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!