German wine regulations (III) - Classifications of Pradikätswein

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Pradikätswein can be classified into several quality levels. Today let’s talk about how these levels are defined.

Image: Impressionen Weißwein, provided by German Wine Institute

Before doing that, it’s worth pointing out the meaning of the term ‘must weight’, which is the key to defining the classifications of Pradikätswein (except for Eiswein).

Different from ‘residual sugar’, which is the amount of sugar left in the wine after fermentation, this term describes the amount of sugar in the must (grape juice) before fermentation. Must weight shows how ripe the grapes are when being harvested, and indicates how much alcohol can be produced if the fermentation is to be conducted fully.

Due to the changeable climate in Germany, vintages may vary significantly year by year. However, as wines are classified by the ripeness of their grapes each vintage, top wines can only be produced in good vintages. This means you don’t need to worry too much about vintages when choosing German wines.

Now let’s look at the classifications of Pradikätswein (with an exception of Eiswein, which is produced in a different method) in ascending order.

Kabinett

It is the lightest style of Pradikätswein, indicating a wine that has not been chaptalized (sweetened by adding sugar to the must), with comparatively low alcohol and fresh acidity. The term ‘Kabinett’ literally means ‘cabinet’ in English, which used to indicate an exceptionally good wine that should be put aside.

Spätlese

Spätlese literally means ‘late harvest’ wines. Wines fall into this category will have more body than Kabinett. But be aware that this wine is not necessarily sweeter than Kabinett — if you see a wine labelled ‘Spätlese Trocken’, this means the sugar in the must is fully fermented to produce a trocken (dry) wine with higher alcohol.

Auslese

Grapes used to produce Auslese (literally ‘selected harvest’) are riper than these of Spätlese, and some of them may be affected by noble rot. Many of Germany’s finest and most characteristic Rieslings fall into this category. Although Auslese is most usually a sweet wine, high-alcohol dry Auslese (‘Auslese Trocken’) can also be found.

Beerenauslese (BA)

Grapes that can reach the must weight standard of Beerenauslese are usually affected by botrytis, and only produced in the good vintages. These rare, over-ripe grapes produce a golden, honeyed wine which is usually sold at a high price.

Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA)

Although the name of this category starts with “trocken (dry)”, it is the sweetest and rarest style of German wine, which is only produced in the best vintages using grapes that are raisined by botrytis. TBA is usually deep-golden in colour and extremely rich, with an alcohol level that rarely exceeds 8%. High sugar levels means this wine has exceptional aging potential. The best TBAs are among the most expensive wines in the world.

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