The Sweet Side of Riesling

I’m doing a two part post on Riesling which will cover how to not only identify which are the sweet Rieslings, but how sweet they actually are.  The other part will cover dry Riesling and how to identify them.

Riesling ranges from the very dry styles from the Alsace region of France and Alto-Adige region of Italy to the syrupy sweet dessert style of Trockenbeerenauslese wines from Germany.  Trockenbeeren-who’s- a-what?   I’ll get to that soon.

Many people here in the states are under the assumption that all Riesling is sweet or off-dry.  German Riesling for the most part is all we knew here and Germany generally makes the sweeter variety(although that’s changing).  What I want to show you is how to know how sweet your Riesling will be.

Riesling really made it on to the U.S. wine drinking scene over the past seven or eight years and became the “fad wine” of Sommeliers for a spell.  The truth is, Riesling is probably one of the most underestimated wines in the world and one of the best food pairing white wines.

In German Wine Law, QmP(a very long acronym) is the designation given to “superior” quality wines and must adhere to certain tiers or levels from dry to sweet.  These words or designations are on every bottle of QmP level German wine will help you to know how sweet it’s going to be.

There are five but sometimes considered six levels of QmP starting from driest to sweetest, Kabinett being the driest and Trockenbeerenauslese being the sweetest.  Eiswein is sometimes considered more of a style of Trocken rather than a level.


  • Kabinett(cabinet):  This would be the driest level, though not necessarily completely dry.
  • Spatlese (shpate-lay-seh):  Spatlese is the second driest on the scale and tends to be off-dry to medium-dry.
  • Auslese (ouse-lay-seh):  Auslese is generally medium-dry to medim-sweet
  • Beerenauslese (bear – en – ouse – lay – seh):  This is medium-sweet to sweet; generally dessert style.
  • Eiswein (Ice wine):  Eiswein(Icewine) is a dessert style that’s not necessarily one of the levels, but part of the trockenbeerenauslese style.  Syrupy sweet dessert Riesling.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese. (trock – en – bear – en – ouse – lay – she)  Syrupy sweet dessert Riesling

The one thing to keep in mind is that these levels are based on the sugar levels or ripeness of the grape when harvested not the final sweetness level of the wine.  No matter how ripe the grape, the wine can be vinified dry making sure all sugars are converted to alcohol.  Therefore while Kabinett is technically the driest, the final product could be sweeter than Spatlese.  Overall, the pyramid is pretty accurate accurate.

One other thing to look for on a German wine label or Riesling labels in general is the percentage of residual sugar.  Not all Riesling labels will show this percentage, but if it’s there it can be useful.  Anything over 5% will be medium-dry to sweet.

Yours Truly,

-The Modern Somm


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