While some in the German winemaking industry have begun attempting to make their wine labels more user-friendly for the non-German marketplace, German wine labels remain an immensely confusing maze of information. German wine labeling laws differ significantly from any other major wine region, which means that everything you think you know about a wine label gets tossed right out the window as soon as you even think about looking at German wine.
That said, there are a few key phrases that can help you at least pretend to know what you’re looking at when you pick up that next bottle of German Riesling.
- Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA): This indicates a quality wine from a specific region. What you’ll see on the label is Qualitätswein plus the name of the region (e.g., Mosul, Rheingau, etc.).
- Prädikatswein, recently (August 1, 2007) renamed from Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP): This is Germany’s highest quality designation. Note, however, that unless the label says Trocken (which means dry), these wines will generally have a noticeable amount of residual sugar (meaning they’ll be sweet).
- Trocken: This means the wine is “dry” or has low levels of residual sugar. I’ll be focusing primarily on Trocken wines this month.
- Kabinett: A Prädikatswein designation indicating fully ripened light wines from the main harvest. Kabinett is typically semi-sweet but can be dry if designated as such.
- Spätlese: A Prädikatswein designation meaning “late-harvest.” These are typically sweeter and fruitier than the more acidic Kabinett but can be relatively dry if designated as such.
- Auslese: A Prädikatswein designation meaning “select harvest.” These wines are made from very ripe bunches or grapes and are typically semi-sweet to sweet. This designation covers the widest range of styles and can be a dessert wine.
- Beerenauslese: This Prädikatswein designation means “select berry harvest,” and these wines are made from individually selected overripe grapes often affected by Botrytis (aka “noble rot”). Botrytis is a fungus that basically sucks all the water out of grapes, leaving them with super high amounts of sugar. It sounds gross, but for dessert winemakers it’s a good thing.
- Eiswein (ice wine): This type of wine is made from grapes that have been naturally frozen on the vine, making their sugars extremely concentrated. These, like the Beerenauslese, are very sweet dessert wines.
- Trockenbeerenauslese: This Prädikatswein designation means “select dry berry harvest,” and these wines are made from individually selected overripe grapes affected by Botrytis. They are extremely rich, sweet dessert wines.
Hopefully that helps just a little….