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German labels can be confusing and just when you think you can identify the producer, grape, village, vineyard and quality level, you discover that the label contain even more information that can be a trap to the unwary. I'm talking about Fuders, Stars and the A.P.#.

For those just getting into German wine I thought I would explain what these are. here goes:

FUDER NUMBER- Literally this refers to the barrel (or Fuder) where the wine was aged. Each Fuder contains about 110 cases. Some producers will bottle each Fuder seperately while others will combine all of their Fuders. Those that bottle seperately will put out 2 or more wines with the exact same label except for a very tiny print indicating the Fuder #. Merkelbach for instance put out about a half dozen different Spatlese Urzinger Wirzgartens with different Fuder #s on them. The WA has rated most of them seperately. Some producers will not put the different Fuder #'s on the bottle but instead will make you refer to the AP# (more on that later) which makes things even more confusing.

STARS- Stars are like "Reserve" wines in California. Some producers will put out up to 4 different bottles of the same wine and mark their better bottles with stars on the label. Some producers do not use stars at all. It is standard to have 4 levels (zero, *, **, or ***). More stars means riper grapes and generally better wines. An example is JJ Cristoffel who made a zero star, one star, two star and three star Auslese Urzinger Wurzgarten. Other than little astericks next to the name of the wine the labels look the same.

THE A.P. NUMBER- By law, every German bottle has a long string of numbers somewhere on the label. AP stands for Amtliche Prüfnummer (in English governmental proof number or governmental approved number). Recently, Carl Schmitt-Wagner (owner of a well respected estate) emailed me a very good explanation of this number which explains what all the numbers mean. Here is how he expained the following AP#:

A.P. 3 533 117 18 02

"3 = The location number of the governmental office in this case "Trier/Mosel"
533 = The location number of the village in this case "Longuich/Mosel"
117 = The location number of the winery in this case Winery Carl Schmitt-Wagner
18 = Number of the wine what was submitted, in this case the 2001 Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg Auslese
02 = The Year of the submittal or better the approval of the wine by the goverment"

As I said, some producers do not put a fuder # on the bottle but instead rely only on the AP #. If a producer bottled his fuders seperately and did not put a fuder # on the bottle than look to the 2nd to last set of numbers in the AP # (in the example above it is the #18). This will identify the fuder. In some of the WA's reviews, the last 2 sets of AP #s are refered to.

I hope you will find this helpful in your search for the best German wines.

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Wow! I thought I knew everything there was to know about reading German wine labels until I saw your explanation on interpreting the AP #.

Great info VM, even if somewhat esoteric.

BTW, do you know where one can find a cross over list between the AP component numbers and the actual office-village-winery to which they correspond?

Thanks for a concise explanation, Vino.

I understand that fuder numbers are only used when the contents of the fuder are so special that they warrant separate bottling; almost all of the fuders of each type go into the general bottling. Fritz Haag, for example, will typically put aside up to 9 or so fuders of Auslese quality, while bottling a much greater amount of Auslese from the combined barrels. I've always understood, therefore, that a fuder number is a true indicator of a "reserve" wine.


Andreas- I do not seen a list like this. It is probably on the net but would be in German which is probably of no help to you.

Seaquam- That is my understanding as well. Fuders are only designated if the quality of a wine merits it.

To all- I forgot one other way that German producers distinguish wines. That is by using gold caps. It is more commonly known so probably does not come as news to most of the posters here but I will mention it.

GOLD CAPS- Many times a producer will not use fuder #'s or stars to designate a special wine but instead use a special gold foil cap on his wine instead of the white or colored foil that he normally uses. Think of gold caps as a "special selection" bottling from California. A producer may put out a regular Auslese and a Gold Cap Auslese. Some producers will use the gold cap in conjunction with stars and fuder #'s. Like stars, the gold cap indicates a higher quality level.

Don't get me wrong, this is not intended to pick on the US but as general standardization reference for NEW issues, I find the American way has (mostly successfully) imposed a globalized set of standards.
For very old things though, I find these usually have a charm of their own, and a history and a raison d'etre [sure someboby can correct this awful French of mine, please].
I'm quite sure nobody here finds this merely annoying in the worst sense, but also intriguing. I certainly enjoy this. Once you get to understand the vineyard designation and the * / GK / LGK / fuder number etc ... [& now thanks to VM the AP], it's only short of fun (though unpractical to memorize for a non-German speaker, as is my case).
But I wouldn't support an argument in the line of German labels being obscure, because... you remember Pulp Fiction...and the burger nomenclature... Big Grin Big Grin

Free Winona!

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