The Riesling grape is considered to be one of the three great grapes in the world, the other two being Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. But because the majority of production is in Germany, whose wines have not achieved much recognition in the UK, these wines are often overlooked. Wrongly so in my opinion.
For a Light Drinker, this is especially an error, as the Riesling grape can naturally produce lower ABV wines, in particular when grown in cooler climates such as northern Germany and New Zealand. Often these wines will have a certain underlying sweetness but, because the Riesling grape is highly acidic, the resulting wines are well balanced, superbly fresh and lively. Some are very dry and others frankly sweet (and to those who like them, delightfully so). If you want to try
In Germany sweetness is considered one of the primary qualities of a wine and good quality wines are actually classified on the Pradikatswein scale according to their residual sugar (RS) levels – see notes below. If you are keen on medium to sweet wines, then you will have a field day with lots of attractive low ABV wines with high RS levels to enjoy. But if you prefer your wine on the dry side, then the choice is more limited, especially if you want low ABV too, as almost invariably a dry wine has low RS, and low RS is only achieved by having converted all the sugars into alcohol. You will find wines labelled Trocken (meaning dry) but I have yet to find one with an ABV under 11%.
So if it is a German dry you want, the word to look for is Kabinett. This is the lowest sugar level classification on the Pradikatswein scale and these wines will be off-dry if not dry.
But the best truly dry and low ABV Riesling I have found is from New Zealand. This is an Adnams own label Southwold Marlborough Riesling made by the wine-wizard John Forrest at The Doctors winery.
There are a growing number of Rieslings being made in many other areas but I recommend that Light Drinkers stick to northern German Mosel wines and a few New Zealand offerings such as those from Central Otago. The other countries, and even the neighbouring Alsace, tend to focus on drier wines with higher ABVs.
Lastly, do persist in your exploration of Rieslings. Their true merits are being increasingly recognised and its stereotype as being invariable over-sweet must be avoided. Rieslings are packed with a huge range of beautiful flavours, often floral or fruity but also deeply mineral, for this is a grape which particularly changes according to the soil in which it is grown, giving great scope for variety. And being high in RS, these are wines that age well and which really reward buying with a lit
tle vintage and a higher price. If you’d like to try something, our two 5-star favourites are:
- the nicely dry Villa Loosen 2020 Riesling, made by the delightful Dr Ernst Loosen, who is THE name to look out for in the world of lower alcohol Rieslings; and
- and the sweeter but more complex Ulrich Langguth Piesporter Günterslay Riesling Auslese 2018.
Notes – the German Wine Classification Systems.
There are three different systems of wine nomenclature to understand – Quality, Dryness and Sugar Level.
Firstly, there is a quality level which rates wines as basic (Landwein or Deutscher Wein) or high quality (Qualitätswein).
Then there is dryness, classified as:
- Trocken or Selection = dry wine with 9 g/l residual sugar or less
- Halbtrocken or Classic or Feinherb = off-dry with up to 12 g/l RS
- Liebliche = sweet wine with up to 45 g/l R
- süß or Süss = very sweet with more than 45 g/l RS
Finally there is sugar level, called Pradikatswein, for wines coming from grapes which had much higher sugar levels (based on careful harvesting techniques). These classifications are:
- Kabinett= dry to off-dry with 148–188 RS g/l RS – these are the most common lower ABV wine sold in the UK, being generally lower priced as easier to harvest
- Spätlese = “late harvest” with 172–209 g/L RS. These wines are rich and usually sweeter than Kabinett but if you see Trocken on the bottle you can assume it’s drier in style but very probably with higher alcohol!
- Auslese= “select harvest” with 191–260 g/l RS – the grapes are hand-selected and have noble rot (caused by being subject to frosts) making them sweeter or bold and high alcohol when labelled Trocken
- Beerenauslese= “berry select harvest” with 260+ g/l RS – the grapes are raisinated noble rot grapes making dessert wines which are invariable high ABV and if called Trockenbeerenauslese are drier but with even higher RS
- Eiswein= “ice wine” with 260+ g/l sugar and made when grapes freeze on the vine and are pressed when frozen (usually in the middle of the night)