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Sunday, September 21, 2008

German wines

Some of my favorite wines are from Germany. I love Rieslings, Spätleses and Ausleses. Of course the question that always arises is “What’s the difference?” Since I’m going to review a Hirschbach & Söhne Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Spätlese classified as a Qualitätswein mit Prädikat, I thought it might be a good idea to give a little background on the wines to Germany along with the review. German wines are produced according to a quality scale based on the ripeness of the grapes at harvest time. In general, riper grapes produce richer, more complex wines. So, here goes:

Qualitätswein/QbA. [kval-ee-TAYTS-vine] German for “quality wine.” QbA is an acronym for Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete, which means a quality wine that comes entirely from one of the 13 designated wine regions in Germany. This is an estate’s basic wine and can often be a very good value, especially from top-rated producers. Chaptalization (adding sugar to improve ripeness) is allowed in QbA.

Qualitätswein mit Prädikat/QmP. The word Prädikat [PRAY-dee-cot] literally is the grammatical term, “predicate.” Prädikat wines are “predicated” on a certain level of quality, of which there are six: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese. These are the finest of German wines. No chaptalization is allowed.

Kabinett. This is typically the lightest and most delicate style that an estate will produce. Kabinett is made from normally ripe grapes picked early in the harvest. In a region like the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Kabinett will be quite light and delicate, with just seven to eight percent alcohol. These wines tend to be light and fruity. They are great everyday wines.

Spätlese. [SHPAYT-lay-zuh] German for “late-harvest.” Spätlese has more richness and body than Kabinett because the grapes are allowed to ripen for an extra week or more. Once harvested, the wine can be fermented fruity (lieblich), half-dry (halbtrocken) or dry (trocken), depending on the preferences of the winemaker. Most are a bit sweeter than the Kabinetts. They also have a higher alcohol content.

Auslese. [OWS-lay-zuh] Auslese means “selected from the harvest.” This is the Prädikat level for overripe, late-harvested grapes that are selected cluster by cluster. Often made in the fruity style with residual sweetness, Auslese is considered by most winemakers to be their finest achievement (aside from the rare dessert wines). The sweetness comes from allowing a mold, the botyris, to grow on the grapes. The grapes begin to shrivel and the sugar content is more concentrated. Top winemakers often make several Auslese from different selections based on botrytis levels. In this case, the wines are distinguished by AP Number, by gold and long gold capsules or by stars after the vineyard name, depending on the winemaker's preference.

Beerenauslese/BA. [BEAR-en-ows-lay-zuh] Beerenauslese means “berry selection.” Beerenauslese is a rare dessert wine made from extremely overripe grapes that are fully shriveled by the botrytis mold. The grapes are selected one berry at a time. It’s a tedious process and results in a magnificent dessert wine, very sweet and $$$!

Eiswein. [ICE-vine] Quite literally, ice wine. One of the rare dessert wines, made from overripe grapes that have frozen solid on the vine. They are harvested and pressed while still frozen, so that only concentrated grape juice is extracted. Most of the water stays in the press as ice, so the resulting wine is very concentrated.

Trockenbeerenauslese/TBA. [TRAW-ken BEAR-en OWS-lay-zuh] Germany’s greatest and rarest dessert wine. Trocken (dry) here refers to the individually selected berries, which have been completely shriveled by the botrytis mold. It does not refer to the taste of the wine, which is quite the opposite of trocken. They are very sweet and rich. You should have them with a selection of cheeses or alone as they are extremely filling.

So, tonights wine is a Hirschbach & Söhne Piesporter Michelsberg Riesling Spätlese classified as a Qualitätswein mit Prädikat. From the information above, you should be able to recognize that it's a high quality with a fair amount of richness and complexity. This wine has a bouquet filled with apple and honey. In the mouth it has ripe floral, apricot, and citrus flavors overlayered with a slight honey taste. Not overly sweet but very fruity with a bit of minerality to it. Nice wine.

So, until next time,


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