German Slatestone Riesling

Hello Everyone,

If you’re in Little Rock, our next Little Rock Dine Around Series dinner will be Aug. 11 at Capi’s, 11525 Cantrell Road. The wines will be from the northern California regions of Lake County and nearby Napa Valley. Go to to see the menu and reserve your seat.

Try a new wine this week!


German Slatestone Riesling

In my two and a half decades of teaching wine classes, nothing surprised more students than their first German wine. Almost invariably, what surprised them was how much they liked it.

German wines are unique among the world’s wines, in large part because their vineyards are the farthest north of any major wine region. The cool climate is ideal for their best grape — Riesling — with which they excel like no other country.

German Rieslings, particularly those from the coolest areas, have an elegance of style and a crisp, tart “green apple” acidity that makes them different from any other wine. Typically they are low in alcohol. Most are white.

Most German wine regions lie near the Rhine River or one of its tributaries, the most important of which is the Mosel River. It is traditional that wines from regions along the Rhine (Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Rheinpfalz and others) be bottled in brown bottles. Each region has its own style within a style, the main difference coming from the soil. Wines from regions along the Rhine River differ from each other, particularly noticeable by individual yet nuanced soil notes in the nose and on the finish, and they all differ quite a lot from wines made along the Mosel River and its tributaries, the Saar and the Ruwer (all bottled traditionally in green bottles). The unique slate soil of the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer gives those wines a racy, almost spicy finish.

You may have heard that German wines are sweet. Many of them are, but dry wines are popular in Germany, too. While the best wines have maybe too much label information for most consumers, it’s possible to tell where the grapes were grown, how ripe they were at harvest, and sometimes even the sweetness or dryness of the finished product. There’s a list of these terms at the end for those of you who might want it for reference. Many German producers today work hard at making the label information more consumer friendly.

A German Riesling in a dry or off-dry style makes a great aperitif, and pairs well with many foods. In the best ones, the sugar is balanced by that tart, apply acidity in a way that even dry wine lovers seem to enjoy. They’re great with mild cheeses, fruits and lighter seafood dishes. I especially like them with boiled shrimp and roast chicken. Many people like them with Asian dishes.

German wines are fun to try with different styles of foods, and if you experiment you might find unlikely combinations that work. You’re working with sugar, acid and soil flavors, and that opens a lot of possibilities.

These days there are fewer single vineyard German wines around than in some years past, but I think the overall level of quality is good. For a typical German Mosel, will show you German’s unique style, and the Mosel’s slate soil component. It’s available in both a dry and a slightly sweet style, clearly indicated on the label. Try the sweeter one with spicy dishes. They retail locally for about $15.

Some German Wine Terms

The main categories of German wines are based upon the ripeness of the grapes, as indicated by the sweetness of the juice before fermentation. Some wines are made from less ripe grapes to which sugar is added prior to fermentation (“chaptalization”). These wines will be labeled “Qualitatswein” (“Quality Wine”), called QbA’s. Other wines are made with only naturally occurring grape sugar. They are labeled “Qualitatswein mit Pradikat” (“Quality Wine with Special Attributes”), called QmP’s.

There are sub-designations within the QmP, as some grapes barely have enough natural sugar while others have much more, usually because they are harvested later in the fall. The levels include: Kabinett (driest), Spatlese, (“late harvest” a little sweeter), Auslese (“selected gathering”), Beerenauslese (BA) and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). The last two are quite sweet and nectar-like. Sometimes grapes are left on the vine until cold weather “soft freezes” them. Removing the ice crystals concentrates the juice, and the wine will be labeled “Eiswein” (“Ice Wine”). Its ripeness level is equal to a Beerenauslese.

Some wines are fermented to quite dry levels, and will be labeled either Trocken (“dry”), or Halbtrocken (“half-dry,” though they often taste quite dry). These designations reflect sugar levels of the finished wine after fermentation.

Categories: Legacy Archive