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Happy Birthday Riesling! & how to read a German wine label

March 13, we celebrate Riesling being 586 years old.

One of my first recollections of wine is a Spode bottle filled with somewhat sweet white wine. II now know it was a Riesling, a Liebfraumilch. I wish I had one of those bottles today but…not necessarily the wine inside. My palate has changed over the years.

March 13 is celebrated as Rieslings Birthday. An honorary tribute to a noble grape that is 586 years old. A trade group, The Wines of Germany, declared that March 13, 1435 was the official birthday of Riesling, the date that Riesling was first documented. The documentation was found in a cellar log noting the purchase of six ‘Riesslingen’ vines by Count Katzenelnbogen.

Riesling vine are likely to be native to the German Rhine Valley, and were cared for by Benedictine and Carthusian monks and noble families in the 15th century.

Popularity of the grapes began at the end of the Thirty Years’ War, 1648, when France was given control of Alsace. All the war destroyed vineyards were replanted with Riesling vines. This began a focus on the grape and making great wine. By the late 1800’s, Rieslings from Germany were garnering global recognition and were Germany’s pride and joy. World War I & II again took a toll on the vineyards. Germany chose to focus on production quantity vs. quality of the wine. At this time, mass-produced German wines were distributed world-wide, but were far inferior to the high-quality Rieslings of the 1800’s. Everyone recognized the signature blue or Spode bottles of Liebfraumilch.

In 1996, Riesling regained its’ popularity and once again was the most widely planted variety in Germany. Germany then began producing again quality wine.

Why is Riesling so special?

It is one of the most versatile grapes you can make wine from. A Riesling can be light and delicate with aromas and flavors of green fruit and floral notes; it can be full-bodied with rich stone and citrus flavors; or can be left on the vine to create a late harvest dessert wine. It is considered to reflect the ground it is grown in more than any other variety. Rieslings can be extra sweet or very dry, sparkling, and is a super age-able wine.

The Basics of buying German wines.

Kabinett – Light, dry to off-dry wines with low alcohol.

Spatlese – Late harvest wine. More intense flavor but not necessarily sweet.

Auslese – Hand selected very ripe grapes. Considered a noble wine, intense aromas and taste. Not always sweet.

Beerenaulese (BA) – Berry selected harvest. Rare wine made from overripe grapes. Very rich and a sweet dessert wine.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) – Dry berry selected harvest. The rarest wine individually selected overripe grapes that are almost dried up to raisins on the vine. Rich, sweet, honey-like wine.

Eiswein – Also known as Ice Wine. Made from ripe grapes that have frozen on the vine. The grapes are harvested and pressed while frozen. Very concentrated fruity, acidity and sweet.

Troken means dry in German. If you cannot find information such as Troken on the bottle, look for the alcohol level to help determine sweetness. The higher the alcohol the dryer the wine, therefore less sugar. 10% alcohol will have some sweetness, 11-12% will have some sugar and will be off-dry, 12.5% is dry and will have little if any sweetness to the wine.


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