Understanding the German and Austrian Wine Label:
The winery’s location will determine what wine laws it may choose to participate under. Wine laws are meant to strengthen the branding relationship between winery and consumer by informing the customer what level of quality, approved varietal used, and production methods were imposed to produce a bottle of wine.
Austria and Germany have a method of labeling, known as the Pradikatswein system, which indicates the must weight at time of harvest. Mostly they use the same terms. Must may sound like a grammatical error but the definition of must, in the wine world, is actually a noun referring to the pulp, skins, and juice that goes into the tank for fermentation. Sometimes, but not always, the denser the must, the sweeter the wine produced.
The categories from light to dense include:
Kabinett — German: refers to grapes that have just hit the peak of ripeness. The wines are intended to be paired with a light fare. Kabinett can be produced in a wide range of sweetnesses from dry, off-dry, medium-dry, to sweet. These wines can have an ABV range from 7 to 12 percent ABV. The lower the ABV percentage, the sweeter the wine.
Spätlese — German & Austrian: refers to grapes at a late harvest point, or harvested after having been fully ripened. Typically, this is about two weeks after Kabinett. The fruit is left to dry and ripen farther, causing an elevation of sugar concentration and intensity of flavors. The potential ABV here ranges from 10 to 12 percent, but, depending on the ultimate level of sweetness, fermentation may be stopped early. The minimum legal ABV is at 7 percent. These wines also are produced in a wide range of sweetnesses from dry (which is rare, but it is done), off-dry (more regularly), medium-dry, and sweet.
Auslese — German & Austrian: Fruit is picked more than two weeks after fully ripe, and after what would be considered Spätlese, meaning the labor works have passed through the vineyard several times, waiting for the right moment to pick these berries. Sometimes, but not required, the fruit is affected by noble rot or botrytis, which adds a layer of complexity and flavors of honey and honeysuckle. This is the last level that is legally allowed to be produced in a dry style, but often is produced medium-dry or sweet.
Beerenauslese (BA) – German & Austrian: At this point the berries have the potential to make wines at 16 percent ABV, if the yeast survives for that height. Fermentation is long and slow, and ultimately comes to a halt at a low level—around 5.5 percent ABV. These barriers are required to be affected by botrytis. The resulting wine is a rich sweet, dessert-style wine.
Ausbruch — Austrian: Denotes a wine made exclusively from botrytis-affected berries, the most famous of which is the Ruster Ausbruch DAC on the western shores of lake Neusiedlersee, Austria.
Eiswein — German & Austrian: Minimum must weight is the same as the BA when picked. At the moment of harvest, the fruit has to be frozen. Typically, harvest is well into December to around February. Artificially freezing the fruit is not permitted. When pressed, what is released is naturally concentrated juice with very high level of sugar and acid. The grapes must be healthy to avoid any unpleasant flavors that would be amplified by the concentration.
Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) — German & Austrian: At this point the fruit is completely overripe, resembling almost like a raisin and must be affected by botrytis. The wine produced is lusciously sweet, showing honey like characteristics. The high labor of searching for these berries and the tiny yield causes these wines to be very expensive. Potential ABV is around 19 percent, but rarely gets above 8 percent. These wines are produced only in the best of years.
Following the German method, the Qualitatswein levels are further broken down into
- Klassic- wine with a vintage declared and showing varietal character.
- Reserve- dry wines with a minim of 13 percent ABV, typically released after standard wines.
German terms for sweetness include: trocken (dry), halbtrocken (off-dry), lieblich (medium or medium-sweet), and süss (sweet).
Both Germany and Austria imposed a three-tiered quality level system:
- Deutscher Wein (Germany) and Wein (Austria) is the lowest quality level.
- Landwein (both) Wine with Protected Geographic Indication (PGI)
- Qualitatswein (both) Wine with Protected Designation of Origin (PDO). These wines must undergo a government inspection to ensure quality standard. In Austria, a government inspection number will be stated on the label. Also in Austria, sometimes you will also see the cap have red, white, and red stripes.
As of 2002, Austria amended their appellation system to allow wineries to add DAC (Districts Austriae Controllatus), in order to promote regionality. The parallel in other countries include France’s AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée) or Italy’s DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita). Currently there are 15 DAC wine growing regions in Austria. DAC has a quality hierarchy that distinguishes among three levels: Gebietswein for regional, Ortswein for village, and Riedenwein for single-vineyard wines.
Another classification to be aware of in the Wachau (Austria) region was initiated by the Vinea Wachau Wine Association, founded in 1983. The goal of this association was to promote authenticity, individuality, and craft. The bare minimum to qualify includes hand harvesting, no capitalization (adding sugar to the juice to make the wine capable of fermenting or otherwise), ferment to dry, and no wood aging. The following are the three levels of quality from lowest to highest:
- Steinfeder, with the symbol of grass, requires the wine to be produced in a light style, with a max AVB of 11.5 percent, and is meant to be enjoyed young as an aperitif.
- Federspiel, with the symbol of a falcon, requires the wine to be produced with delicate aromas, with an ABV between 11.5-12.5 percent, and is meant to be enjoyed ideally with food.
Smaragd, with the symbol of an indigenous green lizard, requires wine to be produce with intensity and complexity, with a minimum ABV of 12.5 percent, and will often benefit from aging
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