Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) / Prädikatswein
Translated as “quality wine with distinction,” QmP wines mark the pinnacle of German wine making. A QmP wine must be approved by German wine authorities and does not allow any additives or chaptalization. Starting with the 2007 vintage, the QmP designation has been simplified to the term “Prädikatswein” and you will find this term on German wine labels going forward. The scale for QmP wines is based on six ascending degrees of ripeness. They start with Kabinett, then Spätlese, Auslese, and finally the dessert wines: Beerenauslese, Trockenbeerenauslese and Eiswein. In 2005, 2.8 million hl (Deutsches Weininstitut) of QmP wines were produced.
At Truly Fine Wine, we deal almost exclusively with QmP wines. QmP wines produced by top estates are the best the German wine experience has to offer. Contrary to common belief, ripeness does not define the quality of the wine or the sweetness of the wine. It merely describes when the wine was picked during the harvest cycle.
For example, Kabinetts are picked during the first harvest, producing a lighter-bodied wine, but the vintner will leave some grapes on the vine for the subsequent harvest cycles.
The second harvest is the Spätlese harvest and while its grapes will have higher sugar content, the vintner has the choice to either let all the sugar ferment to produce a dry (trocken) Spätlese or to leave some of the sugar in the wine, producing a sweeter style wine.
German wine labels usually indicate if a wine’s style is dry or semi-dry. For a dry wine, look for the word Trocken on the label and for an off dry or semi-dry wine look for the words Halbtrocken or Feinherb. To simplify things, all wines carried by Truly Fine Wine list the style of the wine on the back label, both in English and German.
Kabinett wines are picked during the normal harvest time and are usually light to medium bodied, well-balanced in acidity and dry to semi-dry in style, although sweet Kabinetts are made as well. The term Kabinett is derived from the Cabinet, a side room, built in the cellar of the Eberbach monastery in 1245, in which the best wines were stored. From there, it took on the meaning of a wine of high or reserve quality. Kabinetts are more refined than QbA wines and are great food pairing wines. They are outstanding with lighter cuisine or simply for casual drinking. Kabinetts are commonly consumed young, but can stored for 2-5 years, depending on quality.
Literally translated as “late harvest,” Spätlese is picked about two weeks later. The grapes are now fully ripened and have a greater body, longer finish and more intensity of fruit than their younger siblings, the Kabinetts. Spätlese can be dry, semi-dry or sweet in style and maintains an amazing balance of sweetness and acidity. We love Spätlese as a food-pairing wine, because of its greater complexity, tension between different aromas and its long finish. Spätlese pairs extraordinarily well with bigger seafood dishes, such as salmon, lobster or crab, and spicy dishes, including Thai and Mexican cuisine. A Spätlese can be aged for 3-10 years.
Translated as “select harvest,” Auslese is made from very ripe grapes, which come from individually selected bunches that are harvested by hand. Auslese is typically done in a sweet style and marks the beginning of the dessert wine category, although some Auslese still pairs very well with rich dishes such as foie gras and spicy foods. The aroma of the wine is now more reminiscent of tropical fruit, honey and caramel. The acidity creates tension and a good Auslese will never be sugary sweet. Rather, its complex flavors unfold slowly, continuously exposing new facets of taste and revealing a wine of singular character. An Auslese can be aged for 5-25 years and will greatly increase in complexity as it matures.
Translated as “berry select harvest,” Beerenauslese (BA) is rare and expensive, because individual grapes (!) are selected and harvested by hand. Similar to Sauternes, BAs have typically been exposed to botrytis cinerea (noble rot), but tend to be lower in alcohol with greater acidity. BAs are exceptional, highly sought after dessert wines, whose great aging potential and richness of honey, caramel and tropical fruits make them sought after collector wines! Wines with the ripeness of a BA and higher are only produced in good years, when the weather remains dry. A Beerenauslese can age for 10-35 years on average and up to 50 years for exceptional wines.
Translated as “dried berry select harvest,” Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) is the richest of the German dessert wines. In the best years, the grapes shrivel up like raisins and are overtaken with botrytis. Because the grapes contain little water so late in the year, it can take a single individual an entire day to pick enough grapes to make one bottle. As a result, they are very expensive. However, TBAs display an overwhelming intensity and complexity of flavors. They have the potential to age for up to 80 years and only get better with age. They are the König (King) of German dessert wines!
Translated as “Ice Wine,” a traditional ice wine only happens in rare years when the first frost, usually in December, will freeze the small portion of grapes that the vintner has left on the vine. Ice wine grapes have the minimum sugar level of a Beerenauslese, but must be unaffected by botrytis.
Ice wine is always a gamble for vintners, because they have to decide to leave grapes on the vine long after the regular harvest is finished.
They risk that the winter may not become cold enough for the harvest of an ice wine, which can only happen after several days of consistent, below freezing temperatures. If the temperature doesn't turn cold enough or does not stay consistently below freezing, the entire harvest is lost. However, in the rare years when a harvest occurs, the grapes are harvested by hand (wearing gloves, so the grapes won’t defrost) very early in the morning to avoid thawing temperatures. The grapes are pressed frozen, which means that very little water gets into the press, extracting a small quantity of highly concentrated juice. The resulting elixir creates a vibrant bond between sweetness and acidity that holds its own against the equally charismatic BAs and TBAs.
Other countries produce Ice Wine, but often by freezing the grapes in a commercial facility. For the German purist, this is heresy. The German Eiswein, sits alongside the Trockenbeerenauslese as the Königin (Queen) of the German dessert wines and a good ice wine can age for up to 100 years.
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