Generally speaking, the classifications used for Austrian wines represent different “quality designations”. They range from Tafelwein (table wine) to Trockenbeerenauslese (really sweet wine), with many in between.
When describing why a wine falls into a certain category in terms of its technical sweetness, we will refer to its KMW. This is the amount of must sugar in percent of weight in a wine, which is measured in these units called KMW (Klosterneuburger Mostwaage). Folks more familiar with the Öchsle scale can get a close conversion by multiplying the KMW by 5. If you’re Italian, the degrees KMW is the same as degrees Babo. Think of it as being a bit like temperature degrees, but instead of things getting hotter as the numbers rise, things get a whole lot sweeter.
The basic quality designations used in Austria are Tafelwein, Landwein, Qualitätswein, Kabinett, and Prädikatswein (which includes Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, and Trockenbeerenauslese)
TAFELWEIN is basically “table wine.” It has at least 10.6° KMW, and it is permitted to add sugar to the must.
LANDWEIN is “land wine.” Usually served as the house wine. It is classed under the general category of Tafelwein, but is required to show its region of origin on the label. The minimum is 14° KMW. Sugar can be added.
QUALITÄTSWEIN (or “quality wine”): These wines have a minimum of 15° KMW, and the label must go one step further than Landwein and show its specific wine growing area. (Austria has 4 main wine growing regions, which are then divided into 19 recognized wine growing areas.) You can add sugar up to 19° KMW in white wines, and up to 20° KMW in red wines. You’ll find examples of Qualitätswein (along with Prädikatswein, explained below) in both our Taste of Austria and BIG Taste of Austria samplers.
KABINETT: This goes under the broader category of Qualitätswein, but must have a minimum of 17° KMW, a maximum alcohol by volume of 13%, and a maximum residual sugar level of 9 g/l. You may not add sugar to the must.
PRÄDIKATSWEIN: This is the category which encompasses Spätlese, Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein, Schilfwein, Trockenbeerenauslese and Ausbruch, which each have their own minimum and maximum KMW levels. You’ll find examples of Prädikatswein (as well as the aforementioned Qualitätswein) in both our Taste of Austria and BIG Taste of Austria samplers.
SPÄTLESE: This category has a minimum of 19° KMW, and the addition of grape must for sweetening is not permitted (as it is in Germany.) These wines may be sold after March 1, while the other Prädikatsweins cannot be sold until after May 1st. The word translates to mean “late harvest”. A beautiful example of a Spätlese wine is the Feiler-Artinger Muscat-Ottonel 2003.
AUSLESE: The word means “selection” in German, and it’s used in the trade to describe the perfectly ripened grapes that are hand selected and pressed separately from the other grapes. This one is a little bit sweet, but can still be enjoyed as a “drinking” wine. Minimum of 21° KMW.
BEERENAUSLESE: “Selected berries.” The grapes are left to ripen even longer than in any previous category, and so have even more residual sugar. Add to that some mold known as “noble rot” (botrytis cinerea), which causes the grapes to shrivel and concentrate even more, and we have moved into the realm of dessert wines. The minimum KMW is 25°. You will often see this abbreviated as “BA.” Find some BA for yourself right here.
EISWEIN (Icewine, Ice Wine. Vin de Glacier): These wines are made from grapes left on the vine until the cold weather and frosts arrive. They must be picked at night to insure that the temperature remains below freezing until the grapes are harvested and pressed. In this way, the water left in the grape is frozen, so only the most concentrated of flavors comes out. It has a minimum 25° KMW. But go here to read more about Icewine, and here to buy some.
SCHILFWEIN: Also known as Strohwein, it is a method of making dessert wines. The grapes are harvested late and then air dried on straw or reed mats for at least three months to concentrate their flavor. In the Burgenland region, the mats are made from the reeds which grow along the edges of the Neusidler lake. Some vintners then lay these mats out on shelves in long, long, football field length tunnels constructed from wood and thick plastic sheeting. This both protects the grapes from predators and acts as a kind of greenhouse. Minimum of 25° KMW.
AUSBRUCH: This refers to a method of making dessert wine from grapes affected by noble rot. The production method originally came from Hungary where it is used in the making of Tokaji. RUSTER AUSBRUCH is a kind of Ausbruch which can only be produced in the town of Rust, and you can read more about that here. The minimum for an Ausbruch is 27° KMW. Find Ruster Ausbruch wines here.
TROCKENBEERENAUSLESE: The sweetest of the sweets, also called TBA. These “dry selected berries” (that’s what the word means) are left on the vine until they are, you guessed it, pretty much dried out and have gone through a big bout of noble rot. This makes them very concentrated and results in some pretty spectacular dessert wines. The minimum level is 30° KMW, if that gives you an indication of just how sweet this baby is. You can find some TBA wines here.
Other Dry Wine Classifications
In the Wachau region, a local association called VINEA WACHAU NOBILIS DISTRICTUS put their wines into three different classifications: Steinfeder, Federspiel, and Smaragd.
You will find this classification on the label of the bottle, and you should also see it as part of the name of the wine when reading it on a restaurant wine list or in a retail catalog. An example would be Donabaum Spitzer Point Gruner Veltliner Smaragd 2002. This way, you can immediately identify the wine as being from the mighty Wachau, and you can also get an idea about the style of the wine (light bodied, full bodied, etc.) You will find both a Federspiel and a Smaragd wine in our mixed half-case Taste of Austria sampler.
STEINFEDER.: The name comes from the grass which grows on the steep hillsides here, and it is the first of the three quality classifications for wine in the Wachau. However, you shouldn’t think that a Steinfeder is “worse” than a Federspiel: it’s just different. It’s picked at a different point in the harvest and it has a different style than the following wines. A Steinfeder is, for example, the perfect wine for a hot summer afternoon when you just want something simple to enjoy. Or do with it as the Austrians do: mix it with some sparking mineral water and enjoy is as a spritzer! Perfect picnic companion. The grapes should have a minimum must weight of15° KMW, the musts are always completely fermented, sugar may not be added to the must, and the maximum amount of alcohol by volume is 11.5%
FEDERSPIEL: The term refers to the old local custom of calling in the bird when hawking. Federspiel wines have a minimum must weight of 17° KMW and the alcohol has to be between 11.5% and 12.5%. They are fermented drily. These wines are comparable to those termed “Kabinett” quality. Here are a few Federspiel wines to try.
SMARAGD: These grapes are picked at least a week after the main harvesting begins for that varietal and so it has more sugar (a minimum of 19° KMW.) This doesn’t mean it is in any way a sweet wine; in fact, a wine with over 9 g/l of residual sugar cannot be labeled Smaragd. Following an old tradition, these wines are fermented until fermentation comes to a natural standstill. Smaragd literally means “emerald” and refers to the little green lizards that run around the vineyards. Designations like Kabinett, Spatlese, and Auslese are not used in connection with Smaragd. Smaragd wines must have longer corks (minimum of 49mm) and cannot be released until after May 1 of the year following the harvest. We carry a good selection of Smaragd wines.
The wines are also broken down on the following residual sugar scale:
- EXTRA DRY, or extra trocken = up to 4 g/l (View a list)
- DRY, or trocken = up to 9 g/l (View a list)
- OFF-DRY, or halbtrocken = 9 g/l to 12 g/l
- OFF-SWEET, or lieblich = 12 g/l to 45 g/l (View a list)
- SWEET, or süss = over 45 g/l (View a list)