Secrets of the magic kabinett

David Williams
Photograph: Jorg Greuel/Getty Images

Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany 2016 (£11, Co-op) The labels of white wines made from riesling in Germany’s beautiful Mosel Valley can sometimes feel like they’re playing a trick on you. I’m not talking about the multi-syllabic names, inscrutably, tongue-twistingly prolix to a non-German speaker. It’s more the indicated alcohol content, and the gap between what the label says and how the wine tastes. Take, for example, the latest vintage of Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt’s delightful riesling, which you can find in around 200 Co-ops. The label says 9% abv, which might lead you to expect something weak and watery, given almost every other white on the shelf has more than 12%. But the wine itself, graceful and elegant, is full of flavour, of pear and peach, blossom and lemon zestiness, and has some weight too. A delicious puzzle.

Weingut von Hövel Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany 2017 (£18, Wine Society) Low alcohol with full flavour is a hallmark of the classic kabinett style. The term refers to the amount of sugar in the grapes when they’re harvested, part of a uniquely Germanic method of classifying wines by the density of grape juice before it’s fermented. Kabinett is the lightest style; then in ascending levels of sugar, spätlese, auslese, beerenauslese and trockenbeerenauslese. Confusingly, a spätlese will not always taste sweeter than a kabinett: a winemaker may ferment all the sugar into alcohol to make a dry wine with a higher abv. Much as I love many modern dry German rieslings, there’s something especially appealing at this time of year about gently sweet kabinetts such as Von Hövel’s (8%), with its interplay of pure sweet pear and dancing acidity.

JJ Prüm Riesling Kabinett, Mosel, Germany 2015 (£25, Forest Wines; Howard Ripley Wines) The Mosel Valley may be one of the world’s most beautiful wine regions. But all those picturesque terraced vineyards rising up from the meandering river also makes it one of the hardest to work as a producer. Whether you’re harvesting or pruning, it’s backbreaking on a gradient of more than 30 degrees (and over 60 degrees in a few sites). Producers, often small family firms, aren’t helped by having their vineyard holdings split over various sites, or by their habit of making so many different wines from them. A Mosel producer may make dozens of single-vineyard wines each year – and each site may yield a kabinett, a spätlese, etc. Confusing, but also manna from heaven for wine collectors, with the wines of the great JJ Prüm estate – known for their lacy, racy filigree charm – justly among the region’s most coveted.

Follow David on Twitter @Daveydaibach