Ralph Kyte-Powell provides a handy guide to some of the more confounding German riesling terms, so that you can make an informed decision the next time you go Euro at the bottle shop.
“Quality wine.” A wine from a named region of typical personality.
Prädikatswein or Qualitätswein mit Prädikat or QmP
Germany’s best wines are usually Prädikatswein. Made from the ripest grapes, and relying entirely on natural sugar in the fruit, these wines can comprise 60 per cent or more of the total crop in a good year. They are further graded according to the level of natural sugar in the grapes that a wine was made from, not necessarily the wine’s level of perceptible sweetness.
Lighter styles, vibrant with fruit, full of charm, they usually have enough sweetness to be off-dry rather than luscious and sometimes age improbably well.
A later picking than Kabinett, riper and deeper in character. Usually known for some sweetness, but they can be dry. Ageworthy.
Riper than Spätlese, usually sweet, and sometimes with some botrytis influence. Very ageworthy.
Made from very ripe, botrytised grapes. Lush and sweet. Very ageworthy.
Rare, expensive and very sweet, made from very ripe grapes, super-concentrated on the vine by botrytis. Very ageworthy.
Rare wines made from grapes that have been frozen on the vine by the onset of cold weather. Freezing concentrates sugar, flavour and acid components.
Wines of at least Spätlese level from one of the best individual sites as specified by the VDP. Made dry and powerful.
A “Grand Cru” vineyard as specified by the VDP.
Where else in Europe makes rieslings of note?
Germany's neighbours of Austria and eastern France also make rieslings of pedigree. Alsace has a long history with the variety. Here, riesling is made into a style with a decidedly French feel, with its personality more about power than delicacy.
The dry wine is made to go with the richness of the region’s cuisine, not as something to sip on its own in the evening like many German wines. In recent decades, the quality direction followed by Alsace riesling has been at a crossroads. Grand Cru vineyards have been named as a way of identifying better plots of ground and the best dry wines make memorable statements of riesling character. Sweeter wines have been increasing in number, but these strong, sweet wines might miss the boat when it comes to finesse and elegance – surely two of great riesling’s strongest attributes. Alsace riesling can be wonderful, but not always.
In Austria, riesling represents a small proportion of the country’s total wine production, but is considered a noble grape and increasingly commands respect in international riesling circles. Most wine is dry and these rieslings perhaps occupy a middle ground between Germany and Alsace (or perhaps Australia).
Official classifications echo some of the terms used in Germany, but with less of the infuriating complexities. Qualitätswein can be further divided into two categories, Prädikatswein and DAC (Districtus Austriae Controllatus). Prädikatswein is generally broken up into Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese and Trockenbeerenauslese. The DAC gradings aim to connect varietal identity with regionality, and three regional DAC exist for riesling - Kamptal, Kremstal and Traisental. Austrian riesling makes a great voyage of discovery and quality can be superb.
Next article: read Ralph Kyte-Powell's in-depth look at Australian riesling and its Euro counterparts.