Page 4 – The VDP Classification
Now, as if all that wasn’t enough, the Verband Deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP) has developed their own system for naming wines. Coming about partly as a reaction to the 1971 reforms to the German Wine Law and the problems associated with it, it keeps many aspects of the official system while adapting the categories to lend clarity to the quality of the sites and the sweetness of the wines. So their system is both useful and quite simple – as long as you already understand the official system.
There are four levels to the VDP quality pyramid, each level being split into two categories: dry or off-dry/sweet (the word they have chosen for off-dry is “fruchtig”, which literally means “fruity”). The upper two levels of the quality pyramid introduce no less than three new classifications related to vineyard site quality and resulting wine style, all three of which have been registered as trademarks: VDP Erste Lage, VDP Grosse Lage and VDP Grosses Gewächs.
The levels of the quality pyramid in ascending order are:
VDP Gutswein – wine from the estate holdings within a particular region. If the wine qualifies for a Prädikat class, it can be used: Kabinett and Spätlese for any style, with the others (Auslese, BA, TBA, Eiswein) only for the lusciously sweet wines.
VDP Ortswein – the VDP version of a Village wine. It is the beginning of real “terroir”-driven wines, and the labels may contain descriptors of the soils. If the wine is dry, it will be labelled as Qualitätswein Trocken, with no Prädikat. If it has residual sugar, the Prädikat terminology will be used. The signifier of this level is the name of the village itself, using VDP Ortswein on the label is not obligatory.
VDP Erste Lage – first-class vineyards sites offering real distinction. Decided and demarcated by the regional VDP association, as, indeed, are the sites for the Grosse Lage designation. If it is dry, it carries no Prädikat. Labelling off-dry as such (Feinherb or Halbtrocken) is optional. If it is sweet, a standard Prädikat will be used, if the wine qualifies for one. What must be used, however, is the grape variety, the village name and the name of the vineyard.
VDP Grosse Lage – the top, the best, most expressive sites. If it is dry, it is labelled as Grosses Gewächs, the bottle is embossed with a “GG” logo and the use of “Trocken” on the label is mandatory. Off-dry labelling is optional. Sweet wines use the applicable Prädikat. But the wines must specify the vineyard name, and do not specify the village.
Wines from members of the VDP are easy to spot: the capsule usually carries the VDP logo.
So that’s it! Go forth and try some wonderful German wines, confident in the knowledge of what you are buying…and please DO try some of the wines from good producers with a bit of residual sugar, they can be amazing.