Tersina Shieh is a wine expert who promotes wine culture in Greater China. She is a wine consultant, marketer, event organiser, winemaker, food/wine pairing adviser, wine judge and writer, based in Hong Kong. She makes wine, judges and writes about wine, organises wine events and is passionate about wine. She has made wine in England, Portugal, South Africa, China and New Zealand.
Rewriting Wine 101 is a fortnightly Foodie article where we take wine knowledge one step beyond the basics with Tersina, who explains wine in a no-nonsense way and eliminates the barriers that make wine difficult to understand.
Riesling is a difficult grape to understand and appreciate. It has many faces, from sparkling (Sekt from Germany), and dry to sweet made from botrytis noble rot grapes or grapes frozen at -8ºC, and with all kinds of sweetness in between. The common characteristics of all Rieslings are high acidity and relatively low alcohol.
Apart from the sweet noble rot and ice wine Rieslings, where consumers know that the wines are, well, sweet, many people are confused or even put off by the off dry/medium style Rieslings from Germany. I have to confess this is the reason I didn’t go near Riesling when I first explored wine. The trick is, instead of focusing on the sweetness, think about the balance between sweetness, acidity, alcohol and fruit. A well-made medium dry Riesling is not cloying like syrup, but concentrated and fruity with a nicely balanced sweetness set against the acidity. It can go well with a variety of savoury dishes from steamed dumplings (蒸餃子) to Kung Pao chicken (宮保雞丁) and sweet and sour prawns (咕嚕蝦球).
A couple of useful tips on sweetness when you buy German Riesling: Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese are categorised according to the sugar level at the time of harvest. They can all be either dry or medium. You need to interpret this with reference to the alcohol level. For example, a Kabinett with 11% alcohol will be dry while one with 8% alcohol will by semi-dry. Similarly, a dry Spätlese has about 12-13% alcohol and a dry Auslese about 13-13.5%.
Here are a few useful German – English translations to help you read the labels:
- Trocken: Dry. Any wine with this word will have less than 9g/l residual sugar.
- Grosses Gewächs (GG)/Erste Gewächs: Equivalent to Grand Cru. Dry wine from Erste Lage (first growth vineyards) under the VDP classification. Alcohol level usually 12-13.5%.
- Halbtrocken: Off-dry, usually 9-18g/l residual sugar.
- Feinherb: Half-dry, an unregulated designation, usually sweeter than halbtocken, in the range of 12-40g/l residual sugar.
- VPA: the Association of German Quality Wine Estates.
Organised by Wines of Germany, the annual Riesling Weeks, a month long campaign to promote the appreciation of German Riesling, will return to Hong Kong in June, with a kick-off celebration hosted by the German Wine Princess, Katharina Fladung, on 30th May (Monday) at Hotel ICON. Over 120 German wines will be featured with matching tapas. Katharina will also lead a few mini-tastings. Bring your wine loving friends along to enjoy the diversity of Riesling and other German grape varieties.
Tickets available at Ticketflap (early bird until 22nd May).
Exclusive to Foodie’s members: enter the promo code RWFOODIE for further discount!