From falling leaves to brisk fresh air, the signs of fall are
everywhere around us. It is once again that wondrous time of
year when we can enjoy the many festivals and celebrations of
the harvest season.
The most famous of all fall festivals is the German Oktoberfest.
The mere mention conjures visions of brats grilling on an open
pit, sauerkraut, warm German potato salad, dancing to polka music,
and of course a good bottle of German wine.
Even though Germany’s national beverage is beer, their wines
are truly the darling of the country. One of the most common
issues I hear from my customers regarding these wines, however,
is the difficulty in deciphering the vast array of information
(mostly in German) contained on the label. The German Wine Law
dictates that certain facts are included on every label, and
learning about these will help make you a more educated consumer.
According to the Wine Law, it is mandatory that the category
of wine be included on the label. There are four categories:
Tafelwein (table wine), Landwein (country wine), Qualitatswein
bestimmer Anbaugebeite (quality wine from defined regions) abbreviated
to Q.b.A., and Qualitatswein mit Pradikat (wine with a distinction)
abbreviated to Q.m.P.
The majority of wines produced are Q.b.A. or Q.m.P. These categories
each have a panel of judges that actually taste-test every bottle
and inspect it for items such as alcohol level, sugar level,
and grape varietals used, among others. These wines will also
have an official inspection and lot number on the label with
precise details of its bottling and inspection, e.g., A.P. Nr.
3 701 065 018 06. In this example, “A.P. Nr. 3” is the government
tasting station, “701” is the code of the bottler, “065” is the
bottler ID, “018” is the bottle lot, and finally “06” is the
year the wine was tasted by the panel. A high degree of accountability,
wouldn’t you agree?
Other compulsory information on the label includes the names
of the winemaker and bottling site, the bottle volume, and the
alcohol content. Optional items on the label include the area
of origin, the names of up to two grape varieties, the vintage,
the vineyard name, and a description of the flavor (dry, medium-dry,
You will also notice on the label distinctions within the Q.m.P.
wines. Unlike its French counterpart, German Wine Law does not
classify by geography, but instead distinguishes on the basis
of the sugar content of the grape must. These distinctions are
Kabinett (cabinet), Spatlese (late harvest), Auslese (select
harvest), Beerenauslese (select berry harvest), and Trockenbeerenauslese,
or T.B.A., (select dried berry harvest). Additionally, there
is the special distinction of Eiswein (ice wine).
The highest-quality German wines will also have a distinctive
logo on the label that features a stylized heraldic eagle
and grape bunch. This is the trademark of the Verband
und Qualitätsweingüter, abbreviated to VDP, or the
Association of German Prädikat Wine Estates. This
trade organization - akin to the Gallo Nero ("Black
Rooster") producers in Chianti - traces its roots
back to 1897, and now comprises more than 200 of Germany's
wine producers. The stated obligation for VDP member wines
is “to exceed the legal norms set for all German wines.”
is truly the mark of a quality German wine.
Now that you better understand German wine labels, why not go
buy a bottle of your favorite German wine and show off your newfound
knowledge to all your friends while celebrating Oktoberfest!
Stanton is the proprietor of Wines by Jennifer in Parkville,