German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Håvard Flatland » Mon Aug 06, 2007 11:06 am

I can understand the marketing issue about the "grosses gewächs", it will give more focus to geography, like the wine laws of for example France, and steer away from the oechsle bit. But I am sure there are a lot of thing about the law that is not all good.

I guess since the trend is more dry wines from Germany (which is applauded here in Norway) the winemakers want a top of-the-line-wine without naging about the ripeness of the grapes (auslese trocken?) and be more like the terroir guys of Burgundy?
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon Aug 06, 2007 11:36 am

Håvard Flatland wrote:I guess since the trend is more dry wines from Germany (which is applauded here in Norway) the winemakers want a top of-the-line-wine without nagging about the ripeness of the grapes (auslese trocken?) and be more like the terroir guys of Burgundy?


True, but you would think they could have thought up a nicer name. :wink:

And the idea (that is frequently used in Germany) that the dry wines are more revealing of the terroir is just rubbish in my opinion. Each reveals the terroir in different ways. Some of the most magnificent wines I have ever tasted were spatlesen from great vineyards. Why is that not a valid expression of the terroir? That's my big concern, that truly great expressions of a given site will be wiped out by wrongheaded rule-making.
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Victorwine » Mon Aug 06, 2007 5:30 pm

Because of Germany’s geographic location when it comes to winemaking “ripeness” is everything. I think its best to view the prâdikat system more as a “harvest regime” for a particular German approved grape variety and region. Kabinett grapes being “normal” or “average” harvested grapes; spâtlese grapes being “late harvest” grapes, auslese being “out-picked (select or choice) late harvest” grapes, beerenauslese (BA) being “out-picked (select or choice) late harvested” grape berries , and trokenbeerenauslese (TBA) being “out-picked (select or choice) late harvested” dry grape berries. I don’t see a problem harvesting the grapes at different times (kabinett grapes before spâtlese grapes, spâtlese grapes before auslese grapes and so on), and fermenting and handling the wine differently to produce a “given style” of wine. Why can’t they be fermented using different techniques to produce a “desirable” style of wine? In other words in the lower levels or categories of the prâdikat system (as long as the winemaker follows the rules and regulations governing the production of QmP wines of his/her region) wines can be sub-classified as; trocken (dry- 0 to .9% RS); halbtrocken (half-dry- .9 to 1.8 % RS); halbsüss (half-sweet- 1.8 to 3% RS); süss (sweet- 3 to 6% RS); or nachtisch wein (dessert wine greater than 6% RS). I don’t have a problem with a German Riesling Auslese Trocken; a German Riesling Auslese Süss; or a German Riesling Auslese Nachtisch Wein.

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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby David M. Bueker » Mon Aug 06, 2007 7:09 pm

No problem with any of what you say theoretically Victor. The issue is that the 1971 wine law set the minumum requirements for the pradikats so ridiculously low that they are nearly meaningless, and now widely ignored (witness kabinett with auslese must weights).

The the dry wine idealists go and throw around some grand cru but only if it's dry rules, and don't even bother to check if the wines actually taste good.

Theory is great. It's practice that is screwed up.
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Paul Winalski » Tue Aug 07, 2007 1:48 pm

Victorwine wrote:Thanks David and Michael.
How does one translate the seal under the wing of the “German eagle” in Michael’s wine label that he posted? Does this indicate that the estate or vineyard is designated a “German Grand Cru”? I thought this was something new or added during the early 2000’s to the German wine laws and regulations to make them more in line with the French wine laws and EU wine laws.


Here is a complete translation of the label:

Joh. Jos. Pruem: Johann Joseph Pruem, the producer

Erzeugerabfuellung: estate-bottled; the wine was made from grapes grown, vinified, and aged by the producer

Weingut: winery

D-54470 Wehlen/Mosel: the estate's street address

VDP and logo: Indicates that the producer is a member of the Verband Deutscher Praedikats--the trade association of German producers of QmP wines. The association sets standards for viticulture and vinification for its members, beyond the German legal standards.

Riesling: The grape variety used to make the wine. I'm not sure what percentage the law requires to be riesling in order to get the varietal labeling. In the case of JJ Pruem, I think it's 100%, or very close to that.

Mosel-Saar-Ruwer: The major wine region that the grapes came from.

Qualitaetswein mit Praedikat: Quality wine with special attributes. David described what this means.

Produce of Germany: This is required by US wine-labeling regulations for imported wines.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr: The grapes came from the Sonnenuhr vineyard in the town of Wehlen.

Spaetlese: "late harvest", the "special attribute" (Praedikat) of this wine; as David described, this indicates the minimum must weight of the unfermented grape juice used to make the wine.


A few points and pitfalls to note:

This label doesn't designate a vintage year. Presumably that is on a neck label. I don't know if the law allows non-vintage QmP wines. I've never seen one.

The other missing item is the Amtliche Pruefnummer (AP number), a serial number issued by the German government to all QbA and QmP wines when they're submitted to the government tasting panel. Again, this must be on the neck label or somewhere else on the bottle. The AP number is kind of like the ISBN number for a book.

Although the Spaetlese designation sets a minimum must weight (initial sugar) level, it says nothing about the residual sugar of the final wine. Spaetlesen usually will have a moderate amount of residual sugar, but the wine could be fermented completely or nearly completely dry (these are usually called Spaetlese Trocken or Spaetlese Halbtrocken). Or, as David pointed out, this could be "declassified Auslese" and much riper or sweeter than might be expected. You need to know the producer's style, and sometimes the characteristics of the year in question.

Wehlener Sonnenuhr happens to be a single vineyard. But there is no way to know that just from the syntax of the name. One of the problems with German wine law is that large regional groups of vineyards (Grosslagen) have the same two-part name syntax. The Wehlener Sonnenuhr vineyard is part of the Muenzlay Grosslage of the general Bernkastel wine-growing area (Bereich) in the Mosel-Saar-Ruwer wine region, and so this wine could also have been legally called Bernkasteler Muezlay. It's similar to the confusing situation with wine names in Burgundy. Gevrey-Chambertin is a villages wine while Charmes-Chambertin is a Grand Cru single vineyard in that village, but there's no telling that by looking at the name. Similarly, Bernkasteler Doctor is a highly regarded single vineyard while Bernkasteler Badstube is a Grosslage incorporating a bunch of vineyards in the area (including the Doctor vineyard), not all in prime locations. Just as Burgundy producers usually use a Grand Cru name in preference to the villages name if the wine's entitled to it, so German producers will usually use the single vineyard name rather than the Grosslage if they legally can. So, as in Burgundy, you have to learn the names--you can't tell just from their format.

Germany does classify its vineyards in a scheme similar to Burgundy's Grand Cru/Premier Cru/Villages ranking, but that classification is for tax purposes only and isn't allowed to be used on the wine labels, and the maps of which are which aren't public.

The situation's a lot like Burgundy--confusing for the beginner or casual consumer, and the most important thing of all is the producer.

-Paul W.
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Re: German Wine Primer - Great timing! I know Nah-THANG!

Postby Ardeis Scott » Tue Aug 07, 2007 4:49 pm

Thank you for such an informative writeup only a wien geek could appreciate, and such great timing too as our local wine club meets in a week with this month's topic of discussion: German rieslings. TN's to follow.

I found some decent older vintages at MacArthur's Beverages in DC online and if it wasn't August in FL (makes any shipping dicey due to the heat and humidity) I'd have ordered some bottles from Dee Vine in San Francisco, one of the best selection of older vintages of German wines going back over a decade.

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Re: German Wine Primer - Great timing! I know Nah-THANG!

Postby Rahsaan » Tue Aug 07, 2007 7:32 pm

Ardeis Scott wrote:Dee Vine in San Francisco, one of the best selection of older vintages of German wines going back over a decade.


don't you mean over a century.. :wink:
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Victorwine » Tue Aug 07, 2007 8:04 pm

Paul Wrote:
“Or, as David pointed out, this could be "declassified Auslese" and much riper or sweeter than might be expected. You need to know the producer's style, and sometimes the characteristics of the year in question”.

If the grapes were initially harvested as spâtlese grapes (“late-harvest”) and not auslese grapes (“out-picked (select or choice) late harvested” grapes) why “de-classify? If a richer and sweeter wine is produced why not just call it a Riesling Spâtlese Halbsüss; Riesling Spâtlese Süss or Riesling Spâtlese Nachtish Wein (of course only if the RS percentage warrants it).

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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Hoke » Tue Aug 07, 2007 9:10 pm

In this thread both David and Paul have alluded to the confusion and difficulty of understanding the Burgundy system, and indicated the German system---in its difficulty and opacity---was analogous.


I'm not sure I understand why they are considered analogous though. Yes, yes, I know their are intricacies in Burgundy from the details needed to codify a wine community that has been inwardly focused for such a long time, with all of it complicated by the realities of the Napoleonic inheritance system.

But....isn't that to be expected? What is so complicated and confusing about a system that focuses on Village/Commune, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru?

When you buy a Burgundy you get the Vintage Year, the Producer/Negociant name and a specific place you can point to on a map that has been coded to a quality/price level over hundreds and hundreds of years of experience.

To oversimplify, when I walk into a store and look at three wines sitting side by side and notice that one proclaims Chassagne-Montrachet at $30, the next is Chassagne-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Ladida at $60, and the other is Le Montrachet Grand Cru at $100.....I have a pretty good idea of the relative value/quality perception/classification of these wines.

A modicum of research---and one would assume an investment of $30--$100 would generate a little research!---would reveal certain characteristics around a particular village/commune and its PC and GC vineyards. If that's too much too ask, the budding wine buyer could always default to Pointillists that profess to take away the need to think and will happily make all your decisions for you.

---------------------------

As a reply to the original subject of the post, the German system, I lived in Germany and learned German wine first in my career, so have never had any problem with it. I will admit to ignoring or laughing off what has happened over the last 20 years though, because it's added more mud to clear water than I would have thought imaginable. Only the Germans could so over-specify as to make things murky. :)
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby David M. Bueker » Tue Aug 07, 2007 9:22 pm

Victorwine wrote:If the grapes were initially harvested as spâtlese grapes (“late-harvest”) and not auslese grapes (“out-picked (select or choice) late harvested” grapes) why “de-classify? If a richer and sweeter wine is produced why not just call it a Riesling Spâtlese Halbsüss; Riesling Spâtlese Süss or Riesling Spâtlese Nachtish Wein (of course only if the RS percentage warrants it)


Because your options are not allowed. (Not to mention would add yet another set of confusing terms.)

The issue is not the producer's choice to declassify, but the market's demand for kabinett (especially) and spatlese. They are the two most popular pradikats in terms of sales in the USA. In order to be financially viable there must be kabinett and spatlese for sale. Producers declassify because we demand a certain word on the label. Taste a bottle of 2005 Selbach-Oster Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett (I'm intentionally using the grosslage wine here to semi-respond to Paul's post). It could/should be sold as a top spatlese, but it cannot be because a) Selbach-Oster needs a kabinett to sell and b) people's perceptions of what a kabinett is/should be have been warped by the 2003 and 2005 vintages.

People complain about the complexities of the German system, but I have yet to hear any solution that would make it simpler (from anyone, trade, consumer, winemaker). I don't have one. I wish I did.
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Peter Ruhrberg » Wed Aug 08, 2007 5:38 am

Victorwine wrote:...I don’t see a problem harvesting the grapes at different times (kabinett grapes before spâtlese grapes, spâtlese grapes before auslese grapes and so on...


In practise, things tend to look very different though. Very often, botrytised grapes are picked before the main harvest, because if rain threatens, you lose those grapes and run the risk of bad rot spreading through your entire vineyard. So, you often get Auslese, BA, or even TBA picked before the Kabinett, in the same vineyard. Also, even with healthy grapes you may get a dilution from rain, so that the Kabinett comes after the Spätlese. The idea that must weight lines up neatly with the time line is wrong, just as the idea that taste charateritic and must weight correlate so directly as the law assumes.

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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Michael Pronay » Wed Aug 08, 2007 5:54 am

Paul Winalski wrote:Here is a complete translation of the label:

[. . .]

A few points and pitfalls to note:

This label doesn't designate a vintage year. Presumably that is on a neck label. I don't know if the law allows non-vintage QmP wines. I've never seen one.

The other missing item is the Amtliche Pruefnummer (AP number), a serial number issued by the German government to all QbA and QmP wines when they're submitted to the government tasting panel. Again, this must be on the neck label or somewhere else on the bottle. The AP number is kind of like the ISBN number for a book.

Paul, from the look of the label I'd rather think that it's kind of a dummy or form where vintage and AP number will be printed prior to labelling. At least the blank space between "Joh.Jos.Prüm" and "Wehlener Sonnenuhr" would suggest the vintage year to be inserted here. The AP number would find its place somewhereon the left side, together with other compulsory mentions, such as content, "e" sign and recycling mark.

If not, one would find all these not on the neck, but on a back label.
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Aug 08, 2007 10:02 am

Michael Pronay wrote:Paul, from the look of the label I'd rather think that it's kind of a dummy or form where vintage and AP number will be printed prior to labelling.


Indeed it is. A number of websites have these type of "specimen" labels that are missing some information.
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Paul Winalski » Wed Aug 08, 2007 2:07 pm

Hoke wrote:I'm not sure I understand why they are considered analogous though. Yes, yes, I know their are intricacies in Burgundy from the details needed to codify a wine community that has been inwardly focused for such a long time, with all of it complicated by the realities of the Napoleonic inheritance system.

But....isn't that to be expected? What is so complicated and confusing about a system that focuses on Village/Commune, Premier Cru, and Grand Cru?


Both Germany and Burgundy are a lot more complicated than, for example, Bordeaux, where geography isn't pinned down any closer than the commune level, each producer makes only one wine (OK--maybe a second and third wine in some cases, but only one flagship product) and effectively all you have to go by is the producer's name. In both Germany and Bordeaux, in contrast, geography can be as specific as an individual vineyard and producers make a multiplicity of wines.

The Napoleonic inheritance system need not fragment vineyards the way it has done in Burgundy. The wine estates in Bordeaux have kept themselves intact. The trick is to incorporate the estate and have the corporation own the land. Ownership of corporate shares might fragment, but the real estate stays intact. I wonder why Burgundy got so fragmented in the first place while Bordeaux managed to keep its estates intact after the French Revolution?

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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Aug 08, 2007 2:21 pm

Paul Winalski wrote: I wonder why Burgundy got so fragmented in the first place while Bordeaux managed to keep its estates intact after the French Revolution?

-Paul W.


Now that is what I call thread drift.

Additionally it might not be good to ask about French land ownership in a thread on German wine. :twisted:
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Hoke » Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:16 pm

The Napoleonic inheritance system need not fragment vineyards the way it has done in Burgundy. The wine estates in Bordeaux have kept themselves intact. The trick is to incorporate the estate and have the corporation own the land. Ownership of corporate shares might fragment, but the real estate stays intact. I wonder why Burgundy got so fragmented in the first place while Bordeaux managed to keep its estates intact after the French Revolution?



Maybe "need not", but it did, Paul. I believe the major difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy---in terms of how the land is parcelled; let's not get into those other areas :) ---is that Bordeaux was always owned by large and powerful/influential family/business ventures, whereas the Burgundian properties were often holdings of the Church. When Napoleon broke up the Church holdings and re-distributed to the peasants and farmers he perforce fragmented the nature of vineyard ownership. The inheritance code then dictated the "family farms" (not usually seen as businesses, but farms---would be divided equally, allowing inheritors to sell of ever-smaller pieces of property.

The other major difference between Bordeaux and Burgundy is that Burgundy is essentially a "single variety" (albeit red and white varities, still based on making wine from a single variety), whereas Bordeaux lends itself more to mass farming, since up to 8 grapes are required (5 red, 3 white) to make the Bordeaux styled wines. Seems axiomatic to me then that Burgundy would increasingly focus on specific place (terroir to the extreme) and Bordeaux would focus more on house style (producer) and concomitantly less on place (commune versus vineyard plot).



Paul Winalski wrote:
I wonder why Burgundy got so fragmented in the first place while Bordeaux managed to keep its estates intact after the French Revolution?

-Paul W.


Now that is what I call thread drift.


Hardly that drastic a drift, David. More of an evolution, since you originally brought up the issue, and Paul later brought it up again.

Besides, we're not as systematic and methodical as the Germans. Or at least, I'm not. :wink:
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Aug 08, 2007 3:21 pm

Hoke wrote:
Besides, we're not as systematic and methodical as the Germans. Or at least, I'm not. :wink:


I want order. You hear me? Order! :wink:
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Hoke » Wed Aug 08, 2007 4:02 pm

David M. Bueker wrote:
Hoke wrote:
Besides, we're not as systematic and methodical as the Germans. Or at least, I'm not. :wink:


I want order. You hear me? Order! :wink:


Zum Befehl, Herr Direktor!

BTW, good original precis (inasmuch as it can be) of the system. Like you, I've never had any problems with it, though I know a lot of folks do. Guess living there made a difference for me. People always want things simple and easy, when nothing with wine is simple and easy. If it was, it wouldn't be that interesting and that much fun, ne?

All this reminds me of a discussion I had with a wine rep once: we were talking about a particular Italian brand and the person made the comment "You know, this would be a lot easier to sell if they didn't use all those hard to pronounce Italian words." :D
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Aug 08, 2007 4:18 pm

At least the Italian words sound good. Ever tried to get someone to buy a wine labeled Forster Schnepfenflug? How about Monzinger Fruhlingspatlzchen? Mussbacher Eselhaut sounds like a power lifter.
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Håvard Flatland » Wed Aug 08, 2007 4:49 pm

I really love these long and quirky German wine names! But of course I can imagine people with little knowlegde of German language or wine will have a hard time asking for a Godramsteiner Münzberg Schlangenpfiff Riesling Spätlese Trocken Grosses Gewächs 2005 in the wine shop!

LOL!
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby Hoke » Wed Aug 08, 2007 7:06 pm

German names are undeniably a problem, but as a former English teacher and linguistics and history buff, I try to relate some of the more commonly occurring German names to the meaning of the terms---so they seem a bit more comfortable, acccepted, familiar; and because everyone loves a good story and tends to remember it and retell it.

So I like Hasensprung, Himmelreich, Jesuitengarten, Apotheke and Goldtropfchen and such, and it's fun to tell the story of Sonnuhr/Sonnenuhr and its importance to the quality/style of the vineyard.

Hey, it's even fun to trot out the old Schwarze Katz and Nacktarsch.

Admittedly, Pig's Stomach is a bit more difficult to sell. Maybe to people that buy the old Smucker's tagline??? :wink:
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Re: German Wine Primer - The prädikat system

Postby David M. Bueker » Wed Aug 08, 2007 7:47 pm

It is true that when you start translating the vineyard names people get more interested. It also helps to open people's eyes to the Germanic roots of many English words.
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