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Demystifying the German Wine Label

From falling leaves to brisk fresh air, the signs of fall are everywhere around us. It is once again that wondrous time of year when we can enjoy the many festivals and celebrations of the harvest season.

 

The most famous of all fall festivals is the German Oktoberfest. The mere mention conjures visions of brats grilling on an open pit, sauerkraut, warm German potato salad, dancing to polka music, and of course a good bottle of German wine.

 

Even though Germany’s national beverage is beer, their wines are truly the darling of the country. One of the most common issues I hear from my customers regarding these wines, however, is the difficulty in deciphering the vast array of information (mostly in German) contained on the label. The German Wine Law dictates that certain facts are included on every label, and learning about these will help make you a more educated consumer.

Demystifying the German Wine Label

According to the Wine Law, it is mandatory that the category of wine be included on the label. There are four categories: Tafelwein (table wine), Landwein (country wine), Qualitatswein bestimmer Anbaugebeite (quality wine from defined regions) abbreviated to Q.b.A., and Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (wine with a distinction) abbreviated to Q.m.P.

 

The majority of wines produced are Q.b.A. or Q.m.P. These categories each have a panel of judges that actually taste-test every bottle and inspect it for items such as alcohol level, sugar level, and grape varietals used, among others. These wines will also have an official inspection and lot number on the label with precise details of its bottling and inspection, e.g., A.P. Nr. 3 701 065 018 06. In this example, “A.P. Nr. 3” is the government tasting station, “701” is the code of the bottler, “065” is the bottler ID, “018” is the bottle lot, and finally “06” is the year the wine was tasted by the panel. A high degree of accountability, wouldn’t you agree?

 

Other compulsory information on the label includes the names of the winemaker and bottling site, the bottle volume, and the alcohol content. Optional items on the label include the area of origin, the names of up to two grape varieties, the vintage, the vineyard name, and a description of the flavor (dry, medium-dry, sweet, etc.).

 

You will also notice on the label distinctions within the Q.m.P. wines. Unlike its French counterpart, German Wine Law does not classify by geography, but instead distinguishes on the basis of the sugar content of the grape must. These distinctions are Kabinett (cabinet), Spatlese (late harvest), Auslese (select harvest), Beerenauslese (select berry harvest), and Trockenbeerenauslese, or T.B.A., (select dried berry harvest). Additionally, there is the special distinction of Eiswein (ice wine).

 

The highest-quality German wines will also have a distinctive logo on the label that features a stylized heraldic eagle and grape bunch. This is the trademark of the Verband Deutscher Prädikats und Qualitätsweingüter, abbreviated to VDP, or the Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates. This trade organization - akin to the Gallo Nero ("Black Rooster") producers in Chianti - traces its roots back to 1897, and now comprises more than 200 of Germany's most respected wine producers. The stated obligation for VDP member wines is “to exceed the legal norms set for all German wines.” Their insignia is truly the mark of a quality German wine.

 

Now that you better understand German wine labels, why not go buy a bottle of your favorite German wine and show off your newfound knowledge to all your friends while celebrating Oktoberfest!

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