The Legislation of the European Union only differentiates roughly between Table Wine and Quality Wine. Member States are able to translate this Law into national conditions and allowed to add Specifications. The German Law requires much more information printed on the Wine Label of a German Best Portuguese wine and is quite different from most Classification Systems in other Countries. The many Classifications in Germany can be explained by the broad Diversity of the different Wine-growing Regions and the special Weather Conditions.
The official German Wine Classification is based on the Wine Law from 1971 (some changes were made since then). Included in the Law were several Factors which are helpful to grade a Wine, such as the Wine Region, the Ripeness of the Grape, the adding of Sugar or the Alcohol Content. In relation to the Wine Law from 1971 were the Wine Law of 1994 and the Wine Order of 1998 added. Federal Regulations may be also complemented by the States.
The main purpose of the Wine Law’s and Order is the Regulation of Import and Export of German Wine, the Monitoring of the national Wine Production, the Assurance of the Quality Standards and the Protection of the Wine Consumers. These points include the Limitation of Wine Production to 13 specific Regions and the Controlling of new Plantings of Vineyards. Furthermore, is the largest average Yield for a Vineyard specified and the Irrigation of Vineyards prohibited (exceptions for steep slopes and rocky soils).
Criticism of some Wine Producers led to some extra Classifications (e.g. VDP – Verband Deutscher Praedikatsweine), but without any Right of legal Protection. The main critics were that the conventional System does not differentiate between better and lesser Vineyards and that it is not appropriate to classify Dry Wines with High Quality.
The Label of German Wine contains mandatory information, namely the Specified Region, Quality Category, Liquid Content, Alcohol Level in Volume, Producer or Bottler and the Quality Control Test Number (A.P.Nr.). Most Wine Producer declare optional information like the Vintage, Vineyard Site, Grape Variety, Style and the amount of Residual Sugar on their Wine Label. Based on the mentioned Laws above, there are four different Quality Levels to measure the Grade of a German Wine:
All quality Wines (QbA and higher) have to undergo a critical, blind, sensory Assessment and a chemical Analysis to prove their Bouquet, Taste and the Visual Appearance. This Test is based on a five-point scale and executed by the DLG (German Agricultural Society). The Test examines if the Wine is typical of the Origin, Grape Variety and Quality Grade which were stated on the Application of the Wine Producer. If the Wine passes the Judgment it receives the quality control test number (A.P.Nr.), which is a valuable Indicator for Wine Consumers.
Every German Wine is required to have one of the Grades on their Wine Label. Currently, it came into fashion that some of the most renowned Wine Producer doesn’t distinguish between the different Praedikatswein (Quality Wines with Special Attributes) anymore but simply declare them as Qualitaetswein. That is conform to legal aspects and is surely fine for Wine Producers with a high Reputation, who claim that only the Quality of the Grapes and the Soil of their Vineyards counts but the Classification itself is not necessary for them.
Deutscher Tafelwein is the lowest grade possible for a German Wine and is mostly consumed in Germany and not exported. This level of classification is called “vin de table” in France, “vino de mesa” in Spain or “vino de tavola” in Italy. It must be produced exclusively at recognized Vineyards from recognized Grape varieties. There are five classified regions for Tafelwein in Germany which have to be indicated on the Wine Label. The alcohol content has to reach at least 8.5% volume and an acidity of 4.5 grams per liter.
Deutscher Landwein has a slightly higher grade than Tafelwein but does not play a large role in the export market, too. The style of Landwein is either dry (trocken) or semi-dry (halbtrocken) and the equivalence for the German Landwein in France is the “vin de pays”. But the regulations for the production of Landwein are similar to the ones for Tafelwein with the slight difference that this one has to have a minimum of 9.0% of alcohol. There are 19 recognized regions which can declare the Wine Classification Landwein.
Qualitaetswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA) are the Wines which meet the first level of quality (Tafelwein and Landwein are not considered as quality Wines) and generate the largest volume of German Wines. QbA states that a German Wine labeled with the acronym comes from one of the 13 official Wine Growing Regions and is produced from allowed Grape Varieties.
Every quality Wine must achieve a minimum amount of natural alcohol (7% volume), whereby Chaptalization before the Fermentation is allowed for QbA classified Wines to improve the ripeness. The maximum level of sugar that may be added is regulated by law. Usually, QbA Wine ranges from trocken (dry) to lieblich (semi-sweet) and even if it is mostly a basic Wine from an estate, it can be a really good value for relatively low prices.
The top level of Wine Grades in Germany was formerly known as Qualitaetswein mit Praedikat (QmP) and renamed to Praedikatswein in 2007. This classification tells you that the Wine comes from one of the 13 recognized German Wine Regions and that it has a special predicate or attribute, which can be one of the six following (sorted in ascending order of Ripeness):
Praedikatswein represents the finest German Wines and the most demanding when it comes to the Grape Variety, Maturity, Harmony and Elegance. The six categories of Praedikatswein need to have a minimum must weight and they have to be produced without chaptalization. The style of the Wine can range from trocken (dry) to edelsueß (intensively sweet) but it is most likely that a Praedikatswein contains a large natural amount of residual sugar.
Kabinett is the driest of the Praedikatswein but still at least halbtrocken (semi-dry) in most of the cases. Grapes for the Kabinett Wines are harvested several days after the QbA Grapes and produce typically an elegant, light and delicate style with low alcohol content. The minimum level of alcohol has to be 7.0% and the must weight 67-82 Oe (degree Oechsle), depending on the Grape Variety and the origin of the Wine.
Spaetlese Wines are fruitier and sweeter than the Kabinett Wines since the Grapes are usually picked two weeks after the Kabinett and therefore extra time to ripe. The Wine can be fermented in different styles from dry (trocken) to lieblich (fruity) but are mostly found in a lieblich (semi-sweet) style.