Ripeness categories in Germany
Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete QbA
(Quality wine of a specified appellation)
German wine law ensures that the wine is from one specific wine-growing region, is made of approved grape varieties and reaches sufficient ripeness for a quality wine.
Qualitätswein mit Prädikat QmP
(Quality wine with attribute)
The German wine law refers to the following category as "Qualitätsweine mit Prädikat". These attributes are standing for ripeness levels, which are in ascending order: "Kabinett", "Spätlese", "Auslese", "Beerenauslese" and "Trockenbeerenauslese". These wines are all naturally produced, without chaptalization. Chaptalization means to add sugar to te juice before fermentation to increase the alcohol level after. By the way, this is commonly used in all wine regions of the world.
Usually light wines made of fully ripened grapes. This wines are to be enjoyed on an easy way, paired with light food. They are light in alcohol and calories. Wines can be dry, medium-dry or sweet.
Literally it means late harvest. These wines are of superior quality made from grapes harvested after the normal harvest. The wines are more intense in flavor and concentration than quality wines and Kabinetts. They are good with richer food or by themselves. The later harvests let the grapes dry and ripen on sunny fall days which increase the intensity of the fruit and the flavors. The wines can be dry, medium dry or of a sweeter style.
Harvest of selected, very ripe bunches of grapes. These wines are noble, intense in bouquet and taste. Often they can be light and sweet dessert wines, but they can be also dry or medium dry. Dry Auslese are higher in alcohol and can be paired with many main courses.
Harvest of individually selected, overripe berries. These wines are remarkably rich. They can be dessert wines to be enjoyed as dessert by themselves or paired with the dessert.
Harvest of individually selected berries which are overripe and shrivelled on the vine almost to raisins. These wines are sweet, luscious and honey-like.
These are wines with at least Beerenauslese intensity, made from grapes harvested and pressed while frozen. These wines are truly unique with a remarkable concentration of fruity acidity and sweetness.
Dessert wines or noble sweet wines can be in the Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerebauslese or Eiswein category. Good Dessertweins distinguish themselves by high concentration of fruit and acidity in combination with rich mouthfeel and intense honey-like flavors. Wine lovers also refer to them as "nectar of the gods".
German wines are categorized by the degree of ripeness measured in natural grape sugar upon harvest.
These ripeness categories are determined by the sugar content in the grapes, which is measured in degree Oechsle. The Oechsle requirements for the respective categories vary by growing region.
Riper grapes have more sugar, more extract and flavor in the grape, hence a more expressive wine. The higher the ripeness of the grapes used for the wine, the higher up the wine will be categorized.
But these categories do not reflect the sweetness levels in the finished wine. They are independent of residual sugar (sweetness) in the wine, which is determined by the winemaker guiding the fermentation. Fermentation is the process of transforming the natural sugar of the grapes into alcohol in the wine and carbon dioxide. At the end, the dryness of a wine is independent of the ripeness level of the grapes upon harvest.
If the fermentation is interrupted before all sugar is transformed, it will result in a sweeter style wine. If the fermentation continues until little or no sugar is left, it results in a dry wine. Grapes for dessert wines have so much natural sugar that this will not ferment completely and residual sugar will remain. Grapes classified as Qualitätswein up to Auslese can become a dry, medium-dry or fruity wine.
In contrast to the common belief that German wines are sweet, nearly 2/3 of the entire wine production in Germany is dry. Dry is the mostly enjoyed vinification style consumed by the German wine drinker.