German wine classification
German wine classification consists of several quality categories and is often the source of some confusion, especially among non-German speaking wine consumers. The official classification is set down in the wine law of 1971, although some changes and amendments have been made since then. The classification is based on several factors, including region of origin, whether sugar has been added, and the ripeness of the grapes.
Prädikat designations – Superior Quality Wines
The Prädikatswein (formerly QmP) category of the classification contains most high-quality German wines, with the exception of some top-quality dry wines. The different Prädikat designations differ in terms of the required must weight, the sugar content of the grape juice, and the level required is dependent on grape variety and wine-growing region and is defined in terms of the Oechsle scale. In fact the must weight is seen as a rough indicator of quality (and price). The Prädikat system has its origin at Schloss Johannisberg in Rheingau, where the first Spätlese was produced in 1775 where wines received different colour seals based on their must weight.
German wine classification
The different Prädikat (superior quality wine) designations used are as followed, in order of increasing sugar levels in the must:
fully ripened light wines from the main harvest, typically semi-sweet with crisp acidity, but can be dry if designated so.
Spätlese – meaning “late harvest”
typically semi-sweet, often (but not always) sweeter and fruitier than Kabinett. Spätlese can be a relatively full-bodied dry wine if designated so. While Spätlese means late harvest the wine is not as sweet as a dessert wine.
Auslese – meaning “select harvest”
made from selected very ripe bunches or grapes, typically semi-sweet or sweet, sometimes with some noble rot character. Sometimes Auslese is also made into a powerful dry wine, but the designation Auslese trocken has been discouraged after the introduction of Grosses Gewächs. Auslese is the Prädikat which covers the widest range of wine styles, and can be a dessert wine.
Beerenauslese – meaning “select berry harvest”
made from individually selected overripe grapes often affected by noble rot, making rich sweet dessert wine.
Eiswein (ice wine)
made from grapes that have been naturally frozen on the vine, making a very concentrated wine. Must reach at least the same level of sugar content in the must as a Beerenauslese. The most classic Eiswein style is to use only grapes that are not affected by noble rot. Until the 1980s, the Eiswein designation was used in conjunction with another Prädikat (which indicated the ripeness level of the grapes before they had frozen), but is now considered a Prädikat of its own.
Trockenbeerenauslese – meaning “select dry berry harvest” or “dry berry selection”
made from selected overripe shrivelled grapes often affected by noble rot making extremely rich sweet wines.