The German wine laws,
revised in 1971
to bring them closer in line with those of other members of the EU,
wine into two classes: Table Wine and Quality Wine -
This is not just for Riesling, it can apply to other German Varietals.
Table Wine is divided into two categories: Deutscher Tafelwein (lowest category) and Landwein (introduced in 1982 and equivalent to French Vin de Pays) - It is rare to find these wines in the US.
Quality Wine (Qualitätswein) is also divided into two categories: Qualitätswein bestimmer Anbaugebiete (QbA) and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP)
QbA wines are produced from one of 13 regions (which must appear on the label) and will generally be chaptalized (must enrichment before or during fermentation to increase level of alcohol and/or sweetness).
Note: QbA wines may NOT have had any sweetness added, and may infact qualify as a QmP wine as below, however the winemaker may not want the hassle of meeting the criteria (law) and doing the paperwork. There are many winemakers now that wish to abandon the 1971 QmP regulations all together....
QmP wines are those "with special attributes" and also come from a single one of the 13 regions (also appearing on the label) and from a single bereich (district). Chaptalization is forbidden, although they may be sweetened with Süßreserve (sterile unfermented grape [same grapes] must added before bottling to increase sweetness and balance acidity).
To further complicate matters, QmP wines are divided into six styles (Prädikate) based on initial must weights in ascending order: Kabinett, Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese (BA), Eiswein and Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA).
Kabinett - most delicate, crisp acidity, green apple and citrus
Spätlese - literally "late-harvest," more body than Kabinett, riper fruit flavors, no green apple and perhaps tropical fruit (mango and pineapple).
Auslese - from individually selected extra-ripe grapes; highest level of Pradikat to appear commonly as a dry wine; can be a richer, sweeter, riper Spatelese or very sweet, showing botrytis character.
The above 3 are the most commom QmP wines and while the below image is perhaps an oversimplification, it does give you an idea of the theorhetical differences in viscosity ---
Beerenauslese - rare expensive wine made from individually selected grapes, ideally with botrytis; a sweet wine with exhilarating complexity and refreshing acidity.
Eiswein - literally "ice-wine," left on vine to ripen to sugar levels of BA and picked when temperature is below -8 degrees C; pressed after frozen water removed, producing a wine with an intriguing contrast of richness, acidity and great fruit purity.
Trockenbeerenauslese - produced in minute quantities and only in the finest vintages from individual botrytised grapes that have shrivelled to be tiny raisins; sugar level will yield a potential 21.5% abv but will be matched with high acidity levels; actual level after fermentation of abv will rarely excede 8%.
And just when you think you have everything sorted out, here are a few additional terms that might appear (in addition) on the label:
Trocken - Very Dry - Germans love Trocken - probably in reaction to the sugar-water Liebfraumilch that Germany is known for and they hate.
Halbtrocken - Dry - Use is becoming less common
Classic - "Harmoniously dry" with minimum 12% abv (11.5% in Mosel-Saar-Ruhr); must be made from a single varietal from a single vintage in a single region (all appearing on label)
Selection - At least Auslese ripeness levels (potential 12.2% abv) from a individual vineyard site (appearing on label)
Erstes Gewachs, Erstes Lage & Grosses Gewachs - Riesling (or Pinot Noir) from one of the recognized top-quality (first growth or Premier Cru) Einzellagen (vineyards); subject to a number of requirements including a stringent taste test See VDP
Other German Wines:
Not as popular as Rieslings
Pinots, but they are on the move. Germans being as precise as they are
call these Burgundies or
Weisser Burgunder is a Pinot Blanc
Grauer Burgunder is a Pinot Gris
Spät Burgunder is a Pinot Noir
is a ‘light’ Riesling - mostly forgettable
Silvaner is a white grown mostly in Franconia in limestone soil.
Blauer Portugieser is a red from Portugal (1700s) , oak casks are used.
Dornfelder is a Sweetish Red Wine
with high to medium