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So, would you like a Trockenbeerenauslese or a Beerenauslese? 

Whichever you choose—even if you know what these words mean—these terms illustrate how daunting a German wine label can be. But rather than running for the hills, keep this post handy as a quick reference to help you make informed purchases and discover Germany’s many great wines.

A number of things on the label are easily recognizable: the grape, the vintage, the percent of alcohol and the region.

Arnsdörfer Gamerith

Some popular German white grapes include: Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Gewürztraminer. Reds include Spätburgunder (the same as Pinot Noir), Dornfelder and Lemberger (the same as the Austrian Blaufränkisch). Visit The Wines of Germany for a more complete list.

Some of the most notable German wine regions are Mosel, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Nahe, Rheinhessen, Pfalz, Baden and Württemberg.

In addition, German wine labels identify the ripeness levels of the grapes, which roughly indicates the level of sweetness. Look for these terms:

  • Kabinett  [Kahb-in-ET] generally describes the driest wines, but some may stillhave a hint of sugar—what we call “off-dry.” The label might also include the words “trocken” (dry) or “halbtrocken” (off-dry).
  • Spätlese, [SHPAYT-lay-zuh] meaning “late harvest,” refers to wines that have more body and complexity than Kabinett and usually are sweeter.
  • heidemanns_bernkastler_auslese_croppedAuslese, [OWS-lay-zuh] which translates as “selected harvest,” describes wines produced with individually selected grapes and bunches. These are usually sweeter than the prior category, very sweet or, less frequently, dry.
  • Beerenauslese (BA), [Buh-air-en OWS-lay-zuh] which translates as “selected harvest berries,” applies to wines derived from individually selected grapes often affected by “noble rot” or Botrytis, a fungus that shrivels them on the vine. These are very rich, sweet and generally expensive.
  • Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA), [TROH-ken-buh-air-en OWS-lay-zuh] which translates as “selected harvest dried berries” describes the sweetest and richest of them all. These rare dessert wines are made from individually picked Botrytis-affected grapes and are incredibly rich and complex. Winemakers only produce them in select vintages.

German labels also include quality categories, which range from the most basic to the highest ranking:

  • heidemanns_qba copyTafelwein, [TOFF-el-vine] or “table wine,” describes the most basic wines.
  • Landwein, [LANDT-vine] or “country wine,” is generally better quality than table wine but usually still value priced.
  • Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (QbA), [Kvahl-it-AYTS-vine buh-SHTIMT-er AHN-bow-guh-beet-uh] or “wines from a designated” region, are produced in specific areas or villages, which are usually listed on the label.
  • Qualitätswein mit Prädikatswein (QmP)/Prädikatswein, [Kvahl-it-AYTS-vine mitt pray-dee-KAHT] or “quality wine with distinction,” also come from specific regions and represent the best quality designation.

Once you identify these elements, look for the producer name and possibly the name of the village.

These basics are enough to prepare you to shop. But if you want to learn more German wine terms, check out the Wines of Germany website.