The Riesling range
In Australia, we generally expect our Riesling to be 'dry' (with the odd nobly rotten exceptions).
Dryness is a matter of personal perception as most 'dry' wines retain some residual sugar. Acidity plays a vital role in our perception. In Australian Riesling, we regard 6g/l as 'normal'. In Germany, 10g/l is the norm, yet with high quality wines, the acidity does not dominate. In fact the fine acidity in German Riesling is central to their wonderful vibrant vivacity.
In Germany you will find fine Riesling that is definitely dry, through to wines that are exceptionally sweet. Amongst the relatively few German wine drinkers who know and understand the high quality Riesling produced in their country, there are two camps - those who demand that their Riesling be dry, and those who expect some degree of sweetness. A few actually enjoy both!
Dry (trocken) wines became very fashionable in Germany during the 1980s. The English market, with a long history of drinking German wine, detested them, preferring the 'conventional' sweeter (fruity) styles. In England, as in Germany, there are two markets: the dross market where demand for very low prices ensures remarkably low quality sugar water; and the much smaller premium market that demands high quality and is prepared to pay for it.
We must recognise that 'sweet' can encompass everything from off-dry wines described as halbtrocken, through to the breathtakingly sweet (and very expensive) Trockenbeerenauslesen. A fine halbtrocken, can have a quite impressive looking residual sugar content, yet equally impressive acidity can give this fruity wine a quite dry finish. The terms Kabinett, Spdtlese, Auslese et al (see below) are a function of must weight. The level of residual sugar in the wine is determined by the degree of alcohol when fermentation is stopped.
A Mosel Kabinett with 7.5% alc might have 45g/l of residual sugar, and 10g/l of acidity. If on the other hand the sugar is fermented out, you will have a Kabinett trocken with perhaps 10 to 11% alc. A Spatlese trocken will be about 12.50. Some Auslese trocken wines are produced; the minimum 92 Oechsle must weight for an Auslese from the warmer Pfalz or Rheinhessen dictates a minimum 12.5% alcohol. But most well exceed this with some examples exceeding an awesome 14% alc. To my taste, many of these are overtly alcoholic and out of balance. They are however highly regarded by influential American (big is better) wine reviewers. It is in reality a matter of your personal taste and the particular occasion which will determine which wine you will most enjoy.
Historically, many of the greatest and most celebrated German wines (from the Rheingau in particular) were dry. But in the 20th Century there have been many legendary sweet wines - the most remarkable being highly botrytised. As a general rule, the warmer regions like the Pfalz are best known for their dry wines - but can also produce fabulous sweet wines. Marginal regions like the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer most often excel with exquisite sweet wines covering a wide spectrum of sweetness. Balance is the key to quality. Plenty of acidity is the key to the creation of vibrant, exciting wines.
I'm happy to confess that I get passionate about fine bottles of German Riesling, from one end of the spectrum to the other!
First published Winepros Archive, May 2000. Author: Paul de Burgh-Day
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