German Wines and Differentiating Sweetness

“We just joined your wine club, and so far, so good! We have liked the selec­tions. We do not know a lot about wine, except that we like some and want to learn about the others we have thought we did not like in the past. We do not favor sweet wines. Our son just re­turned from Germany. He was in the ser­vice there. He loved the German beers. We had written him that we joined your wine club, so he brought home a bottle of very special German wine according to his girlfriend’s family. It is labeled Weh­lener Sonnenuhr, Auslese, J.J.Prum. Will it be sweet? How does one know whether it will be sweet?”

– C.A.; El Centro

You lucky people! An auslese by J.J.Prum! It is bound to be good, (if stored well, and from a good year), and yes, it will be on the sweet side.

But hold everything, don’t walk away! There is a time and a place for enjoying that wine. Let me first answer your sec­ond question.

In typical fashion, the Germans have classified their wines very methodically. You can easily and quite reliably classify the quality and sweetness of their wines. Here are the words to look for on the la­bel:

1.)Tafelwien

2.)Qualitatswein

3.)Qualitatswein mit Pradikat

3a.)Kabinett

3b.)Spatlese

3c.)Auslese

3d.)Beerenauslese

3e.)Trockenbeerenauslese

3f.)Eiswein

The classification from No.1 through No.3e is based on the quality of the grape must (juice) at crush and the over­all harvest outcome. The richer the juice, the better the resultant wine, and the ability by the vintner to make the better grades of wine. In the German tradition of wine making, the sweeter and richer the wine, the better grade it is. I must admit that this is a very simplistic expla­nation of the classification, but it will do for our purpose.

Now let us see what these terms mean and represent:

No. 1 is ordinary “table wine”. Good chug-a-lug wine. Slightly sweet, light, often thin.

No. 2 is quality wine, slight sweetness, medium body.

No. 3a. Quality wine of Kabinett grade. Slight sweetness, more body and charac­ter.

No. 3b. Quality wine of Spatlese grade. Some sweetness, more body and flavor attributes.

No. 3c. Quality wine of Auslese grade. Definite sweetness, rich. Made from late harvest grapes.

No. 3d. Quality wine of Beerenauslese grade. Very sweet, made from hand se­lected ripe grapes. Botritized.

No. 3e. Quality wine of Trockenbeere­nauslese grade. Very sweet, rich. Glori­ous! Made from individually picked bunches of botritized raisiny grapes.

No. 3f. Quality wine of Eiswein grade. Sweet, late harvest, gathered when frost has frozen the berries and crushed at once.

These criteria apply to all the grapes they grow in Germany.

So you see, all you have to do is find one of the above terms on the label, and you can identify the level of sweetness of the German wine you are looking at. One more term has cropped into the picture. If you see the following term:

Trocken

on the label, in addition to the other terms, it implies that the vintner has made the appropriate grade of wine in a dry style. So you can expect that wine to be less sweet than the usual (except in the 3d,3e,& 3f, where the sweetness of these is inherently the nature of the grade).

Now, coming to J.J.Prum! It is one of the prestigious estates on the Mosel. I was at their facility in 1974 and enjoyed a wine tasting they conducted for members of the German Wine Academy that year (a one-week long course on German wines, well worth your time if you are in the country. The lectures are in English, and the tastings and field trips are sup­erb).

Try your wine well-chilled on some warm leisurely summer afternoon, as an aperitif wine, with cream cheese canapes and slices of ripe kiwi fruit or peaches!

-P.K.

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