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November 04, 2009


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Great Article Evan!

Here a little additional information on my end:

A) Based on the German Wine Law we can add sugar to the juice as long as the later wine would be sold as either Tafelwein (the lowest of the quality categories) or Qualitaetswein (our every day quality wine, mostly bottled in 1.0 ltr. bottles). And even then we can't raise the alcohol past 11.5% for Tafelwein and 12.0% for Qualitaetswein. All other categories starting with Kabinett, Spaetlese....up to the TBA's, would be not allowed to be treated with sugar in order to raise the alcohol. After fermentation it is strictly forbitten to add sugar in any case.

B) The correction of acid with Calcium Carbonate or Potassium Bi-Carbonate is especially at the Mosel not so common. In some other regions like Franconia or Wuerttemberg I have seen it on many occasions.

Mr. Pruem from S.A. Pruem told me the other day that they did not correct any acid this way in more then 40 years and that most of the other Mosel wineries wouldn't do so either.

Evan, as you talked to producers about the ABV issue, did any of them have any specific "proof" (using the term loosely here) that consumers want or expected ABV to be in the 12-13 range?

I'd be curious to see examples of that because I know that I never even look at the ABV before I buy a wine. There is a long list of things I care about far more. In fact, I'm not sure that I care about ABV on the label at all. You can't know, from looking at the label, if that ABV is going to be balanced anyway, so why does it matter?

My gut reaction as to why FL and German rieslings differ so much in alcohol is that arrested fermentation is far more common in Germany.

Adding sugar before bottling to balance the wine's acid (thus letting natural sugars all go to alc.) is easier than stopping a fermentation at that exact balance you're looking for.

I have no idea of who is or who isn't arresting ferments in the FL, and that's because I rarely read it on a label or on a tasting menu. I'm sure many are, but I don't hear much about it.

Bring on the lower alcohol riesling! Keep prices down/competitive, keep alcohol manageable and watch per capita consumption rise. I tend to have Monday-Thursday wines that are often lower in alcohol and come from Austria (Gruner) and Germany (Riesling). I save the big wines (CDP, Cote Rotie) for the weekends.

I'm very glad to see this conversation taking place and I think finding our "natural" identity as a region is an important first step in trying to compete outside of NY.

Lenn - I thought it might be a stigma after speaking to several producers. I kept hearing, "Well, the market might not take wines as seriously if they're single-digit ABV." Then I would ask, "Do you believe that?" And invariably the answer would be, "No, I don't. I just think other people might."

So it turns out that this stigma doesn't exist, even though some suspect that it does. Nothing to fear, in other words. Consumers will drink good wine. The question surrounding ABV should be solely about what's best for that particular vintage.

The very fact that the dialogue is taking place means great things for the future of FLX Rieslings, I think.

"Adding sugar before bottling to balance the wine's acid (thus letting natural sugars all go to alc.) is easier than stopping a fermentation at that exact balance you're looking for."

Bryan brings up a really good point of differentiation in that arresting the fermentation leaves fructose and glucose behind, while added sugar at the end is typically sucrose, which have a very different mouth-feels, and I think it is assumed that the "natural" sugars would be preferred.

Jim, can you describe the difference in mouthfeel?

I would have to decribe a wine with natural sugars as having a "fruit-sweet" character - that is rich, plump, round, pure, long and certainly complex. Like a very ripe peach.

"Sugar-sweet" is thinner for sure - it touches the sugar receptors on the tongue, but doesn't give an impression of any complex fruit in particular.

A crude example might be honey in your tea, and plain sugar in your tea - is that fair?

Jim - Very interesting stuff regarding sugars and mouthfeel. I'd love to hear some winemakers weigh in with their thoughts on this subject.

Science editor here, arriving late as usual... This could be an entire post on its own, but here we go.

Back-sweetening vs. RS:

Grapes naturally contain mostly glucose and fructose. Yeast are glucophilic, i.e., they prefer to eat glucose. So residual sugar at the end of fermentation will be mostly fructose (in fact, one sign of a stuck fermentation is fructose/glucose imbalance), while back-sweetened sugar would likely be sucrose.

Fructose is sweeter, gram for gram, than sucrose, so wines whose fermentation is arrested with the same RS in g/L (holding all other things constant) would be sweeter than back-sweetened wines, which would likely lead to lower perceived acidity. I have also found a difference (blind, triangle test) in Sprite sweetened with high-fructose corn syrup vs. sugar (even though HFCS55 and sucrose are about the same sweetness). I'm not going to even get into that debate, just noting that I found a difference (I preferred the HFCS, for the record.)

Re: sugar to alcohol conversion
The factors that affect that are not well-defined, but Bob is right in that they vary by strain. Fred, I know, uses spontaneous fermentation, but natural yeast doesn't necessarily guarantee a less efficient Brix->alcohol conversion. In fact, if I had to guesss, it might be more efficient since spontaneous fermentations might build up less biomass (i.e., use glucose for something other than alcohol production) than commercial yeasts, whose biomass builds up pretty quickly. Sugar added during chaptalization is quickly converted into glucose and fructose (50/50) by invertase in yeast, which may slightly alter the natural grape balance of fruc/gluc.

One thing that wasn't mentioned was the German technique of Süssreserve (Süßreserve, to Johannes). They add back sterile, unfermented must, resulting in lower alcohol and a juicy quality, along with the fructose/glucose blend of sugars. Your wine, of course, would still need to be absolutely free of yeast (and/or have sorbate added) to prevent explosions. Most are filtered anyway, so that's not a big problem.

That reminds me: one VERY important thing to consider is microbial stability. Alcohol is one of a few factors in wine that protects it from the growth of spoilage organisms. Sulfites are another. I have personally found that many German rieslings have HUGE SO2, likely to ensure the stability of the wine in the absence of high alcohol.

Then there is the contribution of alcohol to mouthfeel, (which is actually moderate compared to the contribution of residual sugar...). Sugar and alcohol contribute to perceived viscosity and density, and alcohol's effect is especially seen in the low range (single digits). (http://www3.interscience.wiley.com/journal/118736684/abstract) Incidentally, glycerol does pretty much nothing for wine mouthfeel.

I think that's all I've got... for now.

oh one more thing, re: labeling.

ABV on the label can be +/- 1.5%, so something labeled 10.5 can be anywhere from 9% to 12%.

Many of the better German producers use spontaneous fermentation. I know for sure Prum does. My own experience with native yeast is that there can be an even greater sugar-alcohol conversion than with commerical yeast. I've seen musts with sugars as low as 20 ferment to almost 13% alcohol. I'd be interested to hear if other winemakers are seeing this.
The use of süssreserve has more or less gone out of fashion with quality producers - most will arrest fermentation through refrigeration and filtration. There are also other "intangible" elements that will remain in an arrested fermentation as opposed to other methods of sweetening that lead to enhanced mouthfeel.


FWIW, it's not always fear of public reaction that keeps winemakers from doing this sort of thing. I've wanted to do a lower alcohol, maybe higher sugar Riesling for a while, but I've already got 5 Riesling wines, and 22 wines overall, so another wine doesn't really seem like a good idea. I suppose I could modify one of the current Rieslings , , ,


Did we find out a general percentage of FL rieslings that arrest fermentation vs. back sweeten?

Tom - Great stuff. Perhaps we need to find a way to do some triangle tests for mouthfeel. This entire post might have been better handled by the Science Editor!

Bryan - That would essentially require a winery-by-winery survey. We can try it, but for now we don't know.


I bet it's about 90-95% back-sweetened. Probably because it's so much easier.

A very interesting thread. I've always thought of the dry FL rieslings as being more like Alsace (or maybe Austrian) versions than German. The Alsace wines are bigger boned wines and tend to run around 12% (they can also have 1-2% RS, which is also common in the FL).

On the natural yeast fermentations: it seems like the old world wines that use this tend to have lower alcohol than similar producers using cultured yeast. And the new world (esp. CA and Australia) seem to show absurd levels of alcohol.


Good point about Alsace, I recently had a 15% Gewürztraminer from there and it wasn't even late harvest.

I would argue that the high alcohols of CA and Oz are due to leaving the grapes hang on the vine longer, since in those hot climates, the grapes attain high levels of sugar before phenolic and flavor maturity.

Old World producers, on the other hand, are finding warmer summers and picking earlier and earlier, which could explain the lower alcohols.

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