Unlocking the Kabinett

There has been a lot of discussion in the press about Mosel Kabinett over the years, so I decided to delve into the topic.

Kevin Goldberg asks, “I’m curious as to where you would like to see the term ‘Kabinett’ go in the future. Do you think it should be standardized in terms of specific Oechsle, sugar, and alcohol levels? Or perhaps we should simply let chaos reign…as it certainly has for a very long time in the German wine trade?”

The veteran wine critic David Schildknecht comments, too.

What are your thoughts? I gave them mine.

Second part of my two-part article on “Unlocking the Kabinett.”

I enjoy a leaner more classic style of Kabinett and favor some type of standardization to ensure I am not getting declassified Auslese in my Kabinett labeled bottle. Sometimes a Kabinett is Spatlese in disguise and priced at Kabinett level and I am less concerned about these as I love Spatlese the most.

+1. Would like to know what I am getting.

Glenn: In the 2011 vintage, most of the quality-oriented growers harvested the majority of their grapes above the minimum must weight for Auslese, which is 88° Oechsle. Therefore, many or most of their entry-level wines, including Kabinett, are technically declassified Auslese. Yet I know what you mean. Despite the higher ripeness levels, some “Kabinett” wines taste less like an Auslese. My preference is for a leaner style, too.

Interesting article Lars. As you already know I am concerned for the future of kabinett. Years such as 2008 have provided a chance to stock up though I still miss the kabinetts of the '90s. Every once in a while I pull from my meager stock of early to mid-90s Grunhaus kabinetts for a bit of a glimpse into what was.

These days I am more likely to purchase estate Rieslings (e.g. Donnhoff) to scratch that kabinett itch.

Thanks, David. You’re lucky to have such wines to taste from your cellar. I also like the 2008 vintage.

Last night, Daniel Vollenweider opened a magnum of 2001 Goldgrube Kabinett at Immich-Batterieberg. It was very good, but still young (especially from mag) and a little sweet with about 70 g/l RS. He said that the must weights for his Kabinetts are usually above 85° Oechsle. Then again, 73° Oechsle is quite low for producing a quality wine from ripe grapes today.

By the way, the first of my two-part article is free, at least for the time being. But I’ll probably keep both parts in front of the paywall, as it’s an important topic. Non-subscribers can sign up to reply to the article. I expect some growers to comment, too.

As you have pointed out the current vintages of Kabinetts have very high residual sugars. They lack the steeliness of the past.

For example, Knebel wines from 2007 vintage have the following sugar levels:
Trocken 5.4g/l, QbA Feinherb 13.6g/l, Kabinett Feinherb 17.8g/l, Kabinett 50.2g/l and Spatlese 47.4g/l. Surprising that the residual sugar in Spatlese is lower than Kabinett!! Nevertheless, it illustrates the point that Kabinetts have now attained sugar levels like the Spatlese.
Kabinett and Spatlese have alc content of 9% and 10.5% respectively.

The Spatlese Trocken has significantly lower residual sugar but this is at the expense of higher alc 13.5 to 14% (as they would ferment most the sugar into alc).
Personally I find Spatlese trocken contrived and not in balance as they have lower acid levels and the higher alcohol pokes out. The QbA trokens and Feinherbs also have higher alc content and lower acidity than the standard Kabinetts (although the imbalance is less felt than Spatlese trockens).


You have misplaced your decimal points. 5.4% residual sugar is 54 g/l, or more than 5 times the legal limit for trocken.

I meant g/l not %. I have corrected it now.

Sanjay, I understand your point, but I don’t think “contrived” is the right word in this instance. The Knebel Spätlese trocken wines spontaneously fermented dry with higher alcohol. Winningen is different from the Middle Mosel, much less the Ruwer and Saar. The area tends to have naturally higher ripeness levels (alcohol) and lower acidity. Today, the Knebels follow the VDP classification model and only make sweet Kabinetts.

do we at some point remind ourselves that the current incarnation of Kabinett is indeed a creature of the rather bloody and battered 1971 wine law?
…and for the couple centuries before that, it existed as a different sort of designation?

Sanjay, my experience has been that Spätlese often balances better with less residual sugar than Kabinett,
due to the influence of factors beyond must-weight and acidity.

Agreed. Moreover, many of the issues existed before the 1971 Law. As always, thanks for your comment, James.

Lars’ article(s) do a good job of setting up the historical issues regarding kabinett and cabinet.

Agreed on the spatlese trocken, though I am often fond of kabinett halbtrocken (which of course these days is still generally spatlese trocken).

David: Thanks again. As I pointed out in my article, most top producers who still produce a light, off-dry Riesling labeled Kabinett have replaced the term “halbtrocken” with “feinherb.” Selbach-Oster is an exception of course. In addition, the residual sugar for a present-day Kabinett halbtrocken/feinherb is above that for a wine designated trocken. But I do get your point about higher ripeness levels nowadays.

Oops…meant to type spatlese halbtrocken…

Lars, would it be correct in stating that due to global warming and other factors such as bunch thinning etc etc the ripness achieved now in less ripe years would have been equivalent to riper years of the 70’s.

If we were to compare that stats on wines, say Kabinetts, from the famous duo of 75 and 76 to the current kabinetts, how would they stack up?

Sanjay, I would need to ask some experienced growers about comparing current vintages with those from the ripest years in the 1970s, such as 1976. Perhaps David Schildknecht could answer this. He has replied to my article (below the second part) in depth a couple of times now. In the seventh paragraph of the first part, his quote answers your first question. Unlocking the Kabinett – Lars Carlberg: Mosel Wine

I recall JJ Prüm releasing the 1981 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Kabinett in the early nineties—rerelease, absolutely gorgeous—
and I seem to remember Frau Prüm using the term Lieblingswein to describe it when we drank it w/ her quiche sometime in 1993…

and not Mosel, but friends and I were drinking the 1975 Johannesberger Erntebringer Kabinett from HH Eser well into the mid-nineties,
and only stopped when it was all gone. Will any of the current crop have so slow a half-life as that?

my favourite more recent Kabinett experience is also not Mosel, and dates back to 2003 I think it was…
spent a week hiding out at Lingenfelder’s in Großkarlbach (which is smaller than Kleinkarlbach; that’s always amused me)
and had passed a couple instructive hours one afternoon with Dr Rowald Hepp at Schloss Vollrads, appreciating his efforts to revive the storied estate;
took a bottle of the 2001 Vollrads K back to the Pfalz with me…
decided to have a glass before retiring, so sat out midnight at the picnic table in front of Rainer’s tasting room
enjoyed the glass very much, and was disappointed to find nothing left in the bottle some sixty minutes later…
That’s Kabinett. Much more than any stats or measurement.

James: What a wonderful post!

Good discussion, keep going! I always find a good kabinett goes down well after a days birding out in the grasslands. Like James under the stars [cheers.gif]