How to Decode a German Riesling Label

Pick a better bottle every time with our four-step guide.

You’ve tasted delicious dry German Riesling and want to repeat the experience. You look at the bottles and start scratching your head. Fear not—even pros think German labels are a nightmare. Luckily, great winemakers continue to make great Rieslings. Here’s how to find them.

Step 1 > Determine if it’s Dry 

Does it say trocken on the bottle? The word literally means “dry.” But, even if the word doesn’t appear, the wine might still be dry. The trick: Check the listed alcohol percentage. If it’s above 11 percent, you’re good to go.


Step 2 > Pick Your Regional Style

While there are myriad exceptions, here are each region’s general flavor profile.

Mosel, Saar, Ruwer: Thrilling, with peach, mineral and sometimes floral notes as well as spine-tingling acidity.

Pfalz, Baden, Württemberg: Full bodied, with ripe, clean-cut fruit and a firm backbone of acidity.

Nahe, Mittelrhein, Franken: Crystalline and clean, with mineral and possible steely notes.

Rheingau: Statuesque, sleek and some-times austere.

Rheinhessen: Fresh fruit with stone, mineral and occasionally steely tones.


Step 3 > Check the Quality 

German labels must list a quality level. But the archaic system is inherently flawed (in seemingly countless ways) so you can’t always rely on it.  Think of it more as a loose guide.

There are four quality levels. The most common in the U.S. are the two top categories: Qualitätswein, or QbA; and the theoretically higher-quality, Prädikatswein, or QmP.

Members of the VDP, or Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter, a group of wine estates, were so fed up with the confusing labelling laws that they created their own classification with four easy-to-understand categories, in ascending order:

Gutswein: estate wine, dry

Ortswein: village wine (from dry to sweet)

Erste Lage: first growth (from dry to sweet), from a single classified site

Grosse Lage: great growth/grand cru (from dry to sweet), from a single classified site. Dry wines made from a Grosse Lage can be labelled as Grosses Gewächs. If you are looking for a top-class dry wine, look out for the VDP logo and the phrase Grosses Gewächs. Generally, the VDP-logo itself signals superior quality at all levels.


Step 4 > Review the Ripeness 

If QmP, the label will include a Prädikat, one of five designations indicating the grapes’ ripeness level at harvest and can—sometimes, but not always—help you dial in on a style you prefer.

The levels in play for a dry Riesling are, from least ripe to most: Kabinett, Spätlese and Auslese.

Kabinett: Wondrously light, with weightless structure, big fruit, pronounced aromas and very restrained alcohol.

Spätlese: More textured, rounded and full-bodied than Kabinett.

Auslese: More body and substance, often muscular and textured, but never fat.

Published on July 14, 2015
Topics: Germany, Riesling, Wine Basics
About the Author
Anne Krebiehl MW
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from Austria, Alsace and England

German-born but London-based, Anne Krebiehl MW is a freelance wine writer contributing to international wine publications. She also lectures, consults and translates and has helped to make wine in New Zealand, Germany and Italy. She adores acidity in wine and is thus perfectly suited to her Austria/Alsace/England beat. Her particular weaknesses are Pinot Noir, Riesling and traditional-method sparkling wines.

Email: akrebiehl@wineenthusiast.net.



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