Riesling Wine Rules

An Overview of the German Riesling Wine Classification System

Image Courtesy of Wines of Germany

German Riesling wine labels are notorious for being cumbersome to decipher and can intimidate consumers because they often contain big words, with lots of confusing classification lingo. However, if you take just a few moments to learn the keywords to look for and a few major Riesling regions, you will be declassifying Riesling labels in no time.

The Riesling quality classification starts off with the basic table wine, "Tafelwein" and proceeds to a level 5 designation of "Qualitätsweine it Prädikat" (QmP) - translated to "Quality wine with attributes." This is the quality classification of the featured wine label above.

At this level 5 quality classification, the “ripeness” classification system kicks in to further designate who's who in the world of German Riesling.

The ripeness classification system communicates when the grape was picked, so it's an indicator of initial grape sugar levels not final bottled residual sugar levels. The wines in ascending ripeness level order are as follows:

Kabinett

This is the Riesling classification that is made from the grapes that are the least ripe, producing the lightest style of Riesling wine. They tend to have lower alcohol levels (in the 8-10% range) and are often made in an off-dry style. As a Riesling wine, this is a fantastic option for pairing with a wide range of foods. Consider pairing a dry Kabinett with sushi, shellfish, goat cheese or Thai food.

Spätlese 

Literally translated as “late picking” refers to the Riesling grapes that are picked late during the harvest season.

This Riesling typically has a medium-body and ups the flavor intensity, due to its extra days of sunshine. This Riesling classification can be made in either a dry or sweet style. Consider pairing the drier form with creamy sauces, rich poultry or pork based dishes or crab; keep the sweeter version of Riesling for serving with Asian or Mexican fare – something with a bit of spice.

Auslese 

Translated as “out picked” designating ripe grapes picked out from a specific cluster of berries. This Riesling can also be crafted into either a dry or a sweet version. This is the first Riesling range that may exhibit true dessert wine status. However, many Auslese wines are made in the dry style and make for an elegant pairing partner for heartier fare.

Beerenauslese (BA for short)

This Riesling is made into the luxurious dessert wines that are sought out for their compatibility with a myriad of dessert options but specifically peach-based desserts, caramel delights and even foie gras.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short)

Translated as “dry berry select picking” designates a late harvest, Botrytis picking, where the berries have started to shrivel on the vine, concentrating the sugars). These Trockenbeerenauslese wines are the ultra concentrated, nectar-like dessert wines that can claim quite a price. Give them a go with blue cheese, apple pie, fruit-filled desserts and sweet treats in general.

Eiswein 

These are the famous dessert wines that are harvested from highly concentrated grapes that have actually frozen on the vine and are then pressed to produce a low-yield, high-flavor rich dessert wine.

There are also label residual sugar indicators to keep in mind: if the wine is dry, it is labeled as "Trocken" (dry); "Halbtrocken" (German for "half-dry," meaning "off-dry") and keep in mind that sweeter Rieslings can be made in either Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese or Beernauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) style, it just depends on balance between the acidity, sugar, pH, and alcohol.