Part 2: Degrees of Dryness
In Part 1 (“German wines: you don’t need to be a master of wine to know what’s in the bottle – you can read it on the label”) we looked at quality descriptions which essentially describe the ripeness of the grape when harvested, something that’s determined by the winemaker in the vineyard, not the cellar.
However, the taste and style in terms of sweetness are determined in the cellar, totally independently of the grape, and its dryness or sweetness is also indicated on the label.
In addition to the three regulated categories of sweetness, the term “Feinherb” can also be found on German wine bottles. It is an unregulated term, but it usually describes wine that is Halbtrocken or just slightly too sweet to be called Halbtrocken. If you see a German wine that is described as Feinherb, you can know …!!
Describes wines that are semi-dry, with barely perceptible sweetness and no more than 18 grams of residual sugar per litre. Halbtrocken wines are considered ‘dry’ by most wine drinkers.
This indicates a (very) dry wine without any perceptible residual sweetness and no more than 9 grams of residual sugar per litre (although often less).
Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP) Classification – The Quality Pyramid
The wines on the Vintners Pride of Germany website are almost all classified as VDP, in which the quality of a wine is defined according to ‘terroir’, in other words the wine’s origin and quality are inherently linked. For these Prädikat wine-growers, the vineyard site is the decisive mark of quality.
These are good, entry-level wines in the VDP hierarchy. The wines originate from an estate’s holdings within a region, and they meet the stringent standards prescribed by the VDP.
Wines that originate from a village’s best vineyards planted with grape varieties typical of their region.
A dry VDP.Ortswein is labelled Qualitätswein Trocken.
A VDP.Ortswein with natural ripe sweetness is labelled with one of the traditional Prädikat descriptions (Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese – see previous article for fuller descriptions).
This is the designation of first-class vineyards with distinctive characteristics that provide optimal growing conditions. The grapes must be harvested by hand, with yields limited by law, while the sugar content has to be at least at Spätlese level. A dry wine from a VDP.Erste Lage is labelled Qualitätswein Trocken, whilst a wine with natural, ripe sweetness is labelled with one of the traditional Prädikat (see previous paragraph).
VDP.Grosse Lage designates the finest parcels of the very best vineyards of Germany, all hand-picked, with yields limited by law, these are wines that express the specific characteristics of where they are grown. Many have exceptional ageing potential. A dry wine from a VDP.Grosse Lage is designated VDP.Grosses Gewächs and labelled Qualitätswein Trocken. A wine with natural, ripe sweetness from a VDP.Grosse Lage is labelled with one of the traditional Prädikats (once again, see above and our previous article).