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Mar 7, 2007 06:55 AM

Riesling Revelation

I had just about given up on German Rieslings, finding them too cloyingly sweet for my liking. I'd always turn to an Alsatian Riesling instead. That is, until yesterday, when I discovered the lush fruity crispiness of a 2003 Weingut Ratzenberger Steeger St.Jost Riesling Kabinett Halbtrocken. For $15, this was a real treat; my first taste elicited a genuine "Wow!." Now I feel like a whole new adventure in German Riesling awaits me.

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  1. Cindy, welcome to the wide(r) world of Rieslings. I know what you mean about German Rieslings often seeming too sweet. Look for the word "Halbtrocken" -- as you have already discovered -- or the word "Trocken" FOLLOWING the ripeness designation (Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese) and the wine will be dry.

    (If "Trocken" appears as a part of the word "Trockenbeerenauslese," the wine will be quite sweet.)

    Also, you may want to check out some Australian and New Zealand Rieslings. Some examples would include Gosset "Polish Hill" and Leeuwin Estate "Art Series," both from Australia, and Lawson's Dry Hills and Isabel Estare, both from NZ.

    4 Replies
    1. re: zin1953

      Thanks! I'll be looking for these on my next wine-shopping excursion.

      1. re: zin1953

        Hey, some of us need a good sweet German Riesling, to counter-act our sour old fart personalities. A couple of my faves: Gunderloch and Lietz.

        1. re: zin1953

          For the longest time I labored under the belief that all rieslings were sweet, then I had a German riesling from Markus Molitor that I loved. The label reads Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Kabinett Riesling, i.e. no "Halbtrocken". What do these words indicate?

          BTW, I've seen several Austrian rieslings showing up in local wine stores. How do these rank?

          1. re: ambrose

            The wine comes from the village of Zelting, from the vineyard area designated as Sonnenuhr (sundial). The top tier German wines are labelled Qualitatswein mit Pradikat, abbreviated QmP. These wines have attained the specified ripeness level (pradikat), come from the named location, are made in the traditional styles, and passes chemical analysis and taste tests. Kabinett is the least sweet of these quality wines, and are my favorites to serve with food. Riesling of course specifies the riesling grape as it is possible to make quality wines in Germany from other grape varietals as well.


          1. ambrose,

            I find Austrian rieslings to be powerful, mineral driven wines that have great fruit and acidity. Of all the world's rieslings, I find them to be the most food-friendly. The best rieslings, IMO, are from the Wachau, from producers like Hirtzberger, Knoll, and Pichler. They, sadly, are also the most expensive. However, terrific value rieslings can be found from Kamptal, from larger producers like Brundlmayer to small producers like Birgitt Eichinger.

            In regards to your question about the Markus Molitor riesling, Zeltinger or Zeltingen is the name of the town, and Sonnenuhr (Sundial) is the vineyard. You might see other rieslings baring the label Wehlener Sonnenuhr. This is because the Sonnenuhr vineyard is a very large vineyard, stretching over two villages (Zeltingen and Wehlen). Kabinett is the ripeness designation from QmP standards (as Zin1953 was explaining earlier). Trocken is totally dry, Halbtrocken is Half dry. Thus, the wines are less sweet, but have higher alcohol. I can tell you from personal experience that most restaurants of the restaurants that I visited in Bernkastel-Kues (the main "town" surrounding Urzig, Wehlen, Zeltingen, and Graach) only serve those styles of riesling. It seems that the locals prefer that style to what we believe to be the "traditionally german" sweet style.

            Hope this helps.

            1 Reply
            1. re: niagara_wine_guy

              Thank you very much. Yes, it helps a lot (but see below).

              Austrian veltliners and rieslings are showing up here (New Jersey), possibly because of a very favorable article in the New York Times a few months ago. Both wines are being promoted as "Asian food friendly" and that helps too.

              As for my Markus Molitor riesling, it is definitely not what I would call sweet but nowhere on the label does it say Trocken or Halbtrocken. How come?

              Finally, I have been on a mission here to find Canadian wines in local liquor stores. The ice wines from the Niagara peninsula are everywhere but after that it's pretty dismal. Did find a very good Okanagan red and some decent whites from the peninsula. Any decent rieslings to look for?

            2. ambrose,

              Some Kabinett rieslings have so much acidity to it that it can make the wine seem dry, although there is some RS in it. It is fresh and easy to drink, but it wouldn't seem as sweet as a Spatlese or Auslese designated riesling, or some of the cloying/less balanced wines being produced under QbA rules (QbA is a lesser quality designation compared to the QmP). Saying that, even some Spatlese's tend to taste slightly dry, because of the acid.

              As for Canadian wines in the US, I'm assuming that it is similar to the situation of Canadian wines for sale in the UK. When I was working over there last year, the only CDA wines available (other than icewine), were from bigger wineries such as Inniskillin and Mission Hill and were very expensive because of the tax mark-ups. Top Canadian rieslings right now are being produced by Cave Spring, Charles Baker/Stratus, Lailey, Thirteenth Street and Flat Rock, amongst others. Of those, I believe only the Cave Spring would be available in the US, as the others are either a.) too new, and/or b.) too small. Saying that, Cave Spring has been the most consistant producer of top quality riesling in Niagara for about a decade, and I rank their CSV riesling (oldest vineyard block) as on par (if not better) with the Eroica riesling from Washington as the top riesling produced on the continent. Obviously, I'm slightly biased, but it really is a world-class. Cave Spring's Semi-dry, Dry, and Reserve rieslings are fantastic buys and all run for less than $18 CDN.

              FYI, the Canadian Consulate in NYC held a tasting of Niagara wines last month. Some of this area's top winemakers made the trip down, and showcased two or three of their top wines. The goal of the trip was not only to make the city's Sommeliers/Wine Buyers more aware of their product, but to also encourage some NYC wine agents to pick up their wines. Perhaps the current situation you're facing won't be as severe in the years to come.

              1. Try a gru-v...aka gruner veltliner...sooo food friendly and so up and coming! Go to and search website ever!