Each country has a different way of indicating sweetness levels in wines. Because everything is strictly codified and regulated there, German wines are very easy to learn. On the label, they must have the region where the grapes are grown, the variety, the quality level, and in most cases the sweetness level. All you need now is a Rosetta stone to crack the code. The most famous German varietal is Riesling, so here is a guide to sweetness levels with that variety in mind.A QbA wine or Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (isn’t that a mouthful to say!) is the most basic of the 2 major categories of German wines. QbA wines can be grown in one of 13 different regions and the region must be stated clearly on the label. They must use grape varieties that are on an approved list. They must have a minimum alcohol content that is achieved, and they are what most people would call an “off dry” sugar level. For example, Ernst Loosen is considered to be one of the best winemakers in Germany, so his QbA wine is a lot higher quality than the average wine of that category. While the Dr. Loosen Dr. L Estate QbA 2012 is fruity, there is plenty of acidity in the wine to balance it out and make it more appropriate to serve with savory items and not dessert. I love this wine with cheese or roast chicken.The next level up in German wines is called QmP (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat). These wines have many of the same laws about regions and varieties. In addition, the sweetness levels of the wines are also regulated and must fall within a range that is specified for each level. From driest to sweetest they are Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese, Berenauslese, and Trockenberenauslese. In special years, grapes that achieve the Bereneauslese or sweeter level and are left to freeze on the vine create a very unique wine called an Eiswein. For the last several years, many German wineries are creating dry or “Trocken” wines. Many of these wines started life with an Auslese level of sugar, but are then fermented to dryness. A great example of a Kabinett level wine is Dr. Loosen Blue Slate Estate Kabinett 2012. It is a blend of grapes from the most famous villages in the Mosel: Graach, Bernkastel, and Wehlen. The bright apple fruit is balanced by flinty, minerally notes and a long crisp finish. I love this wine with grilled fish such as trout or salmon.Unfortunately, in the United States, there is no special system to rate the sweetness levels in wines, so we have to rely on the winemaker’s description, a recommendation, or tasting the Riesling. Ernst Loosen also makes a high quality Riesling in Washington called Eroica. The Eroica Riesling 2012 is a very high quality wine that has more sweetness than his QbA or Kabinett wines. I love this wine with cheeses or, for an entrée, grilled pork chops with an apple and cornbread stuffing. The Eroica Gold Riesling 2012 is definitely a dessert level wine, which would be perfect with an apple or peach cobbler.I hope you give Riesling a try. It is a noble grape variety that is very versatile where the wines can be crisp and refreshing to rich and sweet. Trying the wines from a great winemaker like Ernst Loosen is an easy way to learn about Riesling and the sweetness levels in wine. Go ahead and have an adventure tonight with a new wine!
I’ve got a little over 8 weeks left before the little peanut arrives, which is very exciting as pregnancy can be one of those things that makes time stand very still. My palate has done little tasting, but perhaps that’s not a bad thing as few wines I’ve tasted seem at all enjoyable. Red wines taste either too herbaceous or completely contrived and fake, whites are better, but most seem to lack complexity. Not that we are opening many complex wines – those are off limits until I’m able to enjoy a full glass. But there a few I’ve tasted that please this pregnant palate.I was recently sent a some samples of Hugel wines from Fredrick Wildman. Hugel is not new to me, I’ve been drinking their wine since my amateur wine days in New York. It was a lovely experience to re-visit their Riesling. I love Alsace Rieslings – they have a stony minerality that gives a great backbone to the Alsace fruit. This wine definitely shows those characters – there is a blend of minerality, fruit (peach, pear) and a touch of flowers. What I like about this wine – what my current palate likes about this wine – is its acidity. It is crisp and clean, but not overbearing. Overall quite balanced. This is not a complex Riesling, with layers of aromas and flavors, but it has all the aspects I like in a good white wine – clean, refreshing, balanced and smooth. And I like that it’s under $20! It’s one I will get a few bottles of for the coming warmer months when I’m able to drink my wine again. Cheers!
Most wine aficionados reach for a bottle of Riesling when temperatures rise (and many other times for that matter), and when I ask the favorite grape for summer, those who know the grape happily respond – Riesling. Unfortunately, that is only the answer from those familiar with the variety. Poor grape. It's so often misunderstood!
Riesling can conjure up images of sickly sweet, low quality wine, yet Riesling is a noble grape variety and has been making wine for centuries. It's one of the only white wine varieties that can make extremely age worthy wines, as well as some of the most highly sought after sweet wines. Perhaps that's why sweet and Riesling are too often deemed a pair. But what many don't realize is that most Rieslings are actually dry.
Riesling has high aromatics and high acidity – two perfect attributes for summer drinking, as well as for food pairing.
Which wines should you try that will help introduce you to the delicious world of Rieslings? Here are some suggestions.
You like dry, mineral-driven wines, like New Zealand or Chile Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio
Try Australian Rieslings – these wines display intense aromatics of lime, mineral notes and stone fruit. Very crisp, very dry. We love the Pewsey Vale (on sale for $9.99 right now at WineShopper) as it is a great value that displays all these characteristics. Look for the excellent Riesling examples from Clare Valley and Eden Valley.
You like fruity white wines and blends like Conundrum or Evolution
Try Washington State Rieslings. These wines have the same steely acidity, but with a bit rounder, riper fruit and occasionally a touch of residual sugar, though usually with a very tangy finish. We love the Eroica (even served it at my wedding!) and the Pacific Rim Wallula Vineyard (made with biodynamnic farming practices). Eroica has a bit more residual sugar, while the Pacific Rim has a touch of petrol (this is a GOOD thing) in the nose that makes it vibrant and a bit tangy. As I taste more Rieslings from the Pacific Northwest, I learn how perfect the region is for this grape. And Washignton State – as well as Oregon – are making some stellar Riesling.
You like sweet wine
One of the reason's Riesling is so good as a sweet wine is because of its excellent acidity. German Rieslings are probably the way to go on the sweet side, although Austria and Alsace are other excellent regions. Look for terms like Spatlese and Auslese on the label, which indicates a bit more residual sugar (usually). Maximin Grunhauser and JJ Prum are fantastic producers. There are plenty others though, so do some research.
For more, read Alma's take on reading a Riesling label! It's definitely helpful.
So this summer, try a Riesling. It's a diverse grape and there are sure to be some that fit your style!
And please do share your favorites.
A question I keep posing these days has to do with what one drinks when temperatures reach into the 100s. In the Northwest, temps are hovering at 102 degrees. This is an area where many homes lack air conditioning, so keeping cool requires fans, basements and cool drinks. When I ask what is most refreshing in this weather, an answer I frequently get is Riesling.