As in other European countries, German wines are divided into two classes: Table Wine and Quality Wine. Since most of the Table Wine is not available in the United States, we will concentrate on the Quality Wine (Qualitätswein). There are two categories of Quality Wine: Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) and Prädikatswein (formerly known as Qualitätswein mit Prädikat or QmP).
QbA wines are probably the easiest to understand. These are quality wines from specific regions (anbaugebiete). There are 13 quality regions in Germany: Ahr, Mosel, Nahe, Rheingau, Rheinhessen, Paflz, Baden, Franken, Württemberg, Mittelrhein, Hessische Bergstraße, Saale-Unstrut, and Sachsen. In this Quality Wine category, the wines must all be made within the region designated on the label, and have a minimum natural alcohol content of 7%. These wines are allowed to be chaptalized (the process of adding sugar to bring up the alcohol levels or sweetness).
QbA wines represent the highest level of quality in German wines. These are "Quality Wines with Special Attributes". This is where it gets a little more complicated...the special attributes are based on the amount of sugar in the juice of the grape at harvest. In the United States, we refer to this as Brix, while in Germany it is measured in the degrees of Oechsle. Prädikatswein range from dry to extremely sweet. The different Prädikat designations used are (in order of increasing sugar levels): Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA), Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA).
QmP wines are not allowed to be chaptalized and must be produced from allowed grape varieties in one of the 39 subregions (Bereich) of one of the 13 wine-growing regions.
Next week, we'll take a look at how to read a German wine label. These wine labels give more information that any other wines in the world, but can also be the most confusing.