Understanding wine usually begins with learning the different types or varietals of wine…Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz etc… Another important part is actually being able to translate what is on the label. Next to French wine labels, German wine labels are the most confusing to decipher.
While most of the German wines available are Rieslings, every bottle will vary in sweetness depending on the style of Riesling and where the grapes are grown. The little bits and pieces on a wine label can help you pick the right wine, you just have to know what you are reading.
Below is a list of terms you will find on German wine labels that will help you determine the sweetness of the wine.
TROCKEN: Trocken means “dry” in German. This is always the driest style of Riesling and will have no noticeable sweetness. Very dry.
HALBTROCKEN: Halbtrocken denotes a semi-dry Riesling with only a hint of sweetness.
ESTATE: Most German wines labeled only as “Estate Rieslings” are Trocken or Halbtrocken in style.
KABINETT: Usually the first harvest of fully ripened grapes. A nice touch of fruity sweetness while still maintaining a crisp finish.
SPATLESE: Spatlese is a “late harvest” wine where the producers allow the grapes to ripen even further to develop a fuller sweetness and a clean finish.
AUSLESE: Auslese wines are produced with specially selected “late harvest” grapes. Auslese is getting very close to a dessert wine style that is golden in color, full of sweetness and has a velvety, lingering finish.
EISWEIN: Eiswein or Icewine is a special German Riesling where the producer actually leaves the grapes on the vine until they are very ripe and the morning frost freezes the grapes on the vines. The grapes are pressed while still frozen, producing a rich and sweet desset wine that is a real treat.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when learning about German wine labels! While the region where the grapes are grown and the winemaker will also influence the sweetness, flavor and aromas of the wine, these basic guidelines will help you get started and help you select a Riesling according to your taste profile.