We all know these terms: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese. But what exactly lies behind them? Among the most important legally required declarations on a label is a wine's quality category. The German wine law makes far more distinctions within the two broad quality categories mandated by the European Union wine law - table wine and quality wine - than other wine-growing countries.
Most wine produced today in Germany is quality wine.
Quality wines must originate 100% from one of the 13 German wine-growing regions and have passed the official quality wine test, which includes a sensory and analytical control of the wine. For each quality wine, depending on the type of grape and the region in which it is grown, lower limits are set for the natural alcohol content. The so-called minimum must weight is between 50 and 72 ° Oechsle depending on the area.
Quality wines as well as Landwein or "German wine / Deutscher Wein" may be fortified (chaptalized) with a legally limited amount of sugar before fermentation in order to slightly increase the alcohol content of the wine.
Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) embody the highest quality for maturity, harmony and elegance. These wines must fulfill the same requirements as mentioned above for quality wines with the important distinction that they cannot be enriched.
There are six different Prädikats, again with different minimum must weights depending on the grape variety and growing region. In most southern growing areas, higher requirements apply.
The Prädikats in ascending order:
- Kabinett: fine, light wines from ripe grapes with low alcohol content
- Spätlese: ripe, elegant wines with fine fruit, which are harvested a little later. These wines are more intense in flavor and concentration, but not necessarily sweet.
- Auslese: fine noble wines from fully ripe grapes, unripe berries are separated out. Often intense in aromas and taste but not always sweet.
- Beerenauslese (BA): full, fruity wines made from individually-selected, overripe berries that are usually infected by Botrytis cinerea (noble rot). These are rarities, harvested only when exceptional weather conditions enable the grapes to ripen to this extent. They are notable for their longevity (can be stored for decades). Remarkably rich, sweet dessert wines, or to be enjoyed by themselves.
- Ice wine: made from grapes as ripe as BA, but harvested when it is at least minus 7 degrees celsius and pressed while frozen so that only the fruit concentrate is squeezed out. Truly unique wines with a remarkable concentration of fruity acidity and sweetness. They are becoming more of a rarity as Germany experiences warmer winters and the minimum temperature needed for harvesting is occurring less often.
- Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA): This is the top of the quality pyramid, rare wines from shrunken, shriveled, noble rot berries, that cannot be harvested every vintage. These rich, sweet, luscious, honey-like wines can age for decades.
German Landwein is one of the wines with a protected geographical indication. It is an uncomplicated wine that is typical of its region. Landwein is mainly offered dry or semi-dry. The following Landwein areas have been defined in Germany since August 1, 2009:
- Ahrtaler Landwein
- Badischer Landwein
- Bayerischer Bodensee-Landwein
- Brandenburger Landwein
- Landwein Main
- Landwein der Mosel
- Landwein Neckar
- Landwein Oberrhein
- Landwein Rhein
- Landwein Rhein-Neckar
- Landwein der Ruwer
- Landwein der Saar
- Mecklenburger Landwein
- Mitteldeutscher Landwein
- Nahegauer Landwein
- Pfälzer Landwein
- Regensburger Landwein
- Rheinburgen Landwein
- Rheingauer Landwein
- Rheinischer Landwein
- Saarländischer Landwein
- Sächsischer Landwein
- Schleswig-Holsteiner Landwein
- Schwäbischer Landwein
- Starkenburger Landwein
- Taubertäler Landwein
Deutscher Wein (formerly Table Wine)
‘Deutscher Wein’ without a designation of origin has replaced the term ‘table wine’ since the EU wine law amendment of August 1st, 2009. For wines of this quality category, the vintage and selected grape varieties can now also be stated on the label. However, the quality requirements are lower than those of quality and Prädikat wines.
‘Deutscher Wein’ must come exclusively from local grapes from approved vineyards and grape varieties. In Germany, only small quantities of this quality category are produced compared to other wine-growing nations.