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(Original article in Dutch here )

Trocken, halbtrocken, lieblich and süss are the most common flavors of German wines. These terms can be translated as “dry”, “off-dry” or “medium dry”, “medium sweet” and “sweet”.

To provide a solution for the poor image of the semi-dry wines the denomination “Feinherb” was created, and now it is more and more used as an alternative for the term halbtrocken.

The term “Feinherb” was first used by winery Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt (Mosel). After a lengthy court battle, because this name was nowhere defined in the German law, the debate finally ended in 2002 in favor of the domain, and since then the term has become especially prevalent in Mosel wines.
Nowadays, it is gaining importance in other German wine making regions as well.

Although “Feinherb” is not exactly the same as “Halbtrocken”, both are very closely related.
Feinherb is a vaguely defined term for wines with roughly 10-20 grams of residual sugar per liter, where the maximum permitted residual sugar for halbtrocken is 18 grams per liter. Hence feinherb wines are generally slightly sweeter than halbtrocken wines, without being sweet as honey.

The sugar content of halbtrocken wines is determined by law.
There must be 10 g/L residual sugar more than the acid content, with a maximum of 18 g/l.
Dry (trocken) wines, by the way, are also determined by these regulations: 2g/l residual sugar more than the acidity content, with a maximum of 9 g/l residual sugar.

NAME Difference
acidity and
residual sugar content
residual sugar
(AC=Acidity; RS=Residual sugar)
TROCKEN 2 g/l 9 g/l RS = AC + 2 g/l
(max RS = 9)
HALBTROCKEN 10 g/l 18 g/l RS = AC + 10 g/l
(max RS = 18)

As an example: a halbtrocken wine with 6 g/l acidity, can have op to 16 g/l residual sugar. A halbtrocken wine with 9 g/l acidity can have max. 18 g/l res. sugar, but not 9+10=19.
As the limit to dry (trocken) wine is acidity plus 2, with a max. of 9 g/l residual sugar, a wine with more than 9 g/l sugar, but max 18 g/l has to be called halbtrocken.

Generally speaking, halbtrocken wines have 10-18 g/l residual sugar, and one can state that feinherb wines contains around 10-20 g/l residual sugar, but this remains vaguely defined.
Feinherb is more of a marketing term, because halbtrocken has become unfashionable abroad.

This is a translation of the original article in Dutch on our blog, here