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German Wine Classification

by Staff Writer - K. Ash | July 02, 2011

Like any other wine producing country, Germany has a system for the legal classification of wine. The German system for wine classification is unique in that wines are ultimately rated by ripeness of grape and not specifically the region in which the vineyard is located. The principle for this system is logical and sound in theory but in actual practice many different problems are encountered. For example, riper grapes from reputable grape varieties will for the most part produce the best wines however the riper grapes from substandard varieties produce poor wines. In this example both wines have the potential to be labeled as a high quality wine due to ripeness being a determining factor. This and other similar loopholes have created an environment where 90 percent of production is classified as the best quality level. This condition is why the understanding of German wine laws is essential when making decisions concerning tasting and ultimately purchasing German wines.

German wine laws stipulate a number of conditions that control how the wine will be labeled and ultimately classified. Characteristics include specific regions, if sugar has been added to the wine and of course, the ripeness of the grapes. Using these characteristics, four specific wine classifications have been developed. They include: Deutscher Tafelwein, Deutscher Landwein, Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA), and Pradikatswein (QmP).

Deutscher Tafelwein translated into English means German Table Wine. This wine classification is equivalent to the French vin de table classification and is on the lower level of the German classification system. Prerequisites for wines to be classified Deutscher Tafelwein include the exclusive use of grapes from one of the five Tafelwein regions, alcohol content must be 8.5% by volume, grapes must weigh 44(deg)Oe--however this does not apply to all regions--and acidity must be at least 4.5 grams per liter.

The classification Deutscher Landwein when translated into English means German Country Wine. Deutscher Landwein has an equivalent of vin de pays in the French classification system and is also on the lower level of the German classification system. Regulations are very similar to that of Deutscher Tafelwein with the following exceptions. Wines can come from one of the 19 Landwein areas, must have a 0.5% higher alcohol rating than Tafelwein, and must be trocken or halbtrocken (dry or off-dry.)

Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete is the second best German classification and translated into English means Quality Wine from a Specific Region. Wines classified Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete must be produced from specific varieties found in one of 13 allowed regions. Grapes must weigh between 51(deg)Oe to 72(deg)Oe depending on the variety. Finally the alcohol content must be at least 7% by volume. One interesting fact is that Chaptalization--the act of adding sugar in order to increase alcohol content--is allowed with Qualitatswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete designated wines.

The top rung of the German classification system is the Pradikatswein classification. In years past this classification was known as Qualitatswein mit Pradikat and in English means Quality Wine with Special Characteristics. Wines bearing the Pradikatswein classification must be produced from one of the 39 sub regions found in one of the 13 wine growing regions. In addition to the regional requirements, various other requirements exist and are formed into designations of the Pradikatswein classification. These are known as Pradikat designations and include the following: Kabinett, a medium dry light wine from the main harvest; Spatlese, a medium to medium sweet wine from the late harvest; Auslese, a medium to sweet whine where some of the grapes have been affected by noble-rot; Beerenauslese, a sweet wine produced from a majority of grapes being affected by noble-rot; Eiswein, a very sweet wine produced from gapes naturally frozen on the vine but preferably not affected by noble-rot; and Trockenbeerenauslese, an intensely sweet wine produced only from grapes affected by noble-rot. Within these Pradikat designations, various grape weights are defined as well as alcohol percentage volumes.

German wine laws have additional requirements that must be met for each particular classification. Wine labels are required to have specific information displayed for specific classifications. The name of the producer, the address of the producer, indication if the producer bottled the wine, the vintage, the vineyard, the alcoholic strength, the region, the grape variety, the volume, the AP number and the wine classification itself plus and any designation. Different classifications have different requirements for what must appear on the label.

In addition to the German legal requirements concerning wine classification, legal requirements also stipulate that each wine be put through strict tasting processes and then receive a specific rating. The results of this process are known as an Amtliche Prufnummer (AP) which in English means Governmental Proof Number. An AP number is visible on any wine produced in Germany and can be used to determine specifics concerning the wine as well as quality. However using an AP number to rate a specific wine can lead to unreliable results as standards for AP classifications are somewhat low.

The German classification system is not without its problems. Due to the construction of German wine laws, growers have a great amount of latitude over how they can apply the law to the wines they produce. This has unfortunately led to some very mediocre wines being legally classified in the Pradikatswein category. To make matters worse, this has also aided in the perception that German wines are inferior when compared to wines from other countries. The good news is that there are many estates in Germany that still produce excellent wines. A good understanding of the German classification system is key to discovering and isolating the great wines that Germany produces.

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