German Wine Labels: It's All Deutsch to Me


German wine is a delicious choice, whether for everyday or a special event. While there are many grapes that winemakers use in Germany, Riesling is used the most and is most associated with wine from the country. The majority of Riesling consumed in Germany is dry, however the majority of Riesling consumed in the United States is off-dry to sweet. Regardless of the sweetness level you prefer, it can be hard to know what style of Riesling you are purchasing due to the complexity of the labels found on German wines. Below you will find some ways to decipher what you see, whether you speak the language or not, it can be hard to know what awaits you inside the bottle.












There are four overarching categories for German wine: Deutscher Wein, Landwein, Prädikatswein, and Qualitätswein. The majority of wine produced falls in the more prestigious Protected Designation of Origin categories, Prädikatswein and Qualitätswein. These are the two categories I will highlight and dive into below.

Qualitätswein is a quality designation on a German wine label that must come from one of 13 designated winegrowing areas; this winegrowing region must be listed on the label. Prädikatswein is a category within Qualitätswein and requires a greater amount of oversight for the grape and winemaking, as well as additional designation on the wine label. Generally, the sugar level, or must weight, for a Prädikatswein is higher than that of a Qualitätswein. There are six levels within Prädikat indicating the must weight that the wine had at harvest. This Prädikat level will be on the wine label, however the sweetness level of the wine is still not known with 100% accuracy simply by this Prädikat level.


Before we dig deeper into the Prädikat levels and the clues that help you choose a wine at the sweetness you desire for your meal or event, let’s talk about some basic terms that can help you make your purchase. Winemakers can (not required) add terms to the label that indicate a bit more about the wine: trocken, means dry; halbtrocken or feinherb, means off-dry or medium sweet; and süß, means sweet. What’s more, the alcohol by volume, or ABV is an excellent indicator as to the dry or sweet level of the wine, as it can indicate whether all of the sugar in the grape juice was fermented during winemaking. If you find a German wine with an ABV of 11% or more, you can be pretty confident, barring other indicators, you are purchasing a wine that is dry. Less than 11%, you will be enjoying an off-dry to sweet wine.

Here are the Prädikatswein designations and sweetness levels that can be associated with each. These terms, in addition to the ABV, and, in some cases, the words trocken, halbtrocken/feinherb, and süß, can help aid you in purchasing a wine that will perfectly suit your occasion. There are several Memphis Wine Society events in March to help you taste and learn more about the wine styles of Germany and Austria. You can have a chance to read the labels and taste the wines and put some of your newfound knowledge to the test. Prost!