April 21, 2024

Hand Selected, With Predicate

Do you know the difference between spätlesen and auslesen? How about QmP versus QbA?

German wines have been on the rise recently, thanks in large part to the renewed popularity of Riesling.

Let’s break down German wine labeling to help you understand.

Germany uses a meticulous labeling system that designates the factors used in producing the wine, some of which include region, if sugar was added, and how ripe the grapes are when picked. Wine is broken down into four major categories: table wine (tafelwine), country wine (landwein), quality wine (qualitätswein), and top quality wine (prädikatswein).

Tafelwein and Landwein

Tafelwein and landwein are simple, basic, non-distinct wines. These are a small portion of production, are essentially not exported so most Americans will never drink one, and they deserve no more mention here. QbA (Qualitätswein bestimmer Anbaugebiete – quality wines from a designated region) wines, are many of the common, inexpensive wines that Americans are familiar with from Germany. They must come from one of Germany’s 13 official wine growing regions, and use only the allowed grapes grown in that region. The region must be shown on the label along with the phrase Qualitätswein. The grapes must reach a ripeness measured by the density scale Oechsle of between 51 to 72 degrees, and wines must be at least 7% alcohol. Sugar additions are allowed, and are common. Wines can range from dry to semi-sweet, which is often indicated on the label. Several special category wines, such as Liebfraumilch, fall into the QbA designation.


Top quality wines or Prädikatswein (wines with predicate, which replaced the old designation of Qualitätswein mit Prädikat – quality wines with predicate or QmP) tend to be very detailed in labeling. The wine must come from one of the 39 subregions (Bereich) within the 13 major regions. Only the major region is required on the label, but many wines will list both, and commonly the specific vineyard the grapes are from. The wines are not allowed to have sugar added, and must reach at least 7% alcohol for non-dessert styles and 5.5% for dessert wines. Wines are given a prädikat designation based off of the Oechsle ripeness and conditions the grapes are harvested at, which breaks down as follows:

  • Kabinett (cabinet wine) – These are wines from the main harvest; typically dry to off-dry.
  • Spätlese (late harvest) – Typically off-dry, but can be dry.
  • Auslese (select harvest) – Choice selected ripe grapes. Usually off-dry to sweet, but can be dry.
  • Beerenauslese (berry select harvest) – Individually picked over-ripe berries, often with botrytis rot. A sweet dessert style.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese (dry berry select harvest) – Individually picked near raisin berries, often with botrytis. A very sweet dessert wine.
  • Eiswein (ice wine) – Grapes are naturally frozen on the vine, traditionally without botrytis. Must have at least beerenauslese ripeness by Oechsle.

Sweetness Terms

Several sweetness terms are also used on German labels. The designations of trocken (dry) and halbtrocken (half-dry) are common, and you may occasionally see the sweetness terms feinherb (off-dry, slightly sweeter than halbtrocken), lieblich or restsüss (semi-sweet), and süss or edelsüss (sweet). It is incorrectly assumed that most German wines are sweet. The vast majority is trocken or halbtrocken in style, or at least tastes that way. However, sweeter styles are commonly made for the American export market.

Other Terms to Know

A few new terms one might encounter that have come into use lately are: Classic, Selection, Erstes Gewächs (first class growth), Grosses Gewächs (great growth), Erste Lage (first class site), and Charta Riesling. Classic is basically the standard, traditional dry to off-dry QbA style wine. Selection is used for dry spätlesen from a select vineyard site. Erste Lage is used in reference to top vineyard sites, and Erstes Gewächs and Grosses Gewächs are used for top quality wines from those sites (dry auslesen in principle). Charta Riesling is 100% QbA or Prädikat Rheingau Riesling that meets certain qualities and has passed a local sensory panel approval.

Germany is undoubtedly one of the world’s top wine producers, particularly of fine white wines. While the overload of information and the strange writing may intimidate at first, don’t be afraid of German labels. Just look for the QbA or the Prädikat and it tells you all you need know.

Prosit! Enjoy, and drink responsibly.

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