German Riesling and the Misty Month of November
As the dust settles on the river valley and dewy sediments on the plants, and it begins to get misty in the evenings, most people are looking forward to December - wintertime, the Advent season with candlelight and open fires. But there are a few hardworking people in warm clothes still in the vineyard searching for a few more "Oechsle", says Ariff Jamal. Pictured left: Vines growing on the banks of the Mosel
The German wine classification is based on several factors, including region of origin, the ripeness of the grapes and whether or not sugar has been added. This is quite different from the French Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée system, or the systems in most other countries. In clear terms, a French Grand Cru Classé is and always 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 earn its merit of quality every year by attaining the required level of "Oechsle".
"Oechsle" the nightmare of the German winemaker is the measure of the density of grape must which, in turn, is an indication of grape ripeness and sugar content. 10% Brix is equal to 40° Oe.
The longer the winemaker leaves his grapes on the vines the higher the level of fruit sugar he anticipates and thus the higher the level of the quality of his wine. All this at the price of a higher level of non-attainment and risk of damage and infection to the grapes.
Rieslings from the Mosel are classified as QbA when the must reaches 51 Oechsle. Kabinett, the lightest prädikatswein has 73 Oechsle, Spätlese which translates literally as 'late harvest' - 80 Oechsle, Auslese which means 'selective harvest' - 88 Oechsle, Beerenauslese which means 'selected grapes' - 110 Oechsle, Trockenbeerenauslese which means 'dry berry selection', and refers to the individual grapes which have been shriveled to a dry state by botrytis - 150 Oechsle and, finally, Eiswein, meaning literally 'ice wine'. These wines are made from grapes which have been left on the vine well into winter, and have been frozen prior to picking - 110 Oechsle.
As high quality Mosel Rieslings are made in the vineyard and not in the cellar, the winemaker is opposed to further decisions related to physiological ripeness of the berries, and a higher amount of extracts, as now he has to reflect on the fermentation process and the level of residual sugars which will remain in the finished wines. Dry wines allow for a maximum of 9 g/l. off dries need to be less than 18 g/l and sweet wines broken into two categories "lieblich" below 45 g/l and "süß" above 45 g/l.
November maybe a dusty, misty and sometimes sad, dark and boring month, but also what an exciting month for both winemakers and wine lovers!