Understanding German Wine Label Terms

Understanding German Wine Label Terms

German wine labels can be hard to decipher if you don’t speak the language. Being able to distinguish producer names, location information, quality designation, and dryness indicators will help in selecting the right wine.

  • Producer Name: In the same way that many French wine producer names include “Chateau” or “Domaine”, German wine producers often include “Kloster” (monestary), “Schloss” (manor house), “Burg” (castle), “Domaine” (territory or region), or “Weingut” (winery).

  • Location: The wine label must include some indication from where it came. As with other countries, more specific location references give you better insight into the wine. Some wines may only have the name of the wine region (i.e. Mosel, Rheingau, Pfalz, Franken, etc.). This is the equivalent of an American wine only indicating “Napa Valley” on the label. While it gives you a general idea of the climate and terroir, the wine can come from anywhere in the region. It will not have as many distinguishing characteristics as a wine with more specific geographic indicators.

    The Weingut Manfred Breit Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling is a good example of a wine that includes more specific geographic information as part of the name. Village names often include –er or –en at the end. In this case, this wine came from the village of Piesport and the specific vineyard of Goldtröpfchen. The Hans Wirshing Iphöfer Silvaner is from the village of Iphöf.

  • Quality Classification: German wine labels include terms that indicate the quality designation of the wine - Deutscher Wein, Landwein, Qualitätswein (QbA) and Prädikatswein. With each term, the rules governing the growing, harvesting, and production become more strict and specific.
    • Deutscher Wein - Wine produced from grapes grown in Germany, not necessarily within any specific designated wine region. The wine will be produced from ripe or slightly under ripe grapes. There are very few restrictions on this level of wine and very little of this level wine is consumed outside of Germany.

    • Landwein – A version of Deutscher Wein that has a few more specific restrictions. The grapes must be grown in one of the 13 designated wine regions and cannot contain more than 18 grams/liter of sugar.

    • Qualitätswein (QbA) – The wine must be grown in a designated wine region and adhere to rules set by that region governing which grapes can be used and grape ripeness at harvest. Winemakers are allowed to add sugar to the grape juice (chaptalization) before fermentation to increase the alcohol level and body of the resulting wine.

    • Prädikatswein – The highest quality designation. In addition to adhering to rules set by the wine region, wines at this level are not allowed to have additional sugar added. Prädikatswein wines will include an additional term indicating the ripeness of the grape (i.e. amount of sugar present in the grapes) at harvest. Note: these are not an indicator of sweetness of the resulting wine!
      • Kabinett: The lowest level of the Prädikats scale, these wines are made from ripe grapes (as opposed to under-ripe or over-ripe). The resulting wine can be dry, off dry or sweet. Unless a dryness indicator term is included on the label, it can be hard to tell the sweetness level of a particular Kabinett wine by looking at the label, but in general the lower the alcohol level, the higher the sweetness.

      • Spätlese: Spätlese translates to “late harvest”. The grapes are allowed to remain on the vine longer than Kabinett grapes in order to produce higher sugar levels and more flavor intensity. The higher sugar level at harvest does not automatically translate into a sweeter wine. Spätlese wines can range from fully dry to sweet. This is different from the term "late harvest" in the US, which generally indicates a sweet dessert style wine.

      • Auslese: Auslese grapes are allowed to ripen a bit more than Spätlese. At that point, the ripest clusters are harvested to create wines with intense flavors and aromas. Auslese wines can be dry or sweet dessert style wines.

      • Beerenauslese: Ripened a bit longer than Auslese. Only specific over-ripe berries are harvested (instead of whole clusters). At this point of ripeness, grapes may begin to develop “noble rot” which imparts luscious honey flavors. These wines are rich, dessert style wines.

      • Eiswine: Grapes must be of at least Beerenauslese ripeness and are pressed when they are frozen to produce a unique dessert wine.

      • Trokenbeerenauslese: Individual berries are picked after they have dried to the point of almost being raisins. These wines will be among the sweetest in the world.
  • Dryness levels: While the Prädikats levels do not necessarily equate to the sweetness of the wine, there are terms that may appear on wine labels that do indicate the level of sweetness (or lack of).
    • Trocken or Selection: dry wine with less than 9 grams/liter of residual sugar

    • Halbtrocken, Classic or Feinherb: slightly sweet with up to 12 grams/liter of residual sugar

    • Liebliche: sweet wine with up to 45 grams/liter of residual sugar

    • Süss: sweet wine with more than 45 grams/liter of residual sugar

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