Deciphering German wine labels

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An illustrative German Wine Label

Cut through the clutter and confusion

Learning about the sweetness levels.

If a bottle says Trocken on the label it's going to be a dry wine, Trocken is German for dry. Halb-trocken, or less commonly Feinherb, will mean that the wine is half dry, it will probably still seem dry to someone looking for a sweet wine though.

The German QmP ripeness scale begins with the least ripe grapes, which will generally translate into the least sweet wine. These classifications only reflect the minimum level of sweetness so any category can be decalssified into a lower category.
A rough rule of thumb for reading ripeness levels.

    * Kabinett - lightly sweet
    * Spatlese - noticeably sweet
    * Auslese - decidedly sweet
    * and then the dessert level
    * Beerenauslese - richly sweet
    * Trockenbeerenauslese -intensely sweet and honied
    * Eiswein - Icewine - a rare treat, sweet yet bright

You can find something labeled as Spatlese Feinherb for example but as a general rule: Auslese is sweeter than Spatlese, and Spatlese is sweeter than Kabinett.

There is another group of lower priced wines that are generally labeled with proprietary names, "L" and "Dragonstone" come to mind. These so called Qba wines tend to fall about midway between Kabinett and Spatlese sweetness.

One way to further narrow your search is by checking the alcoholic content of the wine. The higher the alcohol, the less sugar remained unfermented, so the drier the finished wine.

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Mentioned in this article


  • Snooth User: Philip James
    Founding Member Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    1 12,549

    The Dragonstone Reisling is a fantastic wine - one of the best for under $20

    Sep 10, 2009 at 1:53 PM

  • If you need more info, go to This is the wine blog of a German in the US.

    Sep 11, 2009 at 12:51 AM

  • Snooth User: cliberg
    218104 4

    In my experience correlating increasing ripeness of grapes with increasing sweetness is not necessarily valid. It is of course valid *before* fermentation commences. Residual sweetness is largely a function of the completeness of fermentation; a Spätlese can be dry as a bone, albeit with more extract and fruit than say a Kabinett.

    Weingut Leitz Rüdesheimer Riesling Spätlese trocken is awesome, rich and fleshy but very dry too.

    Sep 11, 2009 at 2:50 AM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 196,344

    Very nice blog Christian!

    That is a fact cliberg. The terms denoting relative dryness, Trocken, Halbtrocken and Feinherb are mentioned as well as the fact that the use of Kabinett, Spatlese, etc on the label refers to a minimum level of ripeness at harvest. I certainly have had Kabinetts that were declassified Auslesen!

    Sep 11, 2009 at 8:11 AM

  • Snooth User: Sweetstuff
    Hand of Snooth
    139592 254

    It might have been good for you to use as an example label with the new nomenclature on it: Quätlitatswein mit Prädikat is now Prädikatswein (and Quälitatswein bestimmtes Anbaugebiete [Q.b.A.] is simply Quälitatswein).

    Eventually you'll of course want to mention the difference between an Einzellage and a Grosslage.

    Best, John Trombley

    Sep 11, 2009 at 3:00 PM

  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 196,344

    Hi John,

    This was the clearest label I could find. I did skip over the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, conveniently ignoring that fact!

    And of course the the difference between an Einzellage and a Grosslage is not for Wine 101, maybe Wine 201! Any interest in writing something for Snooth? You are far more qualified than i!

    Sep 13, 2009 at 9:50 AM

  • Snooth User: Ljubisa
    262860 2

    # Kabinett - lightly sweet
    # Spatlese - noticeably sweet
    # Auslese - decidedly sweet
    This part can be really confusing for beginners since it has nothing to do with real classification and even not with translation. What is to be taken care of is that the "normal" sugar ranges based classification i.e. 0-4 gram/litre dry, 4-8 semi-dry, 8-50 semi- sweet and above 50 sweet, is not used in Germany. There are only three categories and the ranges are correspondingly wider, what can be surprise for the people used to the a.m. classification.

    Oct 24, 2009 at 8:12 AM

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