Sep 15, 2014

How to read a German wine label

We Germans are known to be well organized, sometimes even over-organized. And we love to know exactly what we buy and what we drink. This is why usually it is quite hard to read a German wine label if you are not German. Of course the language is an issue but probably not the biggest.

Here is a little guide to understand German labels:

In general, the more detailed the information on the label the better the quality!

Usually most prominent on the label is the vintner or wine estate, because we want to know who is responsible for that all. Brand names are not so common, especially in the higher quality range.

Next is the grape variety. Remember, we want to know what we drink! In Germany most wines are made from a single variety and of course this is mentioned on the label. Cuvées are not so common and have quite a dubious image. It usually is not seen as to make an excellent wine from two or more good ones but to try to make at least a drinkable one from two rather bad ones. Probably that's why Bordeaux is not as big here as elsewhere, but don't tell them...

This is why the vintage is so important. You will never get the same wine in different years. So the vintage is important to mention and also to know about the good years and the less good ones. But which are the excellent years is insider knowledge we would never tell to the big audience here :-)

Label on a German wine bottle, here on a bottle called Bocksbeutel, which is the traditional Franconian shape of bottles.
German wine label on a Bocksbeutel bottle
Terroir is a big topic too. We not only want to know what we drink but also where it comes from... exactly. Not only the region (e.g. Franken) but also the village, the cru, the vineyard and sometimes even a single spot called "Parzelle" of the vineyard which is rarely bigger than the average backyard garden in the US. So you can almost localize the grapevine your wine comes from. Remember, we want to know... well I think we had that already.

German wines are predominant dry, Franconian wines usually are bone dry. We know that but nevertheless we mention it on the label. trocken means dry in German. If you don't find it on the label then expect some residual sugar in there. Other terms are used to indicate sweetness, like halbtrocken (semi dry) or feinherb but they are not mandatory.

“Prädikatsweine” (graded wines) often bear a quality level on the label which is derived from the potential alcohol of the must, the "must weight". The lowest level is Kabinett, second Spätlese (late harvest), then Auslese (selection), Beeren- and Trockenbeerenauslese (selection of single berries / affected by noble rot) and Eiswein (icewine). From Auslese upwards you can be sure to have residual sugar in the wine.

Of course the alcohol level is mentioned as well as the volume of the bottle. Finally every quality wine bears an A.P. number (Amtliche Prüfnummer = official testing signature) as every wine is tested and gets its individual number.

That’s it… almost… well for the front label. No, I am not kidding. Most wines have a back label as well because there are lots of other things the vintner thinks we need to know. E.g. if the wine is organic produced this most likely is mentioned there. The address of the wine estate can be found so you find them next time you want to fill your trunk with bottles of this wine.
There can be some other icons found there. For instance, one with an out crossed pregnant woman, I think this means you won’t get pregnant from drinking this wine, but I am not totally sure about this ;-)

Furthermore the mandatory warning that the wine contains sulfite. Frequently the temperature for best serving the wine is mentioned as well as what dishes are best to accompany it, sometimes even the recipes how to prepare them… O.K. that’s rare but not impossible.

You see, lots to read and to understand. Have I already talked about the spelling of the varieties? Well, this is definitely worth another post.