Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
What’s the deal with sweetness levels in Riesling, like spätlese and beerenauslese? Is it measuring residual sugar or botrytis?
—Chris E., Orlando, Fla.
Neither. The German “Prädikatswein” classification that you’re referring to isn’t a measure of the sweetness in a bottled wine, but of the must weight, which indicates the amount of sugar in the grapes at the time of harvest. You can also think of must weight as a measure of potential alcohol, should all the sugar ferment. In ascending order, the list of must weights go like this: kabinett, spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese (or TBA for short).
There’s also eiswein, a type of dessert wine made from grapes left to freeze on the vine, which is sometimes inserted into this group between beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese because of its must weight.
Since winemakers can harvest at one prädikat level and ferment it down to a drier level, keep in mind that the final impression of sweetness of a bottled wine might not exactly correspond to this same scale.
As far as botrytis, or “noble rot,” is concerned, the amount you’ll find in a Riesling depends on the vintage, but you’ll probably notice it most starting at the beerenauslese level. The botrytis will offer rich notes of honey and spice—but botrytis also increases the proportion of natural acidity, so the wines should still be balanced.
Do you have a question for Dr. Vinny? Ask it here...
Learn to taste wine like a pro, pull a cork with flair, get great wine service in a restaurant and more
Learn from the experts and get the most out of each sip. Take one of our online courses or take them all—from the ABCs of Tasting to in-depth seminars on Food Pairing, California Cabernet, Bordeaux, Tuscany, Sensory Evaluation and more.
Sips & Tips | Wine & Healthy Living
Video Theater | Collecting & Auctions