Mention Riesling to most wine drinkers, and they'll think Germany, or South Africa, and if they're savvy, Washington state. Riesling made its initial reputation in Germany, and moved from there to South Africa and Washington, among other places. But the nomenclature for those of us who are not native German speakers can be more than a little confusing. Add to that the fact that some label conventions, like "Johannesburg Riesling" have been discontinued for reasons of appellation appropriation and legality. The German labeling system is carefully explained here, but in broad terms it groups Rieslings by how much sugar the wines contain; that's all well and good. But while the terms are used on German made and bottled wines, they are rarely explained, even in German, and not at all in English. We're talking labels like:
- Kabinett, for light dry wines.
- Spätlese, which ranges from dry to sweet.
- Beerenauslese for sweet, darker colored dessert wines made from hand-selected grapes affected by the Botrytis mold, making them extremely dense and sweet.
- Auslese, wines made from very specific harvests, and hand-selected grapes bearing Botrytis.
- Trockenbeerenauslese, quite rare and made from individually selected berries allowed to dry on the vine; these wines are rare and sweet and as dense in color and flavor as honey.
- Eiswein, made from grapes that have frozen on the vine, and are picked and processed in that state, making a sweet dessert wine.
Often, the wine label doesn't even bear the entire German word, but uses an abbreviation, following the geographic apellation, like BA for Beerenauslese. And there's more; these terms refer to the wine style; there's an additional label, and sometimes even a number, to indicate how much sugar remains in the wine; a dry Riesling will be labeled "Trocken," an off-dry wine "Halbtrocken," (German for "half-dry," meaning "off-dry"), etc. It's quite complicated. This is, understandably, a little confusing for Americans, particularly buying American Rieslings from Washington and Oregon.
Washington's Pacific Rim winery, which produces about eleven Riesling varieties, including dry, sweet, sparking, organic and biodynamic, created a graphic it's been putting on the back of their "core" rieslings, the Pacific Rim Dry Riesling, the Riesling, and the Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling. It's a nifty graphic; you can see it in the image at the top. The International Riesling Foundation liked the Pacific Rim so much, that they've proposed the graphic be used on Rieslings from other wineries.