The lowdown on German wines.jpg

The lowdown on German wines

By: Maurice Lee

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WHEN WE think of German wine, we think Liebfraumilch (milk of a beautiful woman), and the most popular of all German wines, although not in Germany.

Liebfraumilch was born in Rheinhessen, and was made from grapes grown in vineyards surrounding the church named Liebfrauenkirche. Now it may come from four regions: Rheinhessen, Rheingau, Nahe, or Pfalz (Palatinate). Due to the fact that Liebfraumilch is treated as a joke, many people don’t, or won’t, drink German wines. This is sad as Germany produces some of the best wines in the world.


There are 13 wine regions producing different quality wines from the Riesling (reesling), Müller-Thurgau, Sylvaner, Kerner and Scheurebe white grapes. Germany also produces light red wines. Each region produces its own style of wine, fruity acidity, spicy, fragrant, aromatic, semi-sweet, semi-dry or dry.

Under German law there are two categories of quality: Tafelwein and Qualitätswein. The first is made from normal ripe grapes, and has to have the word Deutscher on the label, or it is not German. Qualitätswein wines are made from ripe, very ripe or overripe grapes, and are known as QbA (Qualitätswein Bestimmter Anbeaugebiete) wines. Deutscher Tafelwein is simply German table wine, made from normal ripe grapes. Deutscher Landwein is a special table wine made from grapes that are riper when harvested. The main difference between one QbA and another is the degree of sweetness and acidity. Produced in all 13 regions, the wines will be different, even if only slightly, so read the label.

Before bottling, the Cellar Master decides which style of wine he wishes to produce. He is allowed to add unfermented grape juice, which is naturally sweet, to the fermented wine, and the style is determined by how much is added of this “Sweet Reserve”.

Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP), are quality wines with special attributes, and include all the finest German wines. There are six special attributes (Prädikat), and in ascending order are as follows:

Kabinett – Made from fully ripened grapes, and the lightest of the Prädikat wines.

Spätlese – Means ‘Late Harvest’. These wines are made from grapes harvested after the normal harvest. More intense than Kabinett, but not always sweet.

Auslese – A harvest of selected very ripe bunches of grapes, but again, not always sweet.

Beerenauslese (BA) – Only individual overripe berries are harvested. These grapes make rich, sweet dessert wines.

Eiswein – The grapes are harvested and pressed while frozen, producing a remarkable concentration of fruity acidity and sweetness.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) – The individual grapes are not harvested until they are overripe and dried up to look like raisins. Very rich, sweet, honey-like wine.

The information on a German wine label is probably the most informative of all wine labels. Always printed in the same order, there is the appellation of origin, vintage, grape,  taste/style, quality control, ( either QbA or QmP), and the A.P number, which is like a birth certificate, allowing the wine to be sold commercially. Two sealed bottles of each wine are always retained and, on the basis of the A.P number, the testing authorities can at any time trace a wine back to its origin.

Most German wines are semi-sweet, but drier ones are available, and worth looking for. The word Trocken on a label means the wine is dry. However, on a TBA label, the word refers to the condition of the grape which has dried up on the vine. The word Halbtrocken means half dry. Today, more than 50 per cent of German wines are dry or semi-dry.


Some of their dry wines contain only one gram of residual sugar, per litre. A litre of manufactured orange juice can have nine grams or more, per litre. So if you’re going on a sugar free diet, you don’t have to stop drinking wine. Also, remember that wine contains all 13 of the minerals that the body needs to survive. It also contains Vitamins A, B, C and D.

Tasting is the best way to appreciate German wines, as well as learning the subtle differences distinguishing a Rhine wine (brown bottle), from a Mosel (green bottle), a Riesling grape from a Sylvaner, or a simple table wine from a late harvest one. Try to ignore the stigma that the popular, cheaper German wines have. Be adventurous and go for the better, slightly more expensive ones. Once you know the words to look for on the label, you’ll wonder why you haven’t tried these wines before now. You may sometimes see tartaric crystals on the cork or in the bottle. They are tasteless and harmless, and are a sign of quality. These tiny crystals are the base for tartar sauce.

If you ever visit Koblenz, on the Mosel River, look for the statue of the goat being pressed in a wine press. It appears the local wine was being stolen, and nobody could find the thief. The elders of the town decided it was a particular goat. They put the goat in a wine press, and pressed it as they would grapes. They decided that if the liquid was red the goat was innocent, albeit dead. If the colour was white, then it was guilty, and also dead. The poor goat couldn’t win, but at least it was proved innocent as the colour of the liquid was red.

Next: Your cellar

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