Classification of German wines
Undoubtedly, one of the difficulties that one faces when buying a German wine is being able to decipher everything that indicates that long name that usually adorns the label. That is, to know what type of wine we are going to buy: dry, sweet, paid, generic ...
In principle, things do not seem easy. However, once we have familiarized ourselves with some terms, we will realize that the classification of German wines follows quite logical guidelines and that only by looking at the name of the label, for example, we can obtain a lot of information.
The first thing we can look at is whether the capsule has the VDP logo (an eagle with a cluster in the center). This will already be a guarantee of quality and will also indicate that their classification is going to be governed by the rules of this producer association (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter).
This classification, of clear French inspiration and based on the concept of “terroir”, distinguishes three classifications for dry wines: generic, premium wines and large crus. The “great crus”, this is in German Grösses Gewächs (GG), are at the top of the quality for dry wines. They are wines of qualified payment, of limited yield and manual harvest.
However, that is not the traditional way of classifying German wines. Indeed, in a generic way, German wines have been classified by law based on the degrees of sugar contained in their musts. This classification, first of all, distinguishes between wines that can be chaptalized (QbA) and those that cannot, giving the latter the name “Qualitätswein mit Prädikat” (QmP). Note: "Prädikatswein" to dry since August 2007.
Among the Prädikatswein, 6 categories are distinguished based on the degrees of sugar, as well as implicitly, as we will see below, the viticulture technique: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA), Trockenbenerauslese (TBA) and Eswein.
- Kabinett: Corresponds to the category with the lowest degrees of sugar (67º-85º Ochsle) and in theory they are usually vinified in a traditional way: with long fermentations in old used wood “fudres” (although also in stainless steel) leaving some residual sugar.
- Spätlese: It can be translated as “late harvest” (76º-95º Ochsle). In general, the grapes from which these wines are made are not usually affected by Botrytis Cinerea yet. They are usually well-wrapped wines due to their acidity, low alcohol content (although not always), and those that will be good for a few years in the bottle.
- Auslese: It could be translated as “selected harvest” (83º-105º Ochsle). From this category, grapes are usually affected by Botrytis Cinerea. The degree of sugar is usually already notable (with exceptions), although the sensation of sweetness is always accompanied by an excellent acidity that counteracts it.
- Beerenauslese (BA): The translation would be “selected berries” (110º-128º Ochsle). It involves a manual selection in the vineyard of the berries attacked by noble rot. They are already clear and wonderfully sweet wines.
- Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA): "Selected raisin" (more than 150º Oschle). They are wines in which the berry is practically dry by the action of the botrytis. Great for storage.
Thus, we see how this type of classification is directly related to the maturity of the vineyards and the harvesting and viniculture technique.
As an example and roughly, a vineyard at its point of maturity and vinified in the traditional way will give us a Kabinett; a late harvest with the more mature and concentrated grape, a Spätlese; If we let a few more days pass, we can select a vineyard where the grape is already attacked by Botrytis (totally or partially) obtaining an Auslese; One more twist and we can make a selection of well attacked grains for the BA; and finally the berry is almost dry and concentrated for the TBA.
But that's not all, we still have a technique to concentrate sugars: ice.
- Eiswein: "Ice wine." The freezing German nights will be very useful to freeze the berries, that is, their water, and concentrate sugars. The harvest must then take place between -7ºC and -12ºC, before the grapes are thawed. The sugar levels should match the natural levels of the BA.
And so far, the generic way of classifying German wines.
But that's not all: concepts such as Trocken, Goldkapsel (GK), barrel number, etc… have yet to be defined.
Although that will be in another post.