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German Wines classification

Contrary to the French AOC system which is based on the idea that terroir is the main element in producing quality wines the German classification system is based on the idea that the quality of a wine is derived from the ripeness of the grape harvested and the winemaking process.
These conditions (and others) are regulated regionally. Thus each finished wine has first to comply with the regional regulations, then must pass an analytical test and which is then followed by sensory and gustatory tests before the quality and the grade of the wine is approved (or not). If approved an Official Approval number (AP No.) is granted.
All Qualitäts- and Prädikats wines must display the number on the label. The No. is composed of 10 to 12 digits. The digits indicate the regional authority which conducted the test, the vineyard, the bottler's code, the year the wine was tasted and a serial number. AP No. are not required for lower quality wines such as Table- and Country wines (but which must still comply with respective regulations).

Prãdikatswein or Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (Quality wine with distinction)

The designation encompasses six grades of superior Germany quality wines i.e. Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. The wines must must come from one of Germany's 13 designated wine growing regions and must be made of approved grape varieties. The Must must have attained the required min. weight level (or degrees of Oechsle which indicates the potential degree of alcohold after fermentation) of the region and the grapes must be harvested as regulated. Chaptalization (the adding of sugar prior to fermentation) is not permitted. Prädikats wines are usually harvested in limited quantities which can vary considerably depending upon weather conditions.

Kabinett (Cabinet)

Kabinett wines are the lowest ranking Prädikats wines. They are usually harvested during the normal harvest time. As they are made from fully ripe grapes it is not necessary to chaptalize them (which, anyhow, is not permitted). Minimum Must weights are regulated. Kabinett wines are usually delicate and on the lighter side. They are excellent as an aperitif or served with light dishes.

Spätlese (Late Harvest)

The 2nd ranking wine of the scale. Spätlese wines must be harvest late i.e. a min. of 1-2 weeks after the regular harvest time. Higher Must weights are required as specified by kind of grape and area. This results in a higher degree of Alcohol and a richer, fuller bodied wine well suited to accompany either savoury dishes or go it alone as a richly flavoured aperitif. Spätlese wines gain by being cellared and can be stored for several years.

Auslese (Selected Harvest)

The 3rd ranking wine of the scale Auslese wines must be harvested late i.e. a min. of 1-2 weeks after the regular harvest time. They are made from "selected" bunches of fully ripe and healthy grapes. Higher Must weights are required as specified by the kind of grape and area. Auslese are medium sweet to sweet wines, rich, concentrated and flavourful. Limited in quantify in regular years they can be rare or almost non-existent in below average years. They can be botrytized (be affected by Noble Rot). While going well with certain kinds of food they are best savoured on their own. Auslese wines gain from being cellared and may last for decades.

Beerenauslese or BA (Selected Berry Grapes)

The 4th ranking wine of the scale, BA wines (as they are often called), are always rare. Even in good years none may be produced. They are made from individually selected overripe grapes. Many are affected by Noble Rot (Botrytis). High Must weights are regulated by the kind of grape and area. BA wines combine an intensive honeyed sweetness with a pleasant degree of acidity. Their fermentation usually lasts a long time and they display a deep golden colour. They are best served after dinner or savoured on their (exquisite) own. Beerenauslese wines can be cellared for decades.

Eiswein (Icewine)

For some ex aequo with Trockenbeerenauslese wines Eiswines (or EW) are at the pinnacle of the scale. They combine a high degree of sweetness with a high degree of acidity and in this way are similar to botrytized (Noble Rot) wines. This time though it is due to the freezing of the grapes in the vineyard. Eiswines must be picked and pressed while frozen to at least - 8oC with the result that only the sweet grape juice is pressed while the frozen water crystals are left out. Eiswines are usually picked during the very early morning hours and from November to December. In Germany producing Eiswines from artificially frozen grapes is not permitted (as it is in some countries). The Must weight of Eiswines must equal at least that of Beerenauslese (BA) wines. In the past one could state two grades on a label such as Eiswein-Spätlese or Eiswein-Beerenauslese, but that is not permitted any longer. Eiswines are usually of a pale rather than deep golden colour. Although sweet, Eiswines maintain a wonderful and well-balanced freshness. Due to their high degree of acidity they age very well and can last for decades. Depending for their success on a natural combination of dry autumn weather and a (very) cold winter these are rare and expensive wines.

Trockenbeerenauslese or TBA (Shrivelled or dried Berry Grapes)

Generally considered superior to Eiswein, TBA (as they are often called) is at the pinnacle of the scale. They are a vintner's crowning achievement. Extremely rare these marvellous wines are produced from perfectly healthy and overripe grapes shrivelled by Botrytis (Noble Rot). However, producing Noble Rot wines is also fraught with danger for the vintner. To become the benevolent form of Noble Rot the fungus must develop in a perfect environment of suitable weather and healthy grapes. If not it can, in the form of the Grey Rot, reduce the quality and yield of the grapes. Seeking to produce the cherished TBA a vintner takes the double risk of having the grapes conversely affected or having to discard the grapes eventually because the Noble Rot did not develop. Producing TBA wines is also highly labour intensive. The vintner has to go many times through his vineyard to collect (at the right time) the grapes affected by the Noble Rot. Because of the high degree of sugar in the grapes the fermentation of TBA wines is difficult and lasts a very long time. These are extremely rich, luscious wines. Their colour is of a deep gold sometimes with an orange hue. They are known for their shifting and endlessly lingering flavours. Consequently TBA wines are very expensive and can last almost forever. 


QbA or Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete (Quality wine from designated areas)

Q.b.A./Qualitätswein denominates the first rank of German Quality wines. The wines must come from one of Germany's 13 designated wine growing regions, must be made of approved grape varieties and the grapes must have attained a designated degree of ripeness. Subject to regulations QbA wines may be enriched (the adding of sugar or concentrated Must before fermentation).

Other gradings exist; the VDP classification is the most important

VDP (Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) is an Association of German Premium Wine Estates. Most, about 200, of Germany's top estates are members of the association. The association was founded in 1910. Members must adhere to stricter quality standards than those imposed by the German Wine law. In addition, while the German Wine law grades the quality of the grapes harvested but not the location (terroir) of the vineyard, VDP grades are based on the idea that the vineyard (terroir) is the main element of the qualiy of wines. The grape quality too is ensured as the two top grades i.e. Grosse- and Erste Lage wines must be made, at least, of Spätlese grade wines. The majority of VDP made wines are dry yet members also produce fruity and sweet wines.  

Wine law classification: wines are rated as either of QbA (Deutscher Qualitätswein) or Kabinett or Spätlese or Auslese or Beerenauslese or Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese quality. .   

VDP classification: wines are rated as either Grosse- or Erste Lage or Orts- or Gutswein.  

Wine law style: wines can be either lieblich (fruity~sweet) or Feinherb/Halbtrocken (off-dry) or Trocken (dry). The style can be stated on the label. 

VDP style: wines can be either dry or fruity~sweet. Dry VDP wines do not show Trocken (dry) on the label. Dry VDP Grosse- and Erste Lage must be, at least, of Spätlese quality, Orts- and Gutswein must be, at least, of QbA (Deutscher Qualitätswein) quality. NOTE: grades are not shown on the label. Instead, all dry wines are assigned the "Deutscher Qualitätswein" designation. Fruity-sweet VDP wines do not show the style on the label but must show the grade i.e. at least, Spätlese for Grosse- and Erste Lage wines and, at least, QbA (Deutscher Qualitätswein) for Orts- and Gutswein. 

Note that other product and producer related designations on the bottle label are essentially the same for both, Wine law and VDP classification wines, such as for the vintage, the name of the estate, the name of the village and vineyard (as applicable), the grape variety, alcohol levels etc. VDP wines show, in addition, the VDP Logo, a styliyzed eagle with a cluster of grapes, on their bottles  


Three more official grades were introduces during recent years, they are, however, not well known :


essentially it denominates a dry or off-dry wine with a min. degree of 12% of Alcohol. The grade was created to ensure that the wine goes well with food.


the grade basically denominates a dry Spaetlese from a single site vineyard

Erstes Gewaechs

« First Growth » this designation is only allowed in the Rheingau region. Thus graded wines must be be superior dry wines from single vineyard sites.

Three other, non official grades have also come into use. They are tolerated but not approved.

Grosses Gewaechs

« Great Growth » this designation is used by top estates from other regions than the Rheingau region to denote superior dry wines from single vineyards.

Erste Lage

« First class site « denotes top vineyard sites suitable of producing top level dry wines

Charta Riesling

the desingation denotes high grade off-dry wines from the Rheingau region
Three lower wine grades exist in Germany. But very few, if any, of such wines are produced:

Deutscher Landwein Ger. (German Country Wine)

The equivalent of Vin de Pays as regulated by the EU. They are classified as upper end Table wine. No A.P. No, is required. Not being popular few of them are produced.

Deutscher Tafelwein Ger. (German Table wine)

German Table wines are Germany's 2nd lowest grade. They can be blended but must contain only German wines. No A.P. No. Is required. Not being popular few of them are produced.

Tafelwein Ger. (Table wine)

Table wines are Germany's lowest ranked wines. They can be made of a blend of wines originating from within the EU (European Union). No. A.P. No. is required. Not being popular few of them are produced.



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231-0862 Yokohama,Naka-Ku,
Yamate-cho 155-7, Japan

Tel : 045-232-4499
Fax : 045-623-7906