Monday, June 28, 2010

German Wine: Part 2

This is the second of the German Wine series
German Wine Part 1

Here is a lovely chart I came across during my wine course.  On the bottom of the pyramid are your basic table wines with very little quality control.  Deutscher Tafelwein encompasses wines made anywhere in Germany, while Landwein are slightly superior table wine that came from any of the 19 designated wine regions and they have slightly higher alcohol percentage.

Above that you have QbA which encompasses all the quality wine produced in one of the 13 designated wine growing region.  They have to obey the regional regulation regarding variety and ripeness.  However, they are allowed to add cane sugar to their wine in order to achieve higher alcohol percentage. Within QbA, QmP describes the best quality wines in Germany (see part 1).

In addition to their QmP designation, the wines can also come with these descriptions

  • Trocken: dry wine.  An Auslese wine can also be Trocken, because you can completely ferment all the sugar in an Auslese grape to make a dry wine.  These wines would have a lot of complex and beautiful flavours and high alcohol percentage.
  • Halbtrocken: semi dry
  • Classic: These must have a minimum alcohol level of 12% and must be made from a single grape variety from a single vintage in a single region (note: can come from multiple vineyard within that region).  These wines are classic, because they are made from a grape variety typical of their region.
  • Selection: These wines are superior than Classics.  The wines must come from grapes that were at Auslese level of sweetness and must come from an individual vineyard site (Einzellage) that will be named on the label.  The yields are further restricted and the wine just be dry or semi-dry.

On a consumer level, understanding German wine is really about understanding its informative but confusing label, so bare with me.  There are countless different German QmP wines out there in the liquor stores.  What if I want to buy the best of the QmP?  In this case, I want to look for a picture of eagle on the label or on the neck of the bottle.  The eagle represents VDP designation reserved for the finest vineyards in Germany.

What if I want the best of the VDP? Then you want to look for the following keywords:

Erstes Gewächs: This represents the top level of VDP wines in the Rheingau region.  On the label, it is represented by a picture of three "doors". These wines have a huge list of restrictions and criterias that need to be fulfilled.  The wines are subjected to inspection and testing panel every year.  In some ways, this is one of the most reliable quality designation in Europe, because wine are taste tested each year.  Erste Lage and Grosses Gewächs are similar designation for other regions.

All QbA wines comes with an A.P. number which are also very informative:
For example, L - A.P. NR. 2 606 319 011 07

  • 2: Testing center where the wine was approved
  • 606: Village where the producer is located
  • 319: Code number of that producer
  • 011: That producer's appellation number (which is vintage specific)
  • 07: The year in which the producer filed for the appellation (which is vintage specific)
The last number is the most important one.  It allows you to track the vintage of the grapes.

Technically, German wine labeling allows you to get exactly what you are looking for in a bottle, IF you understand the labeling.

Let's review what we know so far:
Level 1 (lowest): Deutscher Tafelwein
Level 2: Landwein
Level 3: QbA
Level 4: QmP (which is further divided into 6 separate categories)
Level 5: Classic
Level 6: Selection
Level 7: VDP
Level 8: (highest) Erste Gewächs, Erste Lage and Grosses Gewächs

Other designations:
  • Erzeugerabfüllung (producer bottled) and Gutsabfüllung (estate bottled): it assures that the grapes were grown and the wine was produced by one and the same grower or co-operative of growers. (Common associated with Dr. Somebody - see below)
  • Vintage: year in which the grape is harvested
  • Village and Vineyards:  "-er" is village, "-berg" is vineyards.  If the bottle does not specify, then the wine is blended across different vineyards and villages. 
  • Varietal: the grape variety
  • Ambaigebiet: the 13 designated Quality regions: Ahr, Mittelrhein, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Rheingau, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheinhessen, Franken, Hessische Bergstrasse, Württemberg, Baden, Saale/Unstrut, Sachsen
To make the matter more confusing, a lot of vineyards have several owners and each owner may produce a broad range of styles of wines from the same parcel of vines. These wines are often labeled under the producers.  This is where you often see Dr. someone on the label.  This doesn't mean the wine producer has a doctoral degree, however. As long as someone in their family has a PHD (regardless of the subject), they are allowed to put Dr on the wine label.  Only a few winemakers are reliable and consistent from year to year.

Next post, I will point out all these labeling on an actual label.

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