In Germany, Qualitätswein is used as a general term used to describe wines made from overripe or late-harvest grapes. These wines fall into two categories.
Standard wines (Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete): This simply indicates that the wine comes from one of 13 approved regions and is produced using an approved grape. The ripeness level is tested to ensure the wine has a fruity, light, easy-drinking quality.
Higher quality (Qualitätswein mit Prädikat): This technique involves harvesting over-ripe grapes to obtain extra sweetness and flavor. These more distinctive, higher quality wines can be divided into six categories:
Kabinett: This is the lightest of these six wines, the grapes are fully harvested. This wine can be drunk with a meal.
Spätlese: This is the first of the late harvset wines. As with most late harvest wines, this creates a sweeter rich, fruitier flavor . This wine can be drunk with a rich food or alone.
Auslese: Another late-harvest, these tend to be very fruity and intense. Some can have a crispness that helps fend off the sweetness, but for the most part they tend to be sweet. Makes a good dessert wine.
Beerenauslese: This wine is moving into ice wine territory, and the price has begun to go up. The grapes are over ripe, producing a rich, sweet wine that is perfect for sipping or with dessert.
Eiswein: These grapes are at the Beerenauslese level, they are then harvested and pressed while still frozen. The wine produced is a pure gold color, smooth, sweet, and fruity. Prices for this wine can be high.
Trockenbeerenauslese: Popular since its introduction in 1921, these grapes are not only over ripe but are left to dry up like raisins. These wines are sweet and very rich, with a distinct honey flavor.
Like ice wines and other sweet wines, these are best enjoyed alone for sipping after a meal. These wines should be served chilled, but not quite fridge temperature, a little bit warmer than that.