The evolution of dry German rieslings
German producers have been adapting to market demand – both domestic and export – to drier styles of rieslings of less than 9 grams/liter residual sugar. From about 16% of production in 1985 to about 37% today, dry styles of riesling are definitely in vogue. Of the 20% of high-quality VDP wines exported, 50% are dry styles. One of the more famous regions for dry rieslings is the Rheingau, but historically, many of the warmer, southern regions such as the Pfalz or Baden have the ability to produce balanced, dry rieslings. In the Rheingau, Josef Leitz has come out with a popular dry wine called “Einz, Zwei, Dry” to meet international demand but even his classic “Dragonstone” has evolved from 85 grams/liter residual sugar to 45 grams in ’07 to 35 grams in ’08, per winemaker Johannes Leitz. In the historically cooler Mosel, only 15% of production is dry – the often less ripe, higher acidity grapes require some residual sugar to balance the wines. However, this is changing.
The Mosel has been warming up. In his grandfather’s time, Ernst Loosen said that they might have three ripe vintages in a decade, now they have more good vintages than not. The warmer Pfalz to the south used to achieve 1 – 1/2 degrees greater potential alcohol than the Mosel and an earlier harvest, but now the differential has narrowed. This has allowed Mosel winemakers like Sybille Kuntz to make exclusively dry, full-bodied rieslings. Sybille said that they always achieve Auslese-quality ripeness and since 2003 have not chaptalized (added sugar, a common technique in cool climate regions in the European Union to increase alcohol and body).
These developments bode well for Americans who prefer dry-style wines, but let your retailer know. There are some producers who reserve their dry wines for the domestic German market because there is such strong demand. Others follow what their importers say. When I visited a VDP producer in the Nahe this past spring, my brows peaked a bit when they told us they do not export their lovely dry rieslings because their US importer/distributor told them that Americans like sweet wines. There is certainly room for both.