All you need to know about German Riesling wine

Aug 18, 2013, 07:29 IST | Dhiman Chattopadhyay

German wines, namely Rieslings, are unique in that unlike French wines, they are classified purely on the basis of the quality of grapes, each year. Dr Ariff Jamal, CEO and wine maker at Markus Molitor, gives us a lowdown on how to recognise a good Riesling

Germans are a stickler for perfection. They like their cars to be technical marvels and anyone who reaches work a minute late is looked down upon. No wonder even their wines have extremely rigid and strict standards when labelling particular varietals. But then again, that is precisely why German Rieslings are synonymous with a luxurious evening!

Dr Ariff Jamal, CEO of Markus Molitor, one of the country’s best-known producers of fine wine, admits that the German wine classification is based on several factors, including region of origin, whether sugar has been added, and the ripeness of the grapes. “This is quite different from the French Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée system. A French Grand Cru Classé will remain as such irrespective of whether it is a mediocre, good or excellent vintage. A German Grand Cru, on the other hand, has to merit its level of quality every year by attaining the required level of Oechsle,” he tells us over lunch at the ITC Grand Central in Mumbai. “Oechsle” he adds, is a nightmare phrase for German winemakers. It is the measure of the density of grape, which is an indication of grape ripeness and sugar content.

Know your Riesling
Jamal says his mission is to make sure wine drinkers know exactly what they are drinking the next time they sip a Riesling.

In simple terms, Riesling classified as QbA must reach 51 Oechsle. A Kabinett, should have 73 Oechsle, Spätlese, which is equivalent to late harvest wines, 80 Oechsle and Auslese which means selective harvest -- 88 Oechsle.

So what’s so “strict” about the classifications? Jamal says if a late harvest wine fails to reach a certain level, it does not automatically get classified as a lower category wine. Instead the wine maker has to put the entire wine back in the casks and start all over again. “You either try again to reach the level or you die. There is no third way in Germany,” he jokes. So now you know what makes a Riesling a perfect companion for a good life this season. 

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