harvested at least a week after the main harvest, again usually higher RS and alcohol than Kabinett wines.

Auslese - harvested by hand as individual bunches based on ripeness, some sweet enough to be dessert wines

Beerenauslesse (BA) - Beeren = Berry. So this is individual berries/grapes picked by hand for ripeness.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) - Dried (Trocken), Individual Grapes (Beeren) Harvested by hand based on ripeness (Auslese) made from dried (raisinated, hanging on the vines until long after the first harvest), botrytised grapes, picked by hand, very sweet.

Eiswein - hugely concentrated, usually very sweet, grapes are harvested and crushed while frozen.  It was my understanding that this catergory was last in the "time-from-first-harvest" heirarchy because it implied that the grapes had been touched by frost.  So were talking like October/early November here.  However, the meaning and clasification my have changed from the original meaning nowadays if they are simply freezing the berries manually, so to speak.  Does anyone wish to correct me/give us the true answer?

we're looking at one of the big reasons why so many are afraid of german wines.

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The literal translations from the German "ripeness at harvest" classifications are somewhat helpful:

Kabinett – part of the main (First) harvest, higher RS than halbtrocken and alcohol usually under 8%

Spatlese - harvested at least a week after the main harvest, again usually higher RS and alcohol than Kabinett wines.

Auslese - harvested by hand as individual bunches based on ripeness, some sweet enough to be dessert wines

Beerenauslesse (BA) - Beeren = Berry. So this is individual berries/grapes picked by hand for ripeness.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) - Dried (Trocken), Individual Grapes (Beeren) Harvested by hand based on ripeness (Auslese) made from dried (raisinated, hanging on the vines until long after the first harvest), botrytised grapes, picked by hand, very sweet.

Eiswein - hugely concentrated, usually very sweet, grapes are harvested and crushed while frozen.  It was my understanding that this catergory was last in the "time-from-first-harvest" heirarchy because it implied that the grapes had been touched by frost.  So were talking like October/early November here.  However, the meaning and clasification my have changed from the original meaning nowadays if they are simply freezing the berries manually, so to speak.  Does anyone wish to correct me/give us the true answer?

we're looking at one of the big reasons why so many are afraid of german wines.

Bah... Look for Kabinett or Spatlese on the bottle, it'll be off-dry but not sticky sweet and should be reasonably priced. BA/Eiswein/TBA's are all likely to cost $75 for a 375ml bottle, its unlikely that someone would pick that up without knowing anything about it to have with their meal.

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we're looking at one of the big reasons why so many are afraid of german wines.

This may be true, Tommy. But the fact remains that once you learn what to look for, (in typical Germanic pedantic fashion) there is FAR more information on a German wine label than any other. You can tell a lot more about what's inside the bottle without having to open it than you can with wine from anywhere else in the world.

Katie M. Loeb
Booze Muse, Spiritual Advisor

Author: Shake, Stir, Pour:Fresh Homegrown Cocktails

Cheers!
Bartendrix,Intoxicologist, Beverage Consultant, Philadelphia, PA
Captain Liberty of the Good Varietals, Aphrodite of Alcohol

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yup. trocken = dry; halbtrocken = half-dry.

trocken also has a very specific meaning with regard to the residual sugar/acid balance in a wine:

http://eat.epicurious.com/dictionary/wine/...D=3032&ISWINE=T

as does halbtrocken:

http://eat.epicurious.com/dictionary/wine/...D=1395&ISWINE=T

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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Remember that you could have halb-trocken and trocken kabinett, spatlese and auslese. These terms refer to the sugar in the grape at harvest along with the other harvesting requirements.

German labels are perhaps the most clear when it come to sweetness. Once you learn the basic names and the meaning of trocken.

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Shh. Stop talking about German wines. Remember that bottle we shared at China 46 that everyone was oohing and ahhing over? It cost $7. OK, it was on sale, but even at twice the price would have been a bargain - and more expensive than most Germans. So, what's to lose by experimenting?

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So, trocken means dry?  :blink:  :unsure:  :wacko:

Umm, that was a joke. I think everyone must have overlooked this part of my original question:

"I know that "trocken" denotes "dry" for German rieslings, and that "halbtrocken" is "off-dry" or literally half-dry. The problem is that I almost never see the term "trocken" on any German rieslings and I only rarely see halbtrocken."

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interesting-- Rachel, are you saying that the really cheap-ass German wines can be quality too? I've had some extraordinarily forgettable $7 Zeller Schwartze Katzs (sugar water), and Piesporter Michelsburgers (wine-flavored sugar water)... I've been totally ignoring the cheapies and paying the $12+ or so for the next step up.

Edited by cdh (log)

Christopher D. Holst aka "cdh"

Learn to brew beer with my eGCI course

Chris Holst, Attorney-at-Lunch

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interesting-- Rachel, are you saying that the really cheap-ass German wines can be quality too?  I've had some extraordinarily forgettable $7 Zeller Schwartze Katzs (sugar water), and Piesporter Michelsburgers (wine-flavored sugar water)... I've been totally ignoring the cheapies and paying the $12+ or so for the next step up.

Many of the "cheap ass" ones are FANTASTIC wines. Many of them are even QmP quality.

The problem is, even the "cheap ass" ones are not so "cheap ass" anymore. I recently went to a local wine store to find that they are 9-15 bucks, and not 6-7 bucks. So they are definitely getting more popular.

So if you see a "cheap ass" QmP, by all means stock up, they are not going to stay that way.

Jason Perlow

Co-Founder, The Society for Culinary Arts & Letters

offthebroiler.com - Food Blog | View my food photos on Instagram

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Jason-

When you say "Many of them are even QmP quality" do you mean that they taste as good as QmP but aren't certified QmP, or do you mean to say that there are some cheap QmP wines out there right now?

Let's don't forget that there are some very good non-QmP wines out there- great Qbas include the 2002 Leitz Dragonstone (Rudesheimer Drachenstein), 2001 Loosen Dr. L, and 2001 Von Schubert Maximin Grunhauser. Also good (if a step behind in my opinion) are the 2001 Dr. Thanisch (Erben Thanisch), 2001 Weingut Max. Ferd. Richter Estate Riesling, and the Lingenfelder Bird Label. All of these are a far cry from the Black Cats, and all offer good value ($8-12, except the von Schubert might be couple dollars more).

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