Guide to German Riesling
German Riesling is a centuries-old style of wine, but is often misunderstood by the consumer. It’s not all sweet, nor is it all dry, and a decent Riesling does not have to break the bank! To celebrate German Wine Canada’s 31 Days of German Riesling (and their contest to win one of 10 bikes!), we’re giving you an intro to this aromatic wine so you can shop for Riesling with confidence on your next trip to the store.
What is Riesling?
Riesling is an aromatic grape variety that produces wines with pronounced fruity and floral aromas and high acidity. The styles range from dry to sweet, light to full bodied. Grapes that are just-ripe produce wines with flavours of green fruit and citrus. Extra-ripe grapes give flavours of stone fruit and tropical fruit, and sometimes even dry fruit.
As a variety that retains acidity and builds up sugar and flavour slowly, Riesling is suitable for late-harvesting in regions where there are dry, sunny autumn conditions. Riesling’s high natural acidity is suitable for the production of outstanding-quality wines at all sweetness levels, as the high acidity can balance high sweetness levels. The finest Riesling wines can age for years even decades in the bottle, as this high natural acidity preserves the freshness of the wine while it develops complex flavours while aging.
German Riesling Regions
Germany has a predominantly cool climate, with some vineyards lying above 50 degrees north of the equator. Riesling is the most important grape in Germany and is widely planted throughout the country’s wine regions.
Due to the Mosel’s northerly latitude, Rieslings from this area are typically lighter in body than those from more southerly regions. They commonly have medium sweetness to balance very high acidity. The best vineyards are planted on steep south- or south-east-facing slopes on the banks of the Mosel River, where stony soils and sunlight reflected from the river aid grape ripening.
These vineyards are situated on steep, south-facing slopes on the north bank of the Rhine River. These wines are typically drier in the style than Mosel Rieslings and have more body.
Near the French border, this region is protected by mountains to the west and has a dry, sunny climate with a long growing season. It is climatically similar to France’s Alsace region. The wines from Pfalz are typically dry and medium-bodied.
Understanding the labels
Germans love rules, order, classifications and clearly defined structures in which to operate, including in wine. The levels indicated below are a way to differentiate the style of wine in a bottle, based on how ripe the grapes were when they were picked.
German labels can be confusing and unfamiliar, especially if you don’t speak German! But each word tells us a useful fact about what’s in the bottle. Here’s a quick guide of what to look out for on a German wine label:
Landwein: A protected geographic indication (PGI) for German wine. They are typically light-bodied and dry to off-dry in style.
Qualitätswein: A protected designation of origin (PGO) that must come from one of 13 designated wine regions in Germany. It must achieve a higher level of grape ripeness than is required for Landwein. They are typically more intense in flavour and fuller in body, a touch off dry and very good value for the money.
Prädikatswein: A higher level of sugar is required in these grapes than in Qualitätswein. The grapes must come from a single region. There are six Prädikat categories, classified in order of the sugar levels required in the grapes at the time of harvest. The consumer can use these categories to determine the sweetness of a wine, but where there’s ambiguity, the producer can use other terms to indicate sweetness levels.
Kabinett: A step above QbA, and the lightest and most delicate Prädikat category. They must be slightly riper but are light in body; usually slightly sweet (but generally balanced by great acidity), though some are very dry. Flavours of green apple, lime and floral blossoms.
Spätlese: “Late harvest”, as the berries ripen longer than Kabinett. The wines are fuller bodied and more complex, usually with more sweetness, but can be dry. Flavours of lemon, lime and peach.
Auslese: These wines are made from carefully selected extra-ripe bunches. Flavours of apricot, mango and dried fruits. Although Auslese wines can be made in a dry style, most have some sweetness. Benefits from some cellar time and can age for many decades. Pair with rich or spicy foods or enjoy on its own.
Eiswein: literally “ice wine”; made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine.
BA/Beerenauslese: Selected berries from the best bunches, often infected with noble rot/botrytis. Very rich and sweet, but with lots of balanced acidity. Ages for a very long time. Characteristics of apricot, mango, dried fruit and honey.
TBA/Trockenbeerenauslese: Dry berries from special bunches - individual berries that have been “dried” through the effect of botrytis. Even more rare, rich, complex and decadent than BA, but with similar flavour characteristics. A real treat!
GG /Grosses Gewächs: Top German wines, must be made dry. They will reward you with tension and minerality, now and for decades to come.
Trocken: Dry wine (no perceptible sweetness).
Halbtrocken: Wine with some sweetness (literally translated as ‘half-dry’).
Feinherb: Half dry: just a little sweeter than Halbtrocken, but also light and fresh.
Now you’re ready to try some German Riesling!
It’s important to note that you don't have to break the bank to enjoy dry German Riesling. These wines are zippy, fresh, light, mineral and ready to be quaffed anytime, anywhere. The sweeter wines can be more expensive due to being expensive to make, but are certainly a rewarding treat.
City Cellars has a great selection of German Riesling, which will help you enter the contest run by German Wine Canada!
For the month of July, you enter the contest by doing the following:
1 – Post a photo of yourself enjoying a bottle of German wine on Instagram
2 – Tag @germanwinecanada with #31daysofgermanriesling
Happy drinking - Prost!