In Germany, Ripeness = Quality
Here’s a quick guide on German wine categories. As a member of the European Union, German wines fall into two broad categories as either table wine or quality wine. I bet American consumers would be surprised to learn that approximately 90% of German wines are classified as quality wines. Germany’s classification system categorizes wines by their level of sweetness or ripeness. Since Germany has a cold-growing climate, it’s more difficult for grapes to ripen. Therefore, the riper the grapes, the better the quality. In essence, ripeness equals sweetness. But this doesn’t that all German wines are sweet wines.
German wines of quality come from 1 of 13 specific wine-growing regions. The grapes in these regions are typically riper than in other parts of the country and are subject to much higher production standards.
The basic quality wines, Qualitätswein are suitable for everyday drinking. They are wines designed to be consumed young. The next level is called Selection and they are of a more superior quality dry wine, perfect for fine dining.
The highest in this classification system, Prädikatswein means a wine with special attributes. These are premium wines made from fully ripened botrytis-affected grapes. They have the ability to age for decades.
When trying to read a German wine label, look for the following words to describe ascending levels of sweetness to help you determine a wine that is appropriate for your occasion. The German wine ripeness primer explains the six levels of sweetness.
1. Kabinett – This is a light-bodied wine with low alcohol, typically ranging between 7% and 10%.
2. Spätlese – This translates to “late harvest”. It’s a well-rounded wine with balance and intense flavors.
3. Auslese – A wine that is considered noble wine. It has a strong floral bouquet. These “selected harvest” grapes can have an alcohol by volume (ABV) up to 14%.
4. Beerenauslese – These “selected berries” wines are made from overripe grapes that were individually hand selected. They are quite rare and produce exquisite wines. They have a lovely honey aroma.
5. Eiswein – This wine is made from grapes that have been left on the vine to freeze. They are picked while frozen, which gives them an intense concentration of acidity, as well as sweetness. They are some of the most age-worthy wines in the world.
6. Trockenbeerenauslese – The grapes used to produce this wine are raisin like. Because of the intense concentration of sweetness due to the shriveled up grapes, this wine produces very low yield. As a result they are quite expensive and reserved for the most special of occasions, unless you have an unlimited wine budget.
German wines are not all alike. Each deserves a fresh look and taste to determine just which ones are right you and your occasion.