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Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Noble Writ Climbs the First Rung on the Riesling Ladder

Posted By on Tue, Jan 26, 2010 at 11:00 AM

This week we continue our exploration of German riesling. I have a particular passion for the grape, the subject of either misunderstanding or outright dismissal by most people interested in wine.

click to enlarge A vineyard growing Mosel riesling - USER "SIEGO," WIKIMEDIA COMMONS
Germany enacted a comprehensive (if probably wrong-headed) wine law in 1971. That statute created several levels of wine quality with separate requirements: geographic, minimum alcohol, added sugar, etc. The one of most interest to geeks is the qualitätswein mit prädikat (QmP) designation.

(As of the 2007 vintage, this cumbersome term has been replaced with the ever-so-catchy term, Prädikatswein. Gotta love those Germans.)

QmP recognizes six categories of wine: kabinett, spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese, trockenbeerenauslese and eiswein. The first two of these are table wines, while auslese runs the gamut from table wine to dessert wine, depending on the producer and the vintage. The other categories are strictly dessert wines. Unlike lesser wines, no sugar can legally be added to any of the QmP wines.

The law provides for minimum ripeness requirements that increase as one moves up the sweetness ladder, but these have become largely moot. Most kabinetts today are legally ripe enough to be labeled as auslese. Instead, the three basic categories of kabinett, spätlese and auslese have become merely relative indicators of style within a particular producers profile. Today, we tackle kabinett.

The term kabinett derives literally from the German term for a place to store wine. A kabinett was originally just a wine the producer thought worth aging. These days, a kabinett will generally be the driest (least sweet) wine in a producer's line-up. Some producers make halbtrocken (half dry) or trocken (dry) versions of kabinett that are drier than ordinary kabinetts. We'll deal with trocken German wines in another column, as they really are very different wines than the traditional German style we're discussing here.

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