The German System
When it comes to wines containing some level of grape sugar, the Germans have a classification that dictates ranges of sugar levels grapes for a specific wine must be picked at, in essence establishing a framework for the ripeness, amount of Bortytis and shrivel / raisoning the fruit should have when picked. The amount of grape sugar left in the wine after it has fermented, is up to the maker.
All of this super detailed information is interesting to know.
At the end of the day the most important thing is whether the wine meets those standard criteria for good wine. During Riesling Down Under it was great to hear winemakers from around the world, all saying they don’t care much for the numbers, they picked their fruit on flavour and made their wines to achieve balance and harmony.
The following is courtesy of Dr Loosen, who sums up German Riesling styles with sweetness beautifully
The Versatility of Riesling
Riesling is one of the few grapes that is capable of producing a complete spectrum of wine styles, from bone dry to lusciously sweet. The key to maintaining top quality throughout this broad range lies in a rigorous selection process. As the harvest progresses, we make daily decisions about each vineyard parcel based on the maturity of the fruit and the prevailing weather conditions. Healthy grapes are painstakingly separated from botrytis-affected fruit, and the various selections are vinified separately.
Classic Wines with Sweetness
Our traditional wines, with residual sweetness, are selected from the harvest according to their ripeness and flavour development. The finest lots from our classified vineyards are bottled with their corresponding single-vineyard name and ripeness (Prädikat) level. For the non-botrytis wines, there are two Prädikat levels, Kabinett and Spätlese.
Beyond the lightly sweet Kabinett and Spätlese bottlings, made without botrytis, there are three Prädikat levels of botrytis-selection wines that get progressively sweeter: Auslese, Beerenauslese [berry selection] and Trockenbeerenauslese [dried berry selection]. In addition, when vintage conditions allow it, we produce Eiswein from grapes that have frozen on the vine.
The picture from Dr Loosen above is a great illustration of the different conditions of grapes at harvest and the styles they are destined to make. You can see the level of Botrytis and shrivel / raisining increasing as we move through the styles from Kabinett to Trockenbeerenauslese. The Botrytis or Noble Rot, imparts wonderful flavours and textures to the wine, and is to be revered like the blue moulds of Rocquefort and the washed rind cheeses of Munster in Alsace, appropriately both cheeses marry beautifully with a glass of Riesling.
Note how the buckets are colour coded according to the end destination of the fruit and how little of the Trockenbeerenauslese is produced. The skill of pickers and willingness to pass through the vineyard several times to ensure all grapes are picked at the optimal time is the key to success.
The freshest style is Kabinett and as you move up the scale you’ll see additional complexity added by botrytis and other winemaking influences in addition to greater levels of sweetness. Each style whether Kabinett or Eiswein being perfect for consumption on different occasions with different foods. The Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese, and, Eiswein being exceptional dessert wines. Kabinett and Spätlese being suited to table wine consumption. The standard line for the German’s being that where the English offer tea to guests in the afternoon the German’s offer Kabinett or Spätlese wines, more akin to a table wine. That said I devoured a Wagner-Stemple Kabinett, with pasta and cheese on a 38°C day in Melbourne, perfection! Auslese sitting on either side depending on the style the estate makes.
From freshest to most developed, botrytised, and, sweetest:
You’ll sometimes see the Riesling scale on the back label indicating the sweetness of the wine.
This intense sorting process at Dr Loosen’s Mosel Vineyards is beautifully articulated by Ernie Loosen from 2min 25sec in the vineyard below.
The Vineyards in the Mosel Valley
Each site has subtle, yet important differences that result in quite distinctive styles of wine. Whether your looking a the vineyards of Wehlener Sonnenuhr – The Sundial of Wehlen, Graacher Himmelreich – The Kingdom of Heaven, or, Bernkasteler Badstube, each has it’s own personality.
You can see just how incredibly steep the vineyards of the Mosel can be and how dominant the slate rock is, often driving the root systems meters into the hillside.
The best vineyards of Germany’s Mosel Valley are incredibly steep, south-facing slopes with mineral-rich slate soil and a favourable position near the river. Excellent drainage and the heat-retaining quality of the rocky slate soil also help to produce fully ripe, concentrated wines. The combination of these elements results in racy, mineral-inflected Rieslings that are fruity, crisp and very refreshing to drink.