From Frat Boys to Sugar Daddies: Tasting the German Spectrum
Germany is so much more than Oktoberfest, whether we’re talking beer, wine, or food, but (in my wine-loving opinion) mostly when it comes to wine. They’ve got way more going on than Riesling, but sticking to Riesling alone the diversity is out of control–like the difference between fraternity boys wearing Greek letters doing kegstands and refined moguls with wives 30 years their junior, and everything in between.
I was recently reminded of this awesome, sugar-dominated diversity over lunch with the towering winemaker from S.A. Prüm, a winery in Germany’s Mosel region, and an array of wines from across the spectrum.
Unlike other countries, Germans categorize many of their wines based on the sugar level of the grapes at harvest. Because Germany is a cool growing region, grapes that are allowed to ripen fully and develop high sugar levels are prized for the characteristics they bring to a finished wine (more alcohol potential for you lushes, or the opportunity for super sweet wines).
For most English Speakers, the names aren’t exactly easy to pronounce, or to relate to the taste of the wine unless you’ve been hanging out in Germany. (Luckily, whether or not you pronounce them right, the names are clearly German so any wine shop owner can help.)
The basic Kabinett level of Riesling, while the Frat Boy equivalent, can be downright awesome (who doesn’t love a good keg stand on occasion?). We sampled several, including the S.A. Prüm 2009 Kabinett, which smelled like delicate, early spring flowers and had lovely fruit flavors and great acidity–a reminder of why Riesling is a great food wine. The slight sweetness in Kabinett level Rieslings makes them an easy pairing for all sorts of spicy food, but also delicate seafoods like lobster or scallops.
Moving up the sugar scale, come Spatlese and Auslese Rieslings. These grapes have simply been allowed to develop longer on the vine and thus have more sugar remaining after fermentation. Both levels continue to add complexity and the potential for aging. They’re a great step up from Kabinett wines, without the price tag of fancier Rieslings. (These are the nice guys with decent jobs, and really nice mothers if we’re using the Frat Boy scale).
German “Eiswein” is literally “Ice Wine” in English, and it’s exactly what it seems. On the Frat Boy spectrum, these wines are like wealthy young executives–totally hot, surprisingly sweet, and with great career ahead of them. The grapes are picked and pressed while frozen, leaving a pure, deliciously sugary nectar to ferment. The S.A. Prüm Graacher Himmelreich Eiswein 2004 which we tried was lovely–think of everything great about Riesling (floral aromas, zippy acidity, lovely fruitiness) and put it on steroids.
If the grapes don’t freeze completely, there’s another dessert wine option: Beerenauslese. These grapes get partially eaten by Noble Rot, concentrating their flavors and creating a seductive wine somewhere between said executive and Hugh Heffner (a less insane Brad Pitt perhaps?). The S.A. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Beerenauslese 2001, was my personal favorite of the wines, and an awesome accompaniment to creamy, earthy cheese. Characterized by delicate fruit, honeyed aromas and a luscious mouthfeel it’s a wine you could pretty much live off of.
S.A. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Trockenbeerenauslese 2005, was the ultimate Sugar Daddy of a wine (with a price tag to match). The Riesling grapes that go into wines like this are essentially eaten alive by a type of mold (“Noble Rot”) that concentrates the sugar in the grapes. The finished wines end up with a deep honeyed hue, and a complexity of flavor that’s out of this world. (Think: honey, dried fruits, nuts, raisins, etc.). If you can get your hands on one, they’re a fantastic cheese course wine, or a luscious dessert on their own.
German Rieslings Uncorked:
Laura Loves: German Riesling with home made mac and cheese. (Glorious.)
Fun Facts: Gasoline is a common aroma for aged Riesling to display.
Riesling has been grown in Germany since the 15th century.