It's already October....what?! The cooler weather begs for one thing: celebrating all the German things. It's Oktoberfest! I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to introduce you to some of my favorite styles of German wines.
I love a Riesling, especially one from Germany because it's expressed so differently throughout the country depending on a combination of soil, temperature, humidity, and even the steepness of the slope it's grown on. The wines can be dry with green fruit flavors, richly sweet with tropical fruit flavors, and anywhere in between. A grape so versatile will always have my attention. Amidst these wonderful wines lies a mysterious code, called Pradikat levels. These levels are categories of sweetness and once you have an understanding of them, they're really helpful when selecting the wine you're craving. The Pradikat levels apply only to wines that fall under the Pradikatswein classification, which designates quality wines from a specific district within each region. Outside of this classification, the terms Trocken and Halbtrocken can appear on the label and translate to "dry" and "off-dry" respectively.
These wines can be dry or off-dry (translation: lightly sweet) and will be light bodied with a high acidity. Kabinett wines typically show green apple and citrus flavors.
The grapes used for Spätlese (Shpot-lay-zuh) wines are picked later than the typical harvest, so the flavors are more concentrated and the sugar levels are higher. The wines will be dry to medium sweet, slightly fuller bodied than a Kabinett wine and will have sweeter and riper notes of fruits like peach and apricot, and citrus fruits.
The grapes used for this level are from bunches of grapes that were hand selected for a particular level of "super-ripeness", if you will. An Auslese (Owzh-lay-zuh) wine can be dry to sweet, although it is the highest Pradikat level that you will find a dry wine. Wines in this category will be fuller bodied and more richly flavored compared to a Spätlese and they should show flavors of ripe stone fruits.
Taking it up a notch, Beerenauslese (Bear-en-owzh-lay-zuh) wines are made from grapes that are individually selected for their ripeness within very ripe bunches, preferably also selected for their development of noble rot. This rot is caused by a fungus called botrytis cinerea which shrivels the skin of the grape, causing water to evaporate. This concentrates the flavor intensity and acidity and contributes a unique flavor of orange marmalade to the wine. Noble rot occurs in very specific conditions with just the right balance of humidity and air circulation so that it doesn't turn into a destructive type of rot. It should come as no surprise that Beerenauslese wines are quite rare due to the low level of production. They're full bodied, sweet, and have ripe fruit flavors balanced by a high acidity.
Eiswein (Ice Wine)
Exactly as you'd think, this wine is made from frozen grapes. The bunches are left on the vine so far past harvest that the temperature drops low enough for the grapes to freeze. They are picked from the vines at night while they are still in their cryogenic state and are brought to the press immediately. As the grapes are pressed, the frozen water element of the grape juice is left behind in the press, leaving the juice very concentrated. These wines are sweet with a high acidity, full bodied, and have very pure fruit flavors.
This is my absolute favorite thing to say in German. Troh-ken-bear-en-owzh-lay-zuh. Rolls off the tongue, no? Wines in this highest Pradikat level are made with grapes that are so nobly rotten that they have essentially shriveled into raisins. These wines are very sweet and have a high acidity and express very ripe fruit flavors accompanied by the notes of orange marmalade provided by botrytis.
I have undertaken the very trying task of tasting a few examples of these wines. The things I do for you, my dear readers ;)
Bollig-Lehnhert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spätlese 2013
Piesport is a highly regarded vineyard area in the Mosel region of Germany. This wine showed flavors of honey, lime, peach, kiwi, pineapple, green apple, and a stoney character. Its balance of acidity and sweetness is really wonderful and makes the wine taste fresh even though it's quite sweet. Nicely done. $17 - $20
Dr. Loosen Erdener Treppchen Riesling Auslese 2011
Also from Mosel, this wine shows rich honey flavor with fruit notes of ripe mango, pineapple, and candied lemon. The rich flavors, medium sweetness, and high acidity of this wine will allow it to age nicely in the bottle. Over time it will begin to develop petrol or smokey notes. Very tasty now, and likely over the next 10 years. $17 - $25 (375ml bottle)
Heinz Eifel Beerenauslese 2009
Some of the finest Beerenauslese in the world are from Rheinhessen. The region is warmer than Mosel and considerably more humid, so it's an ideal region for the development of noble rot. This was actually my first Beerenauslese! It lived up to what I always imagined and it expressed notes of pineapple, honey, and a prominent flavor of orange marmalade brought to you by noble rot. This wine is full bodied with rich flavors and an almost syrupy texture. It's a great dessert wine and well priced considering its rarity. $17 - $24 (375ml bottle)
I also tasted a Blanc de Noir, which is a white wine made with red grapes. The wine is not fermented with its skins, so the red color and tannins are not present and it won't have as much body as its red counterpart. Although unrelated to the Pradikat levels, it's very pertinent to the German subject because Pinot Noir grows with great success in certain regions of Germany.
Paul Anheuser Blanc de Noir Pinot Noir Qualitatswein 2014
This wine is from the Nahe region of Germany. It surprisingly shows a very distinct red fruit character with notes of crushed strawberry, red cherry, raspberry along with lemon, nutmeg, and a gamey aroma. It's juicy and fruity with a moderate acidity and it's fuller bodied than I expected. I really enjoy the surprises that this wine offers, it's delicious! $12 - $19