Why are German wine labels so staid and severe? I mean, when the emblem for the highest level of quality (“VDP,” Verband Deutscher Prädikats) is eerily similar to that of the German military, it doesn’t exactly evoke feelings of joyful anticipation, which is what I’m after when I first look at a wine. (Sorry, but the little “grape cluster” doesn’t really help.)
Another challenge is making German wine labels appealing and understandable to consumers. German words are difficult enough, and some of the required elements on German wine labels don’t leave lots of room for artistic elements that appeal to our subconscious when considering a wine purchase.
German wine labels typically include the town where the vineyard is located and the actual vineyard name. Zeltinger Schlossberg, for example, refers to the Schlossberg winery in the village Zeltingen. There is also the laundry list of ingredients, percentages and degrees (German wine is classified by degree of must weight), where and by whom the contents were bottled, with daunting words like “Erzeugerabfüllung” and “Winzergenossenschaft.”
And those are just the “bookkeeping” aspects of the label. The wine’s descriptors need to be deciphered, too.
The best website I found explaining this is German Wine Estates. I especially like the site’s German Wine Quality Cluster chart.
At the top you have Deutscher Wein (German table wine), made mostly for domestic consumption and tending to be sweet, with few regulations.
Next is Deutscher Landwein (German land wine or country wine), a grade above, slightly drier, with specific restrictions on sugar, alcohol and location origin.
A grade above Deutscher Landwein is Qualitätswein. This wine is composed only of approved grape varieties of sufficient ripeness. Germany frequently has weather problems, so her wines can vary greatly from year to year. The summer of 2014 was so cold and wet it will be interesting to see what kind of harvests they’ll have. But I digress. Qualitätswein is chaptalized in order to produce higher post-fermentation alcohol levels (as is much wine worldwide, since time immemorial).
Above this are six wines falling under the overarching category Prädikatswein. The main distinguishing factor is the degree of grape ripeness, and no chaptalization. The first three, Kabinett, literally “cabinet” for being kept in the winemaker’s special privy cabinet, Spätlese “late harvest,” and Auslese “select harvest” can be dry or sweet, and are categorized by increasing must weight and alcohol content.
The last three of the Prädikatsweine are all sweet, beginning with the least sweet Beerenauslese “select berry harvest,” to Eiswein “ice wine”, to Trockenbeerenauslese “dry berries select harvest” the sweetest, thickest of all, and most expensive.