German Wines - Understanding the label

Village of Randersacker
Last week we spent some time reviewing some German terms that you might see on the wine label, or in discussion of wine production. Let's take that to the most logical use...understanding the label on the bottle.

German wine labels are probably the most informative labels of any wine on the market, but can also be some of the most confusing. Going back to last week, I mentioned the 13 quality wine growing regions (Anbaugebiete). Think of the Russian nesting dolls (where you have one large doll, and inside that is a smaller doll, and inside that an even smaller doll...and so on), and you'll understand the following: The Anbaugebiete has within it something similar to a district (known as a Bereich). Within the Bereich is a commune or village (Gemeinde). And, within the village, you could have a bunch of adjoining vineyards (Grosselage). A single vineyard is the smallest component (known as a Einzellage).

The nice thing about Qualitätswein (see last weeks article) German wine labels is that they will tell you almost everything you need to know. The label will include the vintage, grape variety, alcohol level, producer, grape ripeness (if it is a Prädikatswein), the Anbaugebiete, the Bereich or Gemeinde, and either the Grosselage or Einzellage, and even where the wine was tested for authenticity. Let's look at the label below and see what it tells us:
Starting at the top...1)the producer or estate is Weingut Schmitt's Kinder; 2) vintage is 2008; 3) the village where the vineyard is located (identified by the -er suffix) followed by another name (often ending in -berg) indicating the vineyard site. Therefore, the name on the label is the "Randersackerer Ewig Leben". This means that the wine comes from the Ewig Leben vineyard located in the village of Randersacker; 4) Bacchus is the grape variety; 5) Kabinett indicates that this is from the initial harvest; 6) we know this is a Prädikatswein (indicating the highest quality level); 7) The AP Number or "Amtliche Prüfungsnummer" identifies the wine and is required for all QbA and QmP wines. It consists of several blocks of numbers identifying the wine:the testing center, where the wine was approved, the village where the producer is located, the code number for the producer, the producer's application number, and the year that the wine was tested; 8) Franken is the Anbaugebiete; 9) the alcohol content is 11%; 9) this label also says "Gutsabfüllung", which means "producer bottled".

Some other terms you may see on a German wine label: "Erzeugerabfüllung", which means "estate bottled". "Trocken" indicates a dry wine without perceptible residual sugar. "Halbtrocken" indicates that the wine is semi-dry.

One thing the label doesn't tell you is the quality of the wine. But, in 2006 we started seeing the VDP "Verband Deutscher Prädikats" symbol on the label or the foil cap. This indicates the top level of quality (Germany's answer to France's first growths). All classifying regions use the same logo to label the wines from this quality level. Designation of these wines in Rheingau = "Erstes Gewachs" ; Mosel = "Erste Lage"; and all other regions = "Grosses Gewachs".

 The biggest "complaint" I hear about German wines is that they are "too sweet". Now that you understand a little better about ripeness (again, refer to last weeks' article) and how to read a wine label, you have a fighting chance to find the style you prefer. Here's a trick..the higher the alcohol level, the less residual sugar (as more sugar has been converted to alcohol). I like the ripe fruit flavors of a Spätlese or Auslese, but I like drier Reisling, so I look for higher alcohol from the producers I trust.

My objective is to prove that German wines are worth trying. Don't be afraid of the label or terms. These are some of the finest wines in the world....and they are not all sweet dessert wines.

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