German wine labels are the most detailed and specific of all the wine producing countries, not only do the better wines display information regarding the geographic region of origin as well as the producer and alcohol content but the German system of wine classification also provides information on the ripeness of the grapes. In fact the ripeness of the harvested wine grapes is actually a fundamental part of that system at the top level and describes the type of wine contained in the bottle. This historical emphasis on grape ripeness is due to Germany's marginal climate where the grapes do not always produce high levels of sugar. Ignore novelist Kingsley Amis' assertion that German wine labels are one of the things that life is too short for and learn to read some gothic script, as you'll probably need to, and get to grips with understanding German wine labels with this short article and its accompanying glossary of German wine terms.


German Wine Classification

The lowest level of German wine is simply Deutscher Wein (Tafelwein) which can be made from any grapes grown and fermented into wine within Germany. Very little of this ever reaches export markets. Higher up the scale is Deutscher Landwein which is the equivalent of a French Vin de Pays and falls within the new European classification of IGP or Protection of Geographical Indication. As this suggests the wine will hail from a named region but still offers little guarantee of quality and is mainly consumed domestically. Next is the QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiet) or quality wine from a specific region, namely one of the thirteen Anbaugebiete or official wine producing regions. These are Ahr, Baden, Franken, Mosel, Mittelrhein, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Hessische Bergstrasse, Saale-Unstrut, Sachsen and Württemberg. QbA wines may employ chaptalisation (the addition of sugar) in their production in years when the grapes struggle to ripen.

Standing at the highest level of the classification in Germany is Prädikatswein which was formerly designated Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP). Wines in this category must be made from grapes which have achieved more than 67 degrees Oechsle - a scale measuring the sugar content of the grape must (or juice) and thereby the potential alcohol content. In this category chaptalisation is strictly "verboten".


Prädikatswein - The Scale of Grape Ripeness

This, however, is not the end of the system of classifying German wines. Prädikatswein is divided further into six sub-categories based on ripeness as measured on the Oechsle scale. In ascending order of ripeness these wines are:

  • Kabinett - Ripeness of 67-82 degrees Oechsle (8.8% potential alcohol by volume), the lightest style of Prädikatswein which can be made as either a dry or off-dry wine.
  • Spätlese - Literal translation "late harvest", at least a week after the start of the harvest in its locality. Ripeness of 76-90 degrees Oechsle (10% potential alcohol). These wines are typically richer and sweeter with more body than Kabinett wines.
  • Auslese - Literal translation "out-picked" or selected harvest. Ripeness is 83-100 degrees Oechsle (12% potential alcohol) and the grapes will have some degree of botrytis or noble rot like the great wines of Sauternes in France. Formerly always sweet wines some are now being made in a dryer style (Trocken) with a higher alcohol content.
  • Beerenauslese (BA) - Berry selection. With a ripeness of 110-128 degrees Oechsle (16.4% potential alcohol) these are exclusively selected botrytis-affected grapes which are individually hand-picked from the vine. The wines are rich, golden and sweeter than an Auslese.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) - Harvested at 150-154 degrees Oechsle (19% potential alcohol), wine made from selected dried berries which are left to shrivel on the vine, thus concentrating the sugar to high levels, until they resemble raisins. The resulting wines are very rare, intensely sweet and luscious as well as being prohibitively expensive.
  • Eiswein - Ice wine. The grapes are harvested at 110-128 degrees Oechsle (16.4% potential alcohol) at dawn in late November or December when they are frozen on the vine and rushed to the winery for gentle pressing the ice having concentrated the intensity of both sugar and acids. These wines display a fantastic balance of sweetness and acidity.


German Wine - Legally Required Information on the Label

German wine legislation requires six pieces of information to appear on the bottle.

  • The name of either the producer or bottler.
  • A quality control number (A.P.Number) which identifies the region of production and testing of the wine (first digit), the village wherein the vineyard is located (digits 2,3,& 4), the wine estate (digits 5, 6 & 7), the number in the sequence of wines submitted for testing by that producer(digits 8, 9 and 10) and the year of production (the 11th. digit).
  • Region of origin.
  • Volume of bottle contents.
  • The specific location of the producer or bottler.
  • The alcohol level by volume.


VDP - Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter

There exists another level of quality German wine albeit one which has no legal recognition as yet. It is that of the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates (Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweingüter) or VDP for short. This is an association of around 200 or so wine estates which has strict criteria for inclusion exceeding those of the legally enforceable regulations. Estates are classed as being Grosse Lage or Erste Lage (Grand Cru or Premier Cru equivalents). There is also a separate classification of Grosses Gewächs which refers to dry red or white wines from a Grosse Lage vineyard. The association has its own logo showing a spread eagle with a bunch of grapes imposed. The presence of such a logo on a bottle is a good indicator of the quality of the contents.


German Wine Label Terminology

  • Abfüller - Bottler or wine shipper.
  • Amtliche Prüfungsnummer (A.P. Nr) - Quality control number which is only issued following successful testing by the official testing body.
  • Anbaugebiet- One of the 13 recognised wine producing regions of Germany.
  • Bereich - Literally "reach" (within reach of). One of the 39 districts which comprise the 13 Anbaugebiete.
  • Classic - Dry wines bearing a Classic logo will show the producer's name and region but no vineyard designation.
  • Dornfelder - The most widely planted red grape variety in Germany.
  • Einzellage - Single vineyard. Appearance of the name of the vineyard on the label is restricted to QmP and Prädikat wines.
  • Erste Lage - Very good (premier cru) vineyard as decided by the VDP. Yields restricted to 60 hectoliters per hectare (hl/ha).
  • Erzeugerabfüllung - Bottled by the producer.
  • Feinherb - Off-dry.
  • Goldkapsel - Gold Capsule, a producer's best wine.
  • Grosslage - Group of vineyards comprising a smaller area than a Bereich. Often confused with the names of esteemed Einzellagen so care is needed, e.g. Grosslage Königsberg is NOT to be confused with the Einzellage Königsberg in the Upper Mosel.
  • Grosse Lage - Highest quality of vineyard as decided by the VDP (grand cru).
  • Grosses Gewächs - Dry wine from a Grosse Lage. Can be either red or white depending on the vineyard.
  • Gutsabfüllung - Estate bottled.
  • Halbtrocken - Medium-dry.
  • Oechsle - Meausurement of grape sugar content which governs both potential alcohol and sweetness of the resultant wine.
  • Prädikat - Designation of ripeness of the constituent grapes.
  • Prädikatswein - Germany's highest legally recognised wine classification. It used to be known as Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) and you'll still find this on older bottles.
  • QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete) - A quality wine from one of the Anbaugebiete.
  • Riesling - The premium white wine grape of Germany.
  • Rotwein - Red wine.
  • Rotling - Rosé wine that is made from a blend of red and white grapes or their crushed must. It is not permitted to blend already fermented wines.
  • Schillerwein - A QbA Rotling wine from Württemberg (and Northern Switzerland).
  • Sekt - Sparkling wine.
  • Selection - Dry wines originating from a single vineyard harvested by hand. Yields must be below the legal limits. The wines may not be released for sale until September 1st. of the year following the harvest.
  • Spätburgunder - Pinot Noir.
  • Trocken - Dry.
  • VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikats- und Qualitätsweinguter)- Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates, formed by original members to raise quality profile of top producers and public awareness thereof./p>
  • Weingut - Wine estate.
  • Weinkellerei - Winery.
  • Weissherbst - Literally "white autumn" but meaning a rosé made from the gentle pressing and short maceration on the skins of a single red grape variety. The colour is pink or very pale red.
  • Weisswein - White wine.
  • Winzergenossenschaft - Co-operative society of wine growers.


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