The Classifications of Riesling Wine


German Riesling wine labels often have complicated words and lots of hard-to-decipher industry lingo. As a result, they often intimidate customers. But if you take some time to learn what the key words mean and about the major regions where Riesling is produced, you will be reading and understanding the labels before you know it.

First, the basic classification of quality is the table wine, called Tafelwein. The next wine up is a level 5 called “Qualittsweine mit Prdikat” (QmP). This is translated as Quality wine with attributes. The wine label featured above can be found in this classification. At a level 5, you will find the ripeness classification system. This will further describe who’s who in the German Riesling circle.

Next you need to know how ripeness is classified. This is determined by when the grape was picked. Essentially, it indicates what the grape sugar levels were at picking, not what it is in the final bottled wine.

Next there is the classification of Kabinett.  This determination is made from grapes that are the least ripe and will produce a Riesling wine that is very light. At this level, the alcohol levels tend to be lower, usually between 8-10%, and the wine is usually drier. This is a wine that can be paired with many foods and be fantastic. For example, you can have a dry Kabinett with shellfish, goat cheese, sushi or Thai food and be very pleased.

Then there is Spatlese, which can be translated literally as late picking.  This is when the Riesling grapes are picked toward the end of the harvest time. This wine usually has a medium-body and the intensity of the flavor is much higher because it was able to enjoy all the extra sunshine. With this Riesling classification, the wine can be either sweet or dry. It can be paired, when its drier, with rich pork or poultry-based foods or creamy sauces. Pairing it with crab is also great too. Save the sweeter Riesling to serve with Mexican or Asian food, especially something that is spicy.

Riesling wine

Now we come to the Auslese wine. This is translated as �out picked. That means the ripe grapes were picked from specific clusters of berries. This wine can be made in either a sweet or a dry form. This is the first classification that is a real dessert wine. On the other hand, many of the Auslese wines are made to be dry and go very well with heartier food.

Next there is Beerenauslese (BA for short). This is a Riesling that is a sumptuous dessert wine. It is compatible with many different options for dessert. It is especially good with peach-based desserts, caramel concoctions and even with foie gras.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA for short) is translated as a dry berry select picking. This means it is from the late harvest, the Botrytis picking, when the grapes have started to shrivel up on the vine, which concentrates the sugar. Ultra-concentrated, these Trockenbeerenauslese grapes are made into dessert wines that are often very expensive. Try them out with apple pie, blue cheese, fruit-filled desserts and other sweet treats.

Eiswein have gained a great deal of fame as dessert wines. They are made by harvesting grapes that are highly-concentrated and have actually been allowed to freeze on the vine. After being harvested, they are carefully pressed into a high-flavor, low-yield and rich dessert wine.

Finally, there are indicators on the label concerning residual sugar that you should keep in mind. It can be labeled Trocken (dry); Halbtrocken (German for half-dry. That means it is off-dry.) Also remember that the sweeter Rieslings can be made in either the Beernauslese (BA), Spatlese, Kabinett, Auslese and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) styles. Everything is dependent on the balance between the sugar, alcohol, pH and acidity of the grape.