Riesling Part Two: Prädikats-Fine-Wine

A lot of people shut out Riesling on account of it being “too sweet”. Which I almost don’t mind, as it allows me to provide people that fabulous ‘aha’ moment, when I pour them a dry Alsatian Riesling, and they are thrilled to find out that Riesling is magical, and hey! also sometimes dry. Actually, I’m not sure who that moment is better for, them or me, but it’s a delight. It’s also a treat (ahem) to pour an excellent sweet Riesling from Germany, be it the mild off-dry Kabinett, or a full-throttle saccharine Eiswein, and yay! Even more minds blown. I probably shouldn’t throw German wine jargon around so flippantly. There are oodles of terms, but today I’m just focusing on Prädikatswein, a category of wine that along with the VDP (dear editor, please note that I need to add the VDP to Riesling topics) designates a higher quality—“prädikat” means distinction, “wein” is wine—you get the point. There are six different levels of Prädikatswein—and knowing what those words on the label mean can you help determine how sweet your bottle is. The levels are: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese. They are designated by must weight, aka how much sweet, sweet sugar is in the juice upon harvest. There are other criteria, but the must weight is the most important, or should I say, the MUST important, factor. The higher the sugar in the juice, the higher the potential alcohol and/or residual sugar levels. I have to warn, these are guidelines of sweetness, not hard and fast rules. Within the first few levels, a winemaker may choose to ferment the wine to dryness. And if they do, you can hope they will append the term “Trocken” to the label. A Trocken wine is dry, even if it is a Spätlese. Actually, any wine you see labeled as Trocken is dry, any you see labeled as “Halbtrocken” is somewhat sweet, and if you see Feinherb, that also means off-dry. There are yet even more terms out there, but like I said…not today, Bacchus. If you DON’T see any of those words, but you so see those aforementioned six, say them with me—Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, Trockenbeerenauslese—then you can use these terms as guidelines. I’ll elaborate some on each, and give some tasty examples to seek out as well as, which is of course very important. I have great taste in wine. KABINETT Kabinett Prädikatswein is required to have a must weight of 70-85 degrees Oechsle. Oechsle is the German scale used to measure sweetness. In the USA we use the Brix scale, in other places they use other things. No, I can’t rattle of the Oechsle to Brix conversion rate any more than I could Fahrenheit to Celsius, and I don’t think you want to either, but once you learn a few numbers, they give you a point of reference, no matter what scale you are using. Kabinetts IN GENERAL will be the lightest of all the Prädikatswein. Pour them as entry level wines to the people who “don’t like sweet wine”. 2019 Hexamer Meddersheimer Altenberg Riesling Kabinett 8.5% abv—drink all night long! Reads as off-dry; there’s just the faintest kiss of sweetness to the lovely hints of petrol and honey on the nose. Bruised apple, citrus, sweet apricot and dare I say a hint of lemongrass? Gulp-able and savor-able. 2019 Weingut Jakob Schneider Niederhauser Riesling Kabinett From the Nahe! Yes oh just the sweetness of off-dry-ness. Apple cider. Apple nectar. Orange blossom and honeysuckle. Those hints of petrol from a youthful Riesling. SPÄTLESE Up we go! To 76-95 degrees Oechsle. The picking usually happens about two weeks after the Kabinett grapes. The fruit flavors will be richer and fuller. The sweetness tends to be higher than a Kabinett, but if you see over 11% abv, it’s likely more of a Trocken. And if it is labeled as a Trocken, then definitely is so. If it walks like a Trocken… sorry. Anyway, in general (always in general), a Spätlese will be sweeter than a Kabinett. 2018 Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese Riesling This definitely veers into medium sweet territory. I’m solidly into the almost-bursting stone fruit category, but also jumping with minerals and the gotta-have-it acidity that lends energy and levity. Finished with candied herbs of many sorts, certainly thyme and lemon thyme and lemon mint (is that a thing? I think so) are in there. AUSLESE Onwards and upwards again! To 83-105 degrees degrees Oechsle! These grapes are super-duper ripe, and may even have a bit of botrytis, aka noble rot, which dries grapes out and adds ethereal notes of marmalade and ginger. In which case they possibly may be labeled not only as Auslese but as “Goldkapsel”. Or not. This is the last in the six Prädikatswein categories that can be fermented until dry. 2020 Dönnhoff Oberhäuser Brücke Auslese Goldkapsel The nose brings me to my knees. Texture is silk stockings rolled down my calves. I sip and l get diffused lens imagery—a happy bee buzzing around all the flowers and fuzzy focus raindrops on flowers. Blurred honey dripping, and it is unctuous, but part of the critical reason to imagine it is raining is the cool freshness overlaying all. Tropical flowers. Bruised herbs bring greenery. Yes, it is sweet, but no one could argue with it. BEERENAUSLESE 110-128 degrees Oechsle! Also, I know the words are getting big, but note that it is merely Auslese with “Beeren” tagged to it. It will possibly include some botrytized notes but no promises. It will be a delight that, um you are gonna pay a pretty penny even for. It makes a wonderful dessert though! 2017 Dr. Loosen Beerenauslese Amazing how refreshing it is, yay high acidity! This wine gives me a magic prickle on the tongue leading into candies nectarine, tropical fruits of all sorts, mango to guava, and then a prickle. An acid prickle. A hint of greens prickle. It is sweet, but I could imagine eating it with a fruit and cheese plate with zero sweet components. Excellent. Others have called it “racy” and I was like omg this IS racy. CONFESSION BREAK I did not get my hands on the last two categories for two reasons: 1) they are hard to find and 2) they are not for the spending faint-of-heart, and when I did track down bottles ,they were, quite frankly, out of my budget. C’est la vie. Please taste for me and report back! EISWEIN 110-128 degrees Oechsle! Also, as you might imagine, made from grapes frozen on the wine that must be picked at -7 degrees Celsius or lower. When the frozen grapes are pressed all the ice stays in the press, and the concentrated juice, rich with sugar and acid, runs out. These wines always feel very pure to me; albeit, I am pretty sure I have only had Icewine. Not Eiswein. Icewine generally comes from Canada. The last one I remember having was actually a Cabernet Franc by Inniskillin that I was lucky enough to try at a trade tasting. That’s neither here nor there seeing as this is a Riesling article, but… TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE 150-154 degrees Oechsle! Also, note that this is a long word, but it is just “Trocken” tagged to Beerenauslese. Which is just “Beeren” tagged to Auslese. But wait! This is the sweetest wine! Why does it start with “Trocken”? I could be mistaken on this but I believe it is because the grapes are frequently quite desiccated, (thank you noble rot) when picked. Trockenbeerenauslese will be very sweet and quite low alcohol, as the sugar levels are so high that fermentation is long and slow and killed off before much alcohol can be produced. LASTLY… That’s that for Prädikatswein! Honestly, I don’t know that I could pick a favorite out of these categories. If forced, I might say Spätlese or Auslese, if I’m looking to drink this with savory food. They have a fullness and richness I love, and the sweetness doesn’t veer into dessert-levels cloying. That being said, I’m aching to try Eiswein. More Riesling chronicles to come. Always and forever. ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ Want to read more from Ellen? Check out her recent articles: Down the TikTok Rabbit Hole: Jalapeño Rosé, Why Not? The Cans of 2022: All That Sparkles Lake Effects: Making New Friends + Keeping the Old Solstice Drinks for All! Goode Work, If You Can Find It The Riesling Chronicles, Part One: Old vs. New You can also listen to Ellen's podcast , The Wine Situation here . Check out her recent transcripts of the Final Five questions: Wine Situation Final Five! Meaghan Odum Wine Situation Final Five! Christopher Ruhland

Dr. Loosen

(BA) Beerenauslese Riesling 2017

Astounding how fresh a wine this sweet can be. And there’s a magic prickle to it that no matter the sugared feel is mitigated through green aromatics and guavas and zing-tastic acidity. — a month ago

Matt, Juan and 12 others liked this

Dönnhoff

Oberhäuser Brücke Auslese Riesling Goldkapsel 2020

Brings me to blurred imagery knees vibrating from bees at honeycomb to flowers blooming in early morning dew. The crisp rich vibe is a game changer — 2 months ago

Matt, Juan and 10 others liked this

Weingut Jakob Schneider

Niederhäuser Kabinett Nahe Riesling 2019

Off dry and energizing the way cold weather sunshine is. — 8 months ago

Serge, Jason and 13 others liked this
Ellen Clifford

Ellen Clifford Influencer Badge Premium Badge

Braising bruised fruit-ing ready to take us into autumn and beyond

Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler

Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spätlese Riesling 2018

Bursting with juicy peaches and cutting with acid and energy — 2 months ago

Matt, Trixie and 7 others liked this

Weingut Hexamer

Meddersheimer Altenberg Kabinett Riesling 2019

Drink it all night long. Just off-dry. Petrol-honey nose. Bruised fruit of all sort palate. Hint of savory herbs. Drink it all night and all day. — 2 months ago

Matt, Trixie and 6 others liked this