These ripeness categories are determined by the sugar content in the grapes, which is measured in degree Oechsle. The Oechsle requirements for the respective categories vary by growing region.
Riper grapes have more sugar but more importantly more extract and flavor in the grape, hence a more expressive wine. The higher the ripeness of the grapes used for the wine, the higher up in the pyramid the wine will be categorized.
The categories DO NOT reflect sweetness levels in the finished wine.
In fact, they are independent of residual sugar (sweetness) in the wine, which is determined by the winemaker guiding the fermentation, which is the process of transforming the natural sugar of the grapes into alcohol in the wine and carbon dioxide.
Hence the dryness of a wine is independent of the ripeness level of the grapes upon harvest. If the fermentation is interrupted before all sugar is transformed, it will result in a sweeter style wine. If the fermentation continues until little or no sugar is left, it results in a dry wine. Grapes for dessert wines have so much natural sugar that they will not ferment completely and residual sugar (sweetness) will remain. Grapes classified as Qualitätswein up to Auslese, can become a dry (trocken), dry to medium dry (halbtrocken) or fruity wine.
In contrast to the common belief that German wines are sweet, close to 2/3 of the entire production in Germany is dry. Dry is the preferred vinification style consumed by the German wine drinker.
For more information on German wines, please visit Deutsches Weininstitut.
QUALITÄTSWEIN MIT PRÄDIKAT [qmp]
(Quality wines with attribute)
The German wine law refers to the following category as “Qualitätsweine mit Prädikat” (quality wines with attributes); these attributes represent graduating ripeness levels, which are in ascending order: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA), and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA). These wines are all naturally produced, no chaptalization.
Usually light wines made of fully ripe grapes. Intended to be a light quaffing wine or to go with light food. Generally light in alcohol and calories. Can be dry, medium-dry or sweet. These light wines are about 2 to 5% less in alcohol than Californian wines but not less tasty.
SPÄTLESE (Late Harvest)
It literally means late harvest. Wines of superior quality made from grapes harvested after the normal harvest. These wines are more intense in flavor and concentration than quality wines and Kabinetts. Good with richer food or by themselves. The later harvest lets the grapes dry and ripen on sunny autumn days which increases the intensity of the fruit and the flavors. Can be dry, medium dry or sweeter style. Good values.
AUSLESE (Select Picking)
Harvest of selected, very ripe bunches. Noble wines, intense in bouquet and taste. Often dessert wines are light and sweet, but they can be dry, medium dry or sweet.
Dry Auslese wines are higher in alcohol and can work with many main courses.
BEERENAUSLESE BA (Berries Select Picking)
Harvest of individually selected, overripe berries. Remarkably rich, sweet dessert wines to be enjoyed as dessert by themselves or with dessert.
TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE TBA (Dry Berries Select Picking)
Harvest of individually selected berries which are overripe and shrivelled on the vine almost to raisins. Rich, sweet, luscious, honey-like wines.
Wines of at least BA intensity, made from grapes harvested and pressed while frozen. Truly unique wines with a remarkable concentration of fruity acidity and sweetness.
Note on dessert wines: Dessert wines or noble sweet wines, can be in the Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese or Eiswein category. Good examples distinguish themselves by high concentration of fruit and acidity in combination with rich mouthfeel and intense honey-like flavors. Wine lovers also refer to them as “nectar of the gods.”
QUALITÄTSWEIN BESTIMMTER ANBAUGEBIETE [QbA]
(Quality Wine of a specified appellation)
German wine law ensures that the wine is from one specific wine-growing region, is made of approved grape varieties and reaches sufficient ripeness for a quality wine. Nevertheless, these wines may be chaptalized (Chaptalization: sugar is added to the juice before fermentation to increase the alcohol level after fermentation, commonly used in all wine producing regions of the world). The chaptalization adds body to these otherwise lighter wines and makes them great simple food wines, enjoyable on a day-to-day basis by themselves or as spritzers (mixed with Club Soda).
DEUTSCHER WEIN (formerly “Tafelwein”)
Deutscher Wein must fulfill the following conditions:
Be produced exclusively from German produce from the legally recognized roster of grapes permitted in Germany. Since August 1, 2009 it is allowed to declare the grapevine variety on the label.
Must reach a natural alcohol content (must weight) of 5% (44o Oechsle) in climatic zone A (all German wine-growing regions except Baden) and 6% (50o Oechsle) in climatic zone B (Baden).
Must reach an existing alcohol content of at least 8.5% by volume in zones A and B.
Must reach a total acidity of at least 4.5 grams/liter.
The alcohol content of these wines may be strengthened prior to fermentation by concentration (evaporation of grape must under vacuum) or enrichment (adding dry-cane or beet- sugar, or concentrated grape must, to the [still] unfermented juice).
Note: Blends of table wine from different countries of the EU, i.e. Euroblends, must include a statement on the label indicating where the grapes were grown or that it is a blend from several countries. Only Deutscher Wein is 100% German in origin.
DEUTSCHER LANDWEIN (superior table wine)
Deutscher Landwein is a category created with the harvest of 1982 and must fulfill the following requirements:
Be produced exclusively from German produce from the legally recognized roster of grapes permitted in Germany, grown in one of the 19 Landwein regions (i.e. permitted in all wine-growing regions except Franken); the region must be declared on the label
Must reach a natural alcohol content of at least 0.5% more than simple Tafelwein and show regional characteristics
Must be either trocken (dry) or halbtrocken (off-dry) in style
The alcohol content of these wines may be strengthened prior to fermentation by enrichment, i.e. adding dry – cane or beet – sugar. This procedure is also referred to as chaptalization, named after its proponent, the French scientist Jean-Antoine Chaptal (1756-1832). Its sole purpose is to increase the final alcoholic strength of a wine – the added sugar (along with the grapes’ natural sugar) is converted during fermentation. The EU wine law limits the amount of additional alcohol that can be achieved through this cellar technique to 3.5% by volume (28 grams of alcohol per liter) in zone A and 2.5% by volume (20 grams of alcohol per liter) in zone B.
The quality wine category (wines made from ripe, very ripe or overripe grapes) comprises two levels in Germany. These wines are subject to a quality control examination and must bear a quality control test number (A.P.Nr.) on the label.