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Wine 101: Riesling Ripeness Levels

Recently, at a wine tasting, I had a gentleman ask me about the type of German Riesling we tasted. Unfortunately, for him I did not have an answer. However, I was made aware that German wines are classified according to the ripeness of fruit - the higher the sugar content, the higher the quality of the wine. In a country with lots of bad weather (hail and frost) and challenging conditions (ex. steep, exposed vineyard slopes), it is easy to understand how this system came to be: ripe grapes (at least until global warming) were not easily achieved.

There are six ripeness levels in the German system (Pradikat) - with increasingly hard-to-pronounce names. The first level is Kabinett, which are the lightest and simplest wines. After that are the Spatlese wines (this is the first level of truly ripe grapes; these are sweet with a good acidity). Third, are Auslese wines, made from bunches of grapes left on the vines after the Spatlese grapes have been picked. Then, there are the Beernauslese wines, dessert wines which are made only in great vintages of grapes left even longer on the vine. Also, there are the rare Trockenbeernauslese wines, made from the grapes that are shriveled like raisins from botrytis, the same noble rot that creates the most prestigious dessert wine of France, Sauternes. Finally, the sixth type is Eiswein made from botryised grapes that actually freeze on the vine.

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