Deciphering German wine labels

Learning About German Wine: Getting All the Details

Alexander Valley Vineyards

Many people who are just getting into wine find that a bit of sweetness makes wine both more pleasurable, as well as easier to drink. Finding sweet wines, and being able to determine the sweetness level from the label can be a challenge. One of the best places to start can be with German wines, whose detailed labels offer you all the information you need. On the other hand all that information can also be very intimidating. It’s time to make it a bit easier.

German wine labels include the producer, the vintage, the region the wine is from, the village and if it’s from a specific vineyard that gets mentioned as well. Also included is the level of ripeness of the grapes at harvest. This does not necessarily indicate the sweetness of the finished wines but can certainly help you narrow down your search.

An easy rundown of the wine label details

  1. As a QmP wine, this label represents the highest potential level of winemaking for German wines. Each wine that receives QmP certification has been approved by a regional tasting panel and represents a wine consistent with the claims made on the label. The accompanying set of numbers, referred to as the AP number, serves as a serial number of sorts. Each group of numbers represents a specific bit of information and more than one AP# can be associated with a specific wine. In order the numbers stand for:

    First set of digits – The village in which the wine was tasted

    The second set represents the village where the wine was produced

    The third set represents the producer

    The fourth set represents the order in which the producer’s wines were submitted for approval by the tasting panel

    The final set represents the year in which the samples were submitted for tasting.
  2. The vintage
  3. The region the wine comes from
  4. The grape variety
  5. The village where the vineyard is located
  6. The vineyard the grapes came from
  7. The ripeness level of the grapes at harvest
  8. This wine is further labeled as Feinherb, a further indication of the sweetness of the finished wine
  9. The volume of the bottle
  10. The alcohol level of the finished wine
  11. The producer

If a bottle says Trocken on the label it's going to be a dry wine, Trocken is German for dry. Halb-trocken, or less commonly Feinherb, will mean that the wine is half dry, it will probably still seem dry to someone looking for a sweet wine though.

The German QmP ripeness scale begins with the least ripe grapes, which will generally translate into the least sweet wine. These classifications only reflect the minimum level of sweetness so any category can be decalssified into a lower category.

A rough rule of thumb for reading ripeness levels.

  • Kabinett - lightly sweet
  • Spatlese - noticeably sweet
  • Auslese - decidedly sweet
  • and then the dessert level
  • Beerenauslese - richly sweet
  • Trockenbeerenauslese -intensely sweet and honied
  • Eiswein - Icewine - a rare treat, sweet yet bright

You can find something labeled as Spatlese Feinherb for example but as a general rule: Auslese is sweeter than Spatlese, and Spatlese is sweeter than Kabinett.

There is another group of lower priced wines that are generally labeled with proprietary names, "L" and "Dragonstone" come to mind. These so called Qba wines tend to fall about midway between Kabinett and Spatlese sweetness.

One way to further narrow your search is by checking the alcoholic content of the wine. The higher the alcohol, the less sugar remained unfermented, so the drier the finished wine.

QbA wine: German brands to get you started

The group of lower priced wines that are generally labeled with proprietary names, "L" and "Dragonstone" come to mind. These so called Qba wines tend to fall about midway between Kabinett and Spatlese level sweetness.

2007 Leitz Dragonstone Riesling
Priced from $22.95
This offers up tons of zesty lime tinged peach fruit on a taut frame with vibrant acidity that gives the wine a lightness that belies it's weight. The finish is decidedly sweet but with a brightness and mineral cut that keeps this refreshing.

Of Spätlese and beyond...

While German producers are moving towards drier wines each year, their claim to fame remains the sweeter styles of wine. In classic German fashion, their wine labels are very dense but once one understands what each element of the label stands for they can help guide the consumer towards wines that suit their palate.

I hope this gets you started on finding the German wine that has the right level of sweetness for your palate.

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