GRAPEVINE

KATHRYN McWHIRTER tries some light Kabinetts
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The Independent Culture
Alcohol is probably the last thing on your shopping list even now that the hangovers have faded. But if your liver isn't quite ready for a 13.5-degree white Burgundy or Australian Shiraz, maybe it could compromise and learn the delights of German Kabinetts. Drier than the basic German "quality wines'' (QbAs - including Liebfraumilch), Kabinetts are among the world's least alcoholic wines. At somewhere between 9 and 9.5 degrees of alcohol, they are only slightly more alcoholic than the lightest q uality wines in the world - the rather acid vinho verde of Portugal or full-bloodedly sweet Asti Spumante.

Kabinetts are lighter than basic German quality wines because, for this classification, Herman regulations ban sugar for boosting alcohol levels. The Germans, coping with a climate that doesn't always ripen grapes to the full, base their whole (complicated) quality rating system on that ripeness, measuring the grapes' natural sugar. Grapes that fail to meet the minimum prescribed sweetness are used for ignominious Tafelwein (table wine). But over that minimum, still at a pitifully low level of ripeness,you can make basic quality wine (QbA), by adding sugar to the juice to boost the alcohol and then adding grape juice to the finished wine for sweetness. Riper grapes, however, coming in with enough sugar to produce a natural 9 degrees or so of alcohol (the figure varies slightly from year to year, and from region to region), leap up into the next quality band, known as Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (QmP - quality wine with special distinction), and here sugar and grape juice are outlawed.

Kabinett is the lowest level of the five ripeness scales of QmP wines. Since Kabinett wines get no help from added sugar, most of their natural sugar is fermented into alcohol, leaving only a touch of sweetness. January dieters will also find them lower in calories than almost any other wine available.

Asda is a great hunting ground for good Kabinetts, and the following are stocked in almost all their stores. Yummiest is light, easy 1993 Graacher Himmelreich Riesling Kabinett, von Kesselstatt (£5.99) with lovely apple and honeycomb flavour. 1992 Hochheimer Holle Riesling Kabinett, Aschrott (£4.99) is very nearly as good, rich, soft and honeyed. The 1993 Wiltinger Scharzberg Riesling Kabinett, Moselland is a classy wine for just £2.99. Elsewhere, 1992 Trittenheimer Apotheke Riesling Kabinett, Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium (£5.54 selected Tesco) is light, fresh and appley. And just to prove that the Germans further complicate even the most complicated of systems, 1993 Durkheimer Fronhof Riesling Kabinett, Kurt Darting (£5.99 Oddbins), with its fruit flav ours and crispness, packs an exceptional 11.1 degrees of alcohol. Herr Darting could have sold it as Spatlese or Auslese, one or two categories up the scale, but chose to demote it to Kabinett (as he is entitled to) because he prefers a richer style.

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