While I was teaching a wine class today, some interesting misconceptions about German wine came up. All in the group were familiar with the terms Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese. They thought these terms reflected the sweetness of the wine, Auslese being the sweetest. Not always, I explained. These terms refer to the time of harvest. Kabinett wines are made from normally ripe grapes; Spatlese literally means “late harvest”; grapes picked about 7 days after the normal harvest (Kabinett). Auslese means that the grapes were selectively picked out from particularly ripe bunches.
When the winemaker uses grapes from any of these harvests, he ferments them dry, and then decides what sweetness level he wants, by adding unfermented grape juice. (This adds the desired sweetness and lowers the alcohol.) If the winemaker wants to make a half-dry Kabinett, Spatlese, or Auslese , he may have no more than 18 grams of residual sugar per litre. This would be labeled SPATLESE HALBTROCKEN, and this wine would only have a very light sweetness. If the winemaker decides to make an even drier style of Spatlese he may have no more than 9 grams of residual sugar per litre. This wine would be labeled SPATLESE TROCKEN. There would be no perceptible sweetness to this wine.
Moral to the story?……Read your wine labels. Don’t buy a German Riesling Spatlese, expecting it to be a succulently sweet wine, only to discover after opening it that the label says TROCKEN!
..Marie, West Coast/Northwest Florida Wine Supervisor