Looking for a suitably sophisticated wine selection to serve during winter holidays? Head to Germany, a source of inspiration.
Similar to many western European wine regions, winemaking techniques were carried to Germany by the Romans, along with their other tools of conquest as they set out to claim the Alps over 2,000 years ago. It wasn’t until the 8th century that a solid German wine commerce took hold, under the imprint of Charlemagne and led by the winemaking monks. Many winemaking families trace legacies back generations, and by this I mean way back (14 generations or more—or back to the 16th century, something like this is inherent to nearly all of the wines I studied for this story).
A preference for beer poured into Germanic regions during the middle ages and the decline of vineyards continued through phylloxera, though plantings always remained a part of the landscape, just not with the thrust that exists today.
Today’s German wine, now as always, reaches heavenly heights thanks to the combination of sugar and acid. I know that some wine drinkers skedaddle at the mere mention of sugar, and my guess is this is due to a memory of distaste based on sips of cheap or flabby sweet table wine. This stuff seems to have been served to everyone at least once in their early wine-drinking years—fear of being reminded of this makes many people screech to a full stop at the word shhhh-sugar.
But here’s the thing, what sugar does to quality German wine, German Reisling in particular, is the same thing sea salt does to caramel and dark chocolate: it dissolves in service of elevation, of harmony, of elegance and temptation. While plenty of totally dry wine is being made beautifully in Germany, I’d hate to see anyone miss out on the off-dry and sweet versions which bear no resemblance to teeth-coating house Reisling. Let’s just put the idea to bed: sugar in German Reisling isn’t gauche, on the contrary, it is the height of sophistication and elegance. Why is this? Because of the cool climate, the soils, the low-intervention approach.
Low alcohol wines with fresh acidity are so cravable, so palatable to the modern wine drinker, that it seems German white wines are poised for a resurgence. The scope of wines I tasted for this story ranged from 7.5% – 12.4% ABV, with a Silvaner (not a Reisling) situated at that “high” end and the top ABV (Rieslings) is a reasonable 12% on a bubbly, totally dry Sekt (which, by the way, retails for $20 and boasts a 90-point score from Wine Enthusiast). The non-employment of malolactic fermentation evokes a purity of grape enhanced by the tense acidity on nearly all varieties made for bottling. All of these things bloom together to offer a two-fisted range of food-friendly wines. There is a German wine to go with every meal.
Germany is ninth in terms of global wine production, situated behind Chile and ahead of Portugal. 13 wine regions support 102,649 hectares of wine, according to The German Wine Institute (DWI). Christmastime is a top season to become acquainted with the wines of Germany, to invite yourself into some of the world’s most tempting holiday traditions. Here are a few suggestions to outfit your holiday table with some treats from wine cellars around Germany:
The Mosel Valley runs between the Hunsrück and the Eifel hills and includes tributary valleys carved by the Saar and the Ruwer rivers—vineyards are reflected in the banks at every stretch and curve. Dominant grape varieties include Riesling, Müller-Thurgau and Elbling—around 90% of production is dedicated to white wines produced by co-ops and commercial estates and wineries. Mosel wines are widely exported and are recognized as high-quality wines available in a range of price points. The vineyard site is of high import as ripening Reisling this far north is an achievement and a parcel-by-parcel mentality seems to rival that of Bourgogne. Vineyards are steep and precarious, and outfitting each with a skilled labor team remains a concern. The Mosel Valley is elevated by tourism, with many visitors including winery stops on their vacation tour.
Wines to Try: Bollig Lehnert Piesporter Goldtropfchen Riesling Spatlese 2016 ($20) | Dr. Pauly Bergweiler Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett 2016 ($25) | Schloss Saarstein Riesling 2013 (~$13) | 2013 Weingut S.A. Prum ‘Luminance’ Dry Riesling ($15)
Pairing: Snapper with Charred Tomatillos and Pepper Salsa
If one were to draft a fairy tale about German wine, Rheingau would be the princess. A hotbed for first-growth vineyards (Erste Lagen) with noble roots connecting Riesling to the aristocracy, Rheingau is home to the town of Geisenheim, notable as an enology teaching and research mecca. The Steinberg vineyard located at Kloster Eberbach has been in existence since 1239 and is “regarded as the headquarters of German Wine,” according to The World Atlas of Wine.
The River Rhine runs through Rheingau, responsible for a variety of soils and vineyard-ideal slopes. Lingering misty moisture around the river fosters an environment that’s friendly to botrytis, the noble rot elemental to Spätlese, a gentle late harvest wine that’s an elemental component of the German winescape.
Rheingau is also home to some of the most significant plantings (relatively speaking) of red wine in Germany. Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) graces 12% of vineyard holdings in the region.
Wine to Try: Dr. Nagler Rudesheimer Berg Bischofsberg Riesling Kabinett Feinherb ($19) is cultivated on a site with a history dating back to 1031. Wein & Sektgut BARTH Riesling Charta 2014 ($25) holds no relation to the author | Schloss Johannisberg Gelblack Riesling Feinherb 2015 ($30) is a representative of Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter (VDP) a classification of 200 vintners that identify as quality oriented.
Pairing: Bacon and Egg Pizza
Nahe isn’t a big region, but it is blessed with some of the most interesting soil in the world contained in precise plots of volcanic and weathered stone (including slate) to pockets of sandy loam. The World Atlas of Wine calls this an “extra ingredient: a hint of alchemical gold”—an amalgamation that offers a taste profile that balances the fruit-forward body of Mosel with the mineral foothold found in wines cultivated along the Rhine. Nahe also whistles the white wine tune: Riesling, Müller-Thurgau, Grauburgunder, as well as Silvaner, Bacchus and Kerner are the key varieties.
The Nahe River runs nearly parallel to the Mosel River in Southwest Germany and both waterways support distinct wine regions. Though a small enclave, the soil diversity in Nahe is astoundingly rich and the variety can be experienced through Reisling, the regional mainstay. Nahe is as welcoming as it is beautiful, “We get visitors from all over,” says Caroline Diel, of Schlossgut Diel. “It is quite important for us to receive people.” ~ From Summer Wine Tasting on Forbes.
Wine to Try: Paul Anheuser Blanc de Noir QbA ($13) is a unique white wine made of red wine grapes, a blanc de noir, specifically from Pinot Noir. TheQbA designation translates to “quality wine from a designated wine region”.
Pairing: Mushroom and Root Vegetable Pot Pie
Sunny, dry, charming, productive—Pflaz is one of those places that seems unwilling to let us down. Serious young winemakers stretch their ambition in Pflaz, a region at once stuck-in-time (half-timbered, flower-boxed), yet advancing in technology and worldliness. Adjacent to Alsace and blessed with the same picturesque irresistibility, today’s generation of Pflaz winemakers overlook nothing in the quest for quality.
Elsewhere in Germany climate change in the form of warmth has been welcome in terms of winemaking—pushing the growth line northward. Here in Pflaz, in the driest and sunniest patch of the German wine-producing world, rain-thirsty summers and rising temperatures are threatening, and irrigation has factored itself into the solution.
Wine to Try: Fitz Ritter Riesling Extra Trocken Sekt NV ($20) Fitz-Ritter is a member of the “KUW” (Krontolliert Umweltschonender Weinbau) or “Controlled Environmentally Friendly Viticulture.”
Pairing: Honeyed Fig Crostada
An abundant and fertile region, Rheinhessen is Germany’s largest wine producing pocket and the site of verdant farmland. Growing things love this setting! And so do young winemakers who co-lab into forward-thinking groups such as Message In A Bottle, a group of makers with the ideals of high-quality and low-quantity. The Vinovation Worms is a group of four winemakers working in unison to promote wines from their homeland around the village of Worms. (Sidenote: this is the site of Martin Luther’s excommunication.) Low yields, ambient yeasts, typicity in classic varieties—these are all markers of the efforts of today’s Rheinhessen generation.
Wines to Try: Georg Albrecht Schneider Niersteiner Paterberg Riesling Kabinett 2016 ($17) | Dr. Heyden Silvaner trocken QbA alte Reben ($13) | Dr. Heyden Oppenheimer Sacktrager Riesling Spatlese 2015 ($18)
Pairing: Thai Green Curry Chicken
Wine Pairing Weekend
This month our Wine Pairing Weekend (aka #winePW) is hosted by Nancy at Pull That Cork and the theme is Exploration of German Wines. Join our chat on Saturday, December 8 at 10:00 am CST when we will gather on Twitter to share our pairings and talk German wine. Please follow #winePW and join the conversation. Here’s the good stuff we’ll cover:
Camilla of Culinary Adventures with Camilla will tempt us with “Feasting for Sankt Nikolaus Tag: German Sips, Schweineschnitzel, Spätzle, and Sauerkraut”
Kat from Bacchus Travel & Tours will share “A German Holiday Celebration #winePW”
Sarah from Curious Cuisinière is pairing “Chicken Schnitzel and German Riesling”
Deanna of Asian Test Kitchen will discuss “German Riesling: The Default Asian Food Pairing #winePW”
Jade of Tasting Pour will tempt us with “Coq Au Riesling #winePW”
Jeff from Food Wine Click discusses “50 Shades of Kabinett Riesling”
Michelle of Rockin Red will share “German Wines: Expect The Unexpected #WinePW”
Here on L’Occasion we “Outfit Your Holiday Table With German Wines”
Jane from Always Ravenous will share “Food Pairings with German Riesling #winepw”
David of Cooking Chat has prepared “Chicken Sausage and Veggie Bowl with German Riesling”
Gwendolyn from wine predator will enjoy “German Riesling and Fun Fondue With Friends for #WinePW”
Cindy of Grape Experiences has you covered with “Your Party Planning Checklist: Must-Have German Rieslings”
Rupal from Journeys of A Syrah Queen will share “Rieslings For The Holidays”
Wendy from A Day in the Life on the Farm will be “Celebrating St. Nicholas Day”
Jennifer of Vino Travels – An Italian Wine Blog will share “Everyday Pairings with German Riesling”
Nancy at Pull That Cork will share “Two Styles of German Wine and a Meal for Both #winePW”
17 thoughts on “Outfit Your Holiday Table With German Wines”
love the sea salt analogy! Totally on point. Many shy from sugar without realizing how much sugar is in their fav CA red wine. As you explained beautifully, balance is key.
Thank you! I am so excited by this range of wines. Cheers!
I found this tasting so eye-opening. Your post is very interesting to read and so informative. Brilliant to start with a photo of Barth!
Thanks Nancy — that wine is made by Mark Barth and his family. No relation to me at all, but when first noticed his wines (someone shared on social) I found him through his importer and we keep in touch on German wine topics. I’m actually consulting him for another story at the moment, so more to come. But I have to say: I love the bottles!
Wow! I’m not sure which impresses me more: the breadth of wine styles you featured or the mouth-watering recipes you’ve chosen to pair with them. Such a beautiful holiday read!
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Thanks Lauren — I can’t stop myself from adding more ideas to the pile!
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So much acid to balance RS in many german grape varieties, so many possibilities to enjoy the wine with food (as your pairings show). Appreciate the info aspect of your article! Vinovation worms, clever!
I thought the Vinovation team sounded like a fun group!
How lucky are you to find a wine with your name and reach out to the winemaker. Great overview of the German wine growing regions and always love food pairing ideas!
I know — it is so cool!
So many lovely pairings to try.
Love the analogy of sugar to wine as salt to caramel. Perfect.
The snapper dish sounds great, especially with a Riesling!