Wineweek 170: Decoding Riesling

Riesling – one of the most well known grape varieties in the world, and the enormous gap in my knowledge of wine. I have been dodging Riesling for years. Probably because it is one of those varieties that produces so many different types of wine. Learning Riesling has just felt like too much work. But now I have come to my senses. During this fall, we have been taking a walk on the sweet-side, so Rieslings have no longer been on the list of “too much sugar”. But to be able to become serious about Riesling, one has to do some studying. So here are some of my findings about my new grape-obsession.

Traditionally, most Riesling wines are on the sweeter end of the spectrum, in order to balance the grapes’s high acidity. There are also dry, or should I say “no that sweet” Rieslings, for those who are more attracted to a leaner-tasting wine. Dry Rieslings are made in Alsace, Germany, Washington state, New York State (Finger Lakes) and in Clare and Eden Valleys in Australia. Sweeter Rieslings come mainly from Germany, around Mosel, but wow, there are a lot of them.

And now it gets a bit tricky. Zooming into German Rieslings requires some focus, as there are several quality systems that interact. We are talking about Germany, so the systems are definitely logical. However, they form a matrix of origin and quality/sweetness, that needs to be learned for one to be able to navigate. I will give it my best try to explain (have patience).

Starting from quality, there are four groups: Landwein, Qualitatswein, Pradikatswein and VDP. The two first are more like table-wines, and the two last premium. Pradikatswein wines are traditionally sweet and this quality-level is commonly used in the Mosel. Pradikatswein has an additional level of classification based on the ripeness of the grapes when they are harvested: Kabinet is the lightest style and can be dry or off-dry, Spätlese means “late harvest” and requires a certain ripeness level before the grapes can be picked, Auslese is even sweeter and grapes are hand picked and may have noble rot, Beerenauslese is even more rare as grapes are raisined noble rot grapes, Trockenbeerenauslese means that the grapes have dried on the vine (with noble rot), and Eiswein is made when grapes freeze on the vine and are pressed when frozen. So in other words, this system implicates how late the grapes have been picked, some even left on the vines until the dry or freeze.

VDP classification (“Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter”) represents both sweet and dry styles, and is commonly used outside of Mosel, particularly in the Rheingau anbaugebiet. The classification is based on where the wine is grown, similar to Champagne and Burgundy (Grand Cru and Premiere Cru -villages). Gutswein is “house wine” and it is just marked with the name of the proprietary, village or regional name and labeled “VDP”, Ortswine is wine from top vineyards labeled with a vineyard site name and “VDP.Ortswein”; Erste lage “first site” is one notch up again, labelled with a vineyard site name and the logo; and last but definitely not least, Grosse Lage “Great site” designates the very best vineyards of Germany. The bottles are labelled “VDP.Grosses Gewächs” or “VDP.Grosse Lage”.

Phooh! That isn’t so difficult, but perhaps I need to taste some Rieslings to really understand what is what. Luckily M bought me some nice half bottles for my mini-winecalendar. There is a juicy Trockenbeerenauslese from Keller just waiting for me uncork it.  And you know what they say, repetition is the key to remembering! So Riesling-summer, here I come!

xx Soile

Riesling on the rooftops of Shanghai


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