German Wine Label
German wine labels are complex but highly informative – they provide more information as standard than those of any other nation. A single label may indicate (among other things) the producer’s name and location, the wine’s sweetness, its grape variety, how ripe the grapes were when harvested, the name of the village and vineyard the grapes came from, and whether the wine was bottled at the winery or by a third party.
Below is an example label, and below that an overview of German wine classification and terminology. For comprehensive information about the German regions and their wines.
The four official tiers of German wine quality:
- Prädikatswein, formerly Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), is the top tier of German wine quality classification. Because grapes often struggle to ripen in Germany’s cool climate, ripeness is used as a key indicator of quality, and is the basis of the Prädikatswein system. To qualify, a wine must be made from grapes with a must weight (ripeness) of over 67 degrees Oechsle. It may then be classified into one of the six official Prädikats:
- Kabinett is the lightest style, made from grapes harvested at 67-82 Oechsle. Kabinett wines are most often produced in a dry or medium-dry style.
- Spätlese means ‘late harvest’, denoting that (theoretically) the grapes were picked at least a week after the start of harvest, at 76-90 Oechsle. Spätlese wines are slightly richer, more concentrated and typically sweeter than Kabinett.
- Auslese means ‘selected harvest’, and is made from ripe grapes (83-100 Oechsle) affected to some degree by botrytis. Auslese wines are traditionally sweet in style, but modern winemaking trends have led to the appearance of dry Auslese Trocken wines, which are naturally powerful and high in alcohol.
- Beerenauslese (BA) means ‘berry selection’. Super-ripe grapes (110-128 Oechsle) remain on the vine and are ‘selected’ only if affected by botrytis. Sweeter and richer than Auslese, Beerenauslese wines are intensely flavored, golden nectars.
- Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) means ‘dry berry selection’. Grapes are left on the vine until reaching a raisin-like state, with highly concentrated sugars (150-154 Oechsle). Trockenbeerenauslese wine is the sweetest, rarest and most expensive Prädikatswein.
- Eiswein means ‘ice wine‘, and indicates that the over-ripe grapes (110-128 Oechsle) were harvested and pressed while frozen. This naturally concentrates both sugars and acids, resulting in lusciously sweet wines which nonetheless have balanced acidity.
- Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) is Germany’s second tier of wine quality classification, and means literally ‘quality wine from a specified region’. Almost three-quarters of all German wine is produced in this category. A QbA wine must be made exclusively from grapes grown in one of Germany’s 13 official Anbaugebiete (wine regions), of which Mosel is the most famous.
- Deutscher Landwein means ‘German country wine’ – equivalent to France’s Vin de Pays (and thus the Euro-wide IGP category).
- Deutscher Wein means simply ‘German wine’, and provides few guarantees of quality. Deutscher Wein bears no A.P.Nr quality control number, and is almost always made for the domestic market.
In addition to their official quality classification, German wine labels often indicate how dry or sweet the wine is, according to its residual sugar content. The most common terms are trocken (dry – up to 9g/l) andhalbtrocken (medium-dry – up to 18g/l). The unofficial term Feinherb is also sometimes used for ‘off-dry’. These terms indicate how sweet the wine tastes, and are distinct from the Prädikats (e.g. Kabinett, Spätlese), which indicate the grapes’ ripeness levels (must weight) at harvest.
VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweinguter)
The VDP, whose black eagle logo appears on its members’ wine bottles, is an association of about 200 top German wine estates. Its name means literally ‘The Association of German Quality and Prädikat Wine Estates’. The VDP consists of 13 regional boards, corresponding to the 13 German Anbaugebiete (wine regions).
Founded in 1910, the VDP has remained an important, yet unofficial, symbol of German wine quality. Membership is voluntary, but requires adherence to strict standards well above those required by German wine law. Members’ wines must be of high quality, representative of their region, and produced using ecologically sound methods.
The association’s original name was Verband Deutscher Naturweinversteigerer, in which ‘Naturwein’ meant ‘notchaptalized‘ rather than ‘natural wine’ in its modern organic/biodynamic sense. This founding principle remains unchanged.
The VDP has created a wine quality system all of its own, based on the terms Erste Lage (for ‘first class’ vineyards, similar to French Premier Cru), Grosse Lage (for the very best vineyards, similar to French Grand Cru) and Grosses Gewächs (a dry wine from a Grosse Lage vineyard).