Mosel Kabinett, whether fermented dry or left with residual sugar, counts lightness (low alcohol) and elegance amongst its most redeeming qualities. The capacity they have to age is remarkable and they show great versatility with food.
The term Kabinett (formerly Cabinet) has a long and complicated history which I won’t go into in great detail here. It first appeared on labels in the Rheingau with Schloss Vollrads claiming to have used the designation for a reserve wine as early as 1716.
In 1971 the term became embedded into German wine law as part of the Prädikat system (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat – or QmP – until 2007… now Prädikatswein) and sits at the bottom end of the scale with Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein following in ascending order. Prädikatsweine are graded according to must weight (ripeness) and are unchaptalised.
These days, owing to global warming, growers most often achieve must weights well above the 73 degrees Oechsle (just under 10 Baumé) required for Kabinett in the Mosel. In fact, because there is no legal maximum limit of ripeness for Prädikatsweine, many Kabinett wines are Spätlesen (even Auslesen in some cases) that have been ‘declassified’ purely for commercial reasons. One could easily view this as a slight abuse of an otherwise useful (if far from perfect) system, but many quality growers pick based on flavour and not simply numbers alone. Most ironically, winemakers now selectively harvest for Kabinett in an age where Spätlese and Auslese are becoming commonplace.
Up to and including Auslese, Prädikatsweine can be made anywhere between dry and sweet and so understanding a winemakers’ style and philosophy is as, if not more, important than deciphering words on a label.
Joh. Jos. Prüm and Dr. Loosen are two producers of high quality and age-worthy Kabinett that are very well represented in the international market. Ernst Loosen himself is one of the more outspoken advocates of the style. Both estates produce exceptional examples from the Wehlener Sonnenuhr… Prüm’s wines demand far greater patience, however.