Glossary of German Wines Terms

Sprechen Sie Deutsch? Learn the language of German wine to read wine labels for your favorite styles and discuss with the pros.

Alcoholic fermentation: The primary fermentation, a biochemical process during which yeast (indigenous/wild or cultured/inoculated) converts the natural sugar in wine must into CO2 and alcohol. Wine is the byproduct of alcoholic fermentation.

Ampelography: The science of identifying and describing grape varieties.

Amtliche Prüfnummer [AHMT-lisha PREWF-numer] (A.P.Nr.): The quality control test number issued to quality and Prädikat wines that have successfully passed three-stage testing, including chemical and sensory examinations. It is a wine’s proof of identity; it verifies that the most important declarations on the label are accurate and that a wine is faulty-free (minimum standards have been met); and it is a mandatory declaration on the label.

Auslese [OUSE-lay-zuh]: A Prädikat, or special attribute, that describes the ripeness level of the grapes and type of the harvest. In this case: a rich wine made from fully ripened bunches of selectively harvested (unripe or diseased berries are discarded). Beeren- and Trockenbeerenauslese are increasingly concentrated versions of Auslese, made from overripe and/or botrytized grapes, selectively harvested by hand, berry by berry.

Badisch Rotgold [BAH-dish ROHT-gold]: A Rotling from the Baden wine-growing region. Made from Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) – at least 51% – and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) grapes; they must be declared on the label.

Barrique: (Fr) A traditional French cask measure of 225 liters (the wine law permits up to a350 liters) that usually refers to fermentation and/or aging in new or relatively new oak casks that influence a wine’s aroma profile (hints of vanilla, tobacco, etc.). Can be declared on the label if at least 75% of a wine was fermented or aged in barrique for at least four months (white wines) or six months (red wines).

Beerenauslese [bearen-OUSE-lay-zuh]: A Prädikat, or special attribute, denoting a full-bodied, fruity wine made from overripe grapes that are usually affected by Botrytis cinerea (noble rot); selectively harvested (berry selection). Abbreviation: BA

Bereich [beh-reiçh]: An appellation of origin, a district. A broad division of a wine-growing region made up of collective and individual vineyard sites; applicable to quality and Prädikat wines. Examples: Bereich Bernkastel, Bereich Johannisberg. Bereich Nierstein.

Blanc de Noir(s): (Fr) White wine made from red grape(s).

Blind Tasting: A tasting to objectively assess a wine’s style and quality without knowing its identity (producer). Example: quality control sensory tasting.

Bocksbeutel [box-boy-tle]: The flat, round-shaped bottle with a short neck that is traditional in the Franken wine-growing region, as well as four villages near Baden-Baden (Neuweier, Steinbach, Umweg, and Varnhalt), and the Baden district of Tauberfranken.

Body: A tasting term for the overall sensation of a wine’s fullness in the mouth. Alcohol, extract, and residual sugar contribute to the body, or weight, of a wine.

Botrytis cinerea: A fungus. In unripe grapes, it causes damaging, ashen-colored gray rot. In fully ripened grapes, it enables the water content of the grape to evaporate, leaving behind solids (sugars, acids, and minerals) and resulting in a highly concentrated wine. The name derives from Botrus, Greek for bunch of grapes, and cinis, Latin for ashes. The beneficial form, “noble rot,” is known as Edelfäule in German and pourriture noble in French.

Bottle aging: The last stage of development in wine production. After bottling, wine is often aged several years, whereby the aromas and flavors change. At best, the wine’s fruit, acidity, and alcohol reach optimal balance and harmony.

Chambrieren: (Fr) To slowly allow a wine to reach room temperature.

Classic: A harmoniously dry wine of above-average quality made from a region’s traditional grape varieties.

Climatic Zones: Climatic and weather conditions vary tremendously with the European Union. As such, the EU area devoted to viticulture is divided into climatic zones designed to help compensate for the variations that influence wine production, thereby putting all members on equal footing. They range from A, the northernmost/coolest, to CIII(b), the southernmost/warmest. The prerequisites for quality categories are correlated with these zones, particularly, the required minimum amount of natural alcohol. With one exception, Germany’s wine-growing regions are located within zone A: Baden lies in zone B.

Continental climate: The climate of Germany’s easternmost regions (Franken, Salle-Unstrut, Sachsen) is relatively dry. Summers are hot, winters are cold. The growing season is shorter and the danger of early or late frost is higher than in regions influenced by the warm, moist Gulf Stream.

Corked: A tasting term for the unpleasant moldy, damp smell of a wine cork with taint, a fault caused by the chemical compound TCA (trichloroanisole), which is produced when airborne bacteria or mold come into contact with phenols and chlorine. It can contaminate natural corks, but also wooden barrels and pallets, and cardboard cases.

Crossing: The product of grape breeding to produce a new variety with previously defined characteristics. Traditionally, German new crossings were bred from two or more varieties of the same species (intraspecific crossing), e.g., Vitis vinifera x Vitis vinifera. A hybrid is bred from two or more varieties of different species (interspecific crossing), e.g., Vitis vinifera x Vitis labrusca. Until recently, hybrids were not permitted in Germany (see new hybrids).

Cuvée: (Fr) A blend of wines from different grape varieties, vintages, vineyards, or casks.

Décant: (Fr) To carefully pour a wine into a decanter to expose it to oxygen or separate it from sediments or precipitates.

Dégorger: (Fr) To disgorge, or remove, the yeast deposit from a bottle of sparkling wine produced in the traditional champagne method.

Dégustation: (Fr) A wine tasting in which the impressions of a wine’s aromas and flavors are described according to specified criteria.

Dépôt: (Fr) A deposit that develops during bottle aging. In red wines, sediments formed from tannins and pigments; in white wines, precipitated tartaric crystals.

Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft [doy-tshuh LAHND-virt-shahfts guh-zell-shahft]: German Agricultural Society (abbreviated DLG). Among other things, it conducts national wine competitions.

Deutsches Weininstitut [doy-tshuh VINE-insti-toot]: The wine industry’s organization responsible for promoting the quality and the marketing of German wines (abbreviated DWI), based in Bodenheim.

Deutscher Wein [doy-tsher vine]: Germany’s table wine category. These wines are produced exclusively from grapes grown in Germany. A total alcohol content of at least 8.5% by volume, but not more than 15%, and a total acidity of at least 3.5 g/l are required. The vintage or varietal may or may not be declared on the label. Compared with other wine-growing countries, relatively small quantities of this quality level are produced in Germany.

Einzellage [INE-sel-lah-guh]: An appellation of origin, an individual vineyard site. The smallest climatic and geological unit within a specified region; applicable to quality and Prädikat wines. Examples: Bernkasteler Doktor, Johannisberger Hölle, Niersteiner Hipping.

Eiswein [ICE-vine]: A Prädikat, or special attribute, denoting and intense wine made from grapes harvested and pressed while frozen (-7˚ C or 19.4˚ F); only the naturally concentrated juice is pressed out.

Equator effect: On the equator, solar radiation on the surface of the earth is perpendicular. The sun’s angle of incidence north or south o the equator is inclined. Steep slopes compensate for the slanting angle and equatorial radiation is approximated. Because they receive more intensive solar radiation, climatic conditions of south-facing steep slopes are particularly favorable.

Erste Lage [air-steh lah-geh]: Literally: top site. Prime vineyards or parcels thereof with optimal climatic and geological conditions. Based on the VDP’s in-house vineyard classification, Erste Lage denotes both an appellation of origin and a quality category (highest possible). As of vintage 2012, VDP growers will replace the designation Erste Lage with Grosse Lage. Because Erste Lage is not legally recognized by the wine law and may not appear on wine labels, VDP growers use a logo, a stylized numeral one that partially frames a cluster of grapes, to identify these top-quality wines.

Erstes Gewächs [air-steh guh-vex]: Literally: first growth. Wines from top sites or parcels thereof. Based on the Rheingau Winegrowers’ Association’s vineyard classification, Erstes Gewächs denotes both an appellation or origin and a quality category (highest possible). It is legally recognized by the wine law, but applicable to Rheingau wines only.

Erzeugerabfüllung [AIR-soy-gher-upfill-lohng]: An estate-bottled wine. The Erzeuger, or producer, is an individual grower, cooperative of growers or larger winery that makes and bottles wine made from grapes sourced from their own vineyards.

Extract: Dry extract is the sum of a wine’s nonvolatile solids, primarily sugars, acids, and minerals.

Federweisser [FEY-dur-vice-er]: Unfiltered must containing CO2 and yeast that is still in the process of fermenting. An autumn specialty served with onion quiche or roasted chestnuts.

Feinherb [FINE-hairb]: An unofficial expression of style denoting a dryish wine with a bit more or less residual sugar than the parameters set for halbtrocken (<18g/l). It is permitted on labels but not legally defined.

Fermentation: The biochemical process during which must is transformed into wine. Duration ranges from several days to several months.

Five-point scale: Evaluating a wine’s bouquet, taste, and harmony on a scale of one to five. The average of the points achieved for each characteristic determines a wine’s quality score. The system was created by the DLG and is used in all official examinations of wine in Germany.

Fruit acids: The sum of different acids in a wine, primarily tartaric and malic acids.

Grape variety: Grapevines belong to the Vitaceae family, genus Vitis; the majority of the ca.140 varietals cultivated in Germany belong to the species Vitis vinifera.

Green cover: Grasses and plants that grow naturally or are sown between the rows of vines to help reduce erosion and naturally improve soil fertility by fostering biodiversity, i.e., creating a habitat for a wealth of flora and fauna.

Green harvest: A method of influencing the quantity and quality of the grapes prior to the main harvest by thinning out berries and/or bunches to strengthen those remaining on the vine.

Grosses Gewächs [GROHSS-iss guh-vex]: Literally: great growth. Based on the VDP’s in-house vineyard classification, Grosses Gewächs denotes a Grosse Lage wine that is dry in style. Their counterparts with residual sugar are denoted by the traditional Prädikats, from Spätlese through Trockenbeerenauslese. Because Grosses Gewächs is not recognized by the wine law and may not appear on labels, VDP growers use the initials GG to identify these top-quality wines.

Grosse Lage [GROSS-uh lah-guh]: Literally: great site. Based on the VDP’s in-house vineyard classification, Grosse Lage is the designation for the highest quality German vineyards, where the VDP considers Germany’s finest wines grow – wines notable for their individual character and ability to express the essence of their vineyard of origin. VDP Grosse Lage sites are planted with grape varieties typical for the region and matching the needs of that respective vineyard. The vineyards are precisely demarcated by parcel. Wines from these vineyards are classified as Grosses Gewächs.

Grosslage [GROSS lah-guh]: An appellation of origin, a collective vineyard site. A group of individual sites, or Einzellagen, with similar climatic and geological makeup; applicable to quality and Prädikat wines. Examples: Bernkasteler Badstube, Johannisberger Erntebringer, Niersteiner Gutes Domtal.

Gutsabfüllung [GOOTZ-upfill-lohng]: An estate-bottled wine. In addition to fulfilling the criteria for an Erzeugerabfüllung, the cellar master must have completed oenological training. A Gut is an estate; a Weingut, a wine estate.

Gutswein [GOOTZ-vine]: Regional wines originating from an estate’s holdings within a region. They are entry-level house wines that meet the general standards prescribed by the VDP and provide a good introduction to the VDP’s hierarchy that inherently links wine quality with origin.

Halbtrocken [halb-troh-kin]: Literally “half dry,” or off-dry, denoting a dry-ish wine with less than 18 g/l of residual sugar.

Harvest diary: One of the control mechanisms in quality control testing. During the harvest, the grower must maintain a daily record of when, where, and how much of which varietal(s), and at which must weight(s), was harvested. The type of harvest must also be noted.

Hochgewächs [HOÇH-guh-vex]: An above-average, 100% Riesling quality wine made from grapes with starting must weights higher than prescribed by law. It must achieve a quality score of at least 3.0 points during quality control testing.

Kabinett [kah-bin-ET]: A Prädikat, or special attribute, denoting a wine made from ripe grapes (riper than Qualitätswein) and usually, relatively low in alcohol.

Kellereiabfüllung [keller-rye-upfill-lohng]: A wine bottled by a Kellerei (commercial winery). The winery either makes a wine from the grapes grown by someone else or it purchases finished wine from a third party. The Abfüller, or bottler, is responsible for a wine’s quality, regardless of the source of grapes or producer.

Klassische [class-ish-uh]/Traditionelle Flaschengärung [trah-ditz-ee-oh-nell-uh flah-shen-GAIRuhng]: The term(s) on the label of German Sekt (sparkling wine) to denote the most labor-intensive and expensive method of sparkling wine production in which the wine remains in one and the same bottle during every step of the production, the traditional method used in Champagne, France.

Landwein [lahnd-vine]: Comparable with a French Vin de Pays, Landwein is a simple, everyday wine with a protected geographical indication, made from grapes sourced from one of the 26 German Landwein regions.

Liebfraumilch [leeb-frow-milkh]: A generic term for a white Rhine wine with between 18 and 45 g/l residual sugar. It is always a Qualitäswein from one of the following specified regions that must be named on the label: Rheinhessen, Pfalz, Nahe or Rheingau. No grape variety must be named on the label, but at least 70% of the cuvee must consist of one or more o the following grapes: Müller-Thurgau, Riesling, Silvaner or Kerner. The Liebfrauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) in Worms/Rheinhessen is the namesake of Liebfraumilch, literally, the “Milk of Our Lady.” By the 20th Century, the crop from the vineyard surrounding the church was not large enough to meet demand, and Liebfraumilch came to be used in a broader sense to denote any pleasantly mild German white wine from the central Rhine regions.

Malic acidity: One of the two principal organic acids of grapes and wines (see tartaric acid). The name derives from malum, Latin for apple. It naturally decomposes during the final stage of ripening or is converted into softer, milder lactic acid and CO2 during malolactic fermentation.

Malolactic fermentation: A secondary, bacterial fermentation that takes place during or after alcoholic fermentation. Lactic bacteria convert tart malic acid into milder lactic acid. The winemaking technique reduces a wine’s total acidity and creates a softer, rounder mouth feel.

Mash: Crushed grapes, consisting of pulp, skins, seeds, and juice. Before being pressed, mash is sometimes left standing to extract aroma/flavor, color, and tannins.

Must: Grape juice, the juice extracted during crushing and/or pressing.

Must weight: The density of grape juice, i.e., the weight of the must in relation to its volume. In Germany, this is expressed in degrees Oechsle (similar to the Baume and Brix scales used elsewhere). A wine’s potential alcohol can be determined from this measurement. It is one indication of grape ripeness.

New hybrids: While the development of interspecific crossings has been the norm in France (French hybrids), only in recent years have they been officially permitted in Germany, primarily thanks to the improved wine quality of new hybrids. A number of these are pilzwiderstandsfähig, or fungus-resistant, referred to in German as “PiWis.” They are particularly popular with organic growers as a viable alternative to conventional plant protection measures, and thus, a contribution to sustainable viticulture. Examples: Regent, Johanniter, Phoenix, and Solaris.

Oechsle [oohx-leh]: A scale of sugar measurement in degrees based on the density of grape juice, developed in the 1830s by the physicist, pharmacist, and goldsmith Christian Ferdinand Oechsle (1771-1852) to improve the practicality of hydrometers.

Oenology: The science of wine and winemaking.

Organic viticulture: Environmentally-friendly winegrowing in accordance with the strict guidelines set forth in EU regulations. Herbicides are forbidden, as are chemical or synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. The biodynamic version prescribes specific substances to strengthen a vine’s natural resistance and soil vitality. Growers are advised to utilize the motion dynamics of cosmic and lunar cycles.

Ortswein [ortz-vine]: Village wines or “terroir wines” originating from a village’s good, traditional vineyards. They are good examples of the local terroir, made of grape varieties typical of the region, and meet VDP yield prerequisites. Often, the labels indicate the particular soils in and/or around the village in which the grapes were grown. The Ortswein designation falls between the entry-level Gutswein and the VDP’s very best categories, Erste Lage and Grosse Lage.

Perlwein [pehrl-vine]: A slightly sparkling wine that is often marketed as Secco, a take on Italian Prosecco. The sparkle can be naturally generated during fermentation or CO2 can be added (not permitted in Sekt production).

Phylloxera: A vine louse that was imported to Europe from North America in the 1860s. It destroys vines by feeding on their roots. Ultimately, scientists discovered that grafting vinifera vines on to phylloxera-resistant American roots was an effective remedy. Sandy soils, the bane of the louse, also provide protection.

Prädikatswein [PREH-di-catz-vine]: Prädikat wine, a superior quality wine with a protected designation of origin, which must fulfill more stringent quality criteria than Landwein or basic Qualitätswein. A Prädikat, or special attribute, describes the ripeness of the grapes and the type of harvest. The six Prädikats, in ascending order of ripeness and extent of selection, are Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese.

Qualitätswein b.A. (bestimmter Anbaugebiete) [kvahli-TAYTS-vine buh-SHTIMT-er AHN-bow-guh-bee-tuh]: Quality wine from a specified wine region, a basic quality wine with a protected designation of origin, made with grapes sourced from one of the 13 German wine-growing regions. They can only be made from legally recognized grapes permitted in Germany, and must reach certain alcohol content as prescribed for the region, grape variety, and ripeness level. Qualitätswein b.A. wines are sometimes referred to simply as Qualitätswein or abbreviated: QbA.

Quality Categories: The EU has defined two broad quality categories: wine without and wine with a protected indication of origin. There are two categories of protected indication of origin: protected geographic indication (Landwein) and protected designation or origin (Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein). Deutscher Wein (German wine) has no protected indication of origin.

Refractometer: A hand-held, optical instrument that can be used in the vineyard to measure the sugar content in a few drops of grape juice, in degrees of Oechsle, based on light refraction.

Residual Sugar: A reflection of yeast performance. Yeast converts sugar in grape juice into alcohol and CO2 during alcoholic fermentation. Under certain conditions, the yeast is unable to convert all the sugar. The amount leftover, or residual, sugar in the wine determines its style. This is not to be confused with “sweet reserve,” which in unfermented (naturally sweet) grape juice left “in reserve” to add to finished wine (after fermentation) to fine-tune a wine’s style.

Rosé: Pale to light red wine made from red grapes that are usually processed to produce a light-colored wine. The degree of color derives from the length of skin contact.

Rotling [ROHT-ling]: Pale to light red wine made from white and red grapes or their mash that are fermented together.

Schillerwein [shill-er-vine]: A Rotling from the Württemberg wine-growing region.

Schlossabfüllung [shloss-upfill-lohng]: A wine bottled by a Schloss (castle) estate. In addition to fulfilling the criteria for a Gutsabfüllung, the wine estate must be situated in a castle with historical preservation status, and the wine is made from grapes grown in the estate’s own vineyards and produced and bottled at the estate.

Schorle [shore-luh]: A spritzer, a refreshing beverage made of wine and sparkling water.

Sekt [zekt]: Sparkling wine, the product of a primary or secondary fermentation, with a CO2 pressure of at least 3.5 atm in a close container, and an existing alcohol content of at least 10% by volume.

Selection: A harmoniously dry wine of top quality made from a region’s traditional grape varieties.

Sensory examination: One of the control mechanisms in quality control testing. In order to receive an A.P. Number, a wine undergoes a blind tasting in which its bouquet, taste, and harmony are evaluated according to a five-point scale.

Sommelier/Sommelière: A wine waiter/waitress, the person responsible for recommending or selecting and serving wine to guests in an upscale restaurant. He or she might also be in charge of purchasing the restaurant’s wine and preparing its wine list.

Spätlese [SHPAYT-lay-zuh]: A Prädikat, or special attribute, denoting a fuller-bodied wine made from fully ripened grapes; usually harvested later during the harvest. Spätlese literally means late harvest.

Steillage [shtyle-lah-guh]: Literally: steep site. A vineyard with an inclination of more than 30%.

Stem: To separate the stem from the berry prior to or during crushing. Stems contain bitter substances, such as harsh tannins, that can adversely influence a finished wine’s taste.

Sugar-free extract: The sum of a wine’s nonvolatile solids (extract) excluding sugars.

Sulfites: Sulfur is used to sterilize barrels and added to wine (in legally prescribed amounts) to prevent microbial growth, to protect it from oxygen, and to help stabilize it. “Contains sulfites” is a mandatory declaration on the label.

Tannins: Tannins in wine derive from the stems, skins, and seeds of grapes, and to a lesser extent, from the cask(s) in which a wine develops. The tannins in a young wine are usually harsh and mouth-puckering but mellow with age. They contribute to a wine’s aging potential. Tannins play a minor role in white wines since the berries are stemmed prior to pressing and the juice has little or no skin contact.

Tartaric acid: One of the two principal organic acids of grapes and wines (see malic acid) and the most important. It lends a wine its refreshing tang and crisp finish.

Tartaric crystals: When tartaric acid in wine binds with potassium, it forms potassium bitartrate (cream of tartar) crystals that accumulate on the cork or at the bottom of a bottle. They are harmless, tasteless, and do not detract from the bouquet or flavor of a wine, but unfortunately, they resemble glass shards. Volume producers prefer to avoid the problem altogether via cold stabilization prior to bottling. The wine is chilled to near-freezing temperatures to provoke crystal formation, after which it is transferred to another container, leaving the crystals behind. Decanting is a simple method of separating wine from the crystals.

Terroir: The complete natural environment in which a particular wine is produced, including factors such as the soil, topography, and climate.

Training: Methods of supporting and shaping vines to improve bud burst, nutrient supply, and air circulation, as well as facilitate vineyard work. e/g/, foliage management or mechanical harvesting. Wire trellises (canes are stretched and fastened along a wire) and, in very steep sites, single stakes (canes are shaped into a double bow and affixed to the stake) are training systems commonly used in Germany.

Trester: Grape pomace, i.e., the stems, skins, and seeds left after grapes are pressed. It also refers to brandy distilled from grape pomace (cf. grappa, marc).

Trocken [TROHK-in]: Literally “dry,” denoting a wine with less than 9 g/l residual sugar.

Trockenbeerenauslese [TROHK-in-bear-in OUSE-lay-zuh]: A Prädikat, or special attribute, denoting a highly concentrated wine made from botrytized grapes dried up almost to raisins; selectively harvested (berry selection). Abbreviation: TBA

Vino-Lok: A glass stopper with a special sealing ring and an aluminum cover cap. It is an alternative to the traditional natural cork closure.

Wein [vine]: Wine

Weinkellerei [vine-keller-rye]: A winery, often a large, commercial winery (see Kellereiabfüllung).

Weissherbst [vice-hairbst]: A rosé wine made from one grape variety; it must be declared on the label. The grapes are processed to produce a light-colored wine; no degree of color is prescribed. Minimum quality category: Qualitätswein.

Whole cluster pressing: The grower opts to dispense with stemming, crushing, and mash settling and proceeds directly from picking to pressing intact clusters. It is a particularly gentle method of pressing and results in less cloudy must that contains fewer tannins.

Winzer [VIN-ser]: A vintner or winegrower.

Winzersekt [VIN-ser-zekt]: A vintner’s varietal of sparkling wine produced by the klassische or traditionelle Flaschengärung, the traditional method used in Champagne, France. The grapes must be sourced from the grower’s own vineyards (within one specified region) and ripe enough to qualify as Qualitätswein.

Yeasts: The microscopic, single-celled fungi that are the driving force of fermentation. Once in contact with grape juice, the enzyme within yeast begins converting the natural sugar in grape juice into alcohol and CO2. Yeasts are airborne, particularly in and around vineyards and cellars. These natural yeasts are known as ambient, indigenous, or wild yeasts. Alternatively, many winemakers prefer to inoculate the grape juice with cultured yeasts, which “perform” with greater predictability and dependability.