There is nothing quite to rival a good glass of champagne. Yet that does not mean you shouldn’t consider to look outside the classic champagne region when selecting your bottle of bubbles.
Sparkling wines are not allowed to bear the name ‘champagne’ if they do not origin from within the specific champagne denomination of origin in the French champagne region. This does not mean there are outstanding sparkling wines produced elsewhere in the world.
Crémant from France, Franciacorta sparkling wines from Italy, Cava from, Methode Cape Classique from South Africa … There are many excellent examples.
Sparkling wine is hugely popular in Germany. It’s a drink that is considered to fit any occasion from weddings to important anniversaries, birthdays, your ordinary lunch or dinner, and anytime in between.
Each year about 300 million litres (round about 400 million bottles) are consumed in Germany. Or in other words, of the total annual world production of sparkling wines, around one quarter is consumed in Germany. Indeed, Germany is a huge importer of sparkling wines, too as its own production does not cover annual demand.
The history of German sparkling wine production
First off all, German sparkling wines are actually called Sekt.
Sekt was produced in Germany as early as the early 1800s but really started to take off at the end of the 1800s, and in the early 1900s nearly ten million bottles were produced annually. This has risen to around 260 million litres of sparkling wine produced annually in Germany today.
Initially, German ‘Sekt’ was seen as a low cost alternative to champagne.
The main reason for the big difference in price (which persists to this day depending what type of Sekt you are buying), lies in the way Sekt is produced.
The majority of German Sekt is produced according to the tank method. This means, second fermentation is carried out in large vessels, as opposed to taking place in the bottle as in the case of champagne.
Another important reason is that the name Sekt is not a protected term. Producers are allowed to import grapes, juices and wines from everywhere. The majority is coming from Italy, Spain and Greece.
Round about 95% of Sekt produced in Germany is falling in this category.
Now, having heard about sparkling wine production in Germany, you might rightly wonder why the heck should you ever drink a German sparkling wine? Well, this is where the story of German Winzersekt comes into play.
Read on to learn why you need to add German Winzersekt to your list of must-try bubbles.
The success story of German Winzersekt
Excellent sparkling wines have been produced in Germany for a long time.
Indeed, there are strong ties between Germany and the great French champagne houses. Many of them were founded or managed by Germans … Bollinger, Krug, Mumm, Pieper-Heidsieck and Taittinger are indeed all German names.
With this background, it was only a question of time that German wine estates would start to make their own outstanding bubbles.
The story of German Winzersekt started at the end of the 1980s, when many of the smaller, independent vintners realized the potential to add a new category of high quality sparkling wines to their range.
Winzersekt is produced according to the traditional method, thus following the same method champagne is made. In addition, grapes used for Winzersekt come from a protected designation of origin of wine, thus from one of the 13 German wine regions. Vintage, grape variety, and producer must be noted on the label.
Today, many vintners continue to make Winzersekt of the traditional champagne grape varieties: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. However, those that are truly outstanding are those made of Riesling. They display a very refreshing natural acidity and fruitiness.
Riesling Winzersekt are unique in the world, as it is still an emerging variety. They are not without challenge as they can display unpleasant petrol notes. However, the best winemakers are able to avoid the problem by carefully managing the pressing process.
Over recent years, several outstanding Winzersekt have emerged which do not have to fear competition with champagne. Yet they still only cost a fraction of the leading champagnes.
Among the best German Winzersekt are those from wine estates which are part of VDP, an association which represents the best German wine estates; which means those that follow the highest and most rigorous standards in wine production.
There are currently less than 200 German wineries which are allowed to apply one of the four VDP classifications to their sparkling wines. All four classifications require the grapes to be exclusively grown on the estates, traditional method fermentation, grapes to be handpicked and specific yield parameters.
The four categories are:
- VDP Gutssekt and VDP Ortssekt: requiring the wines to age for at least 15 months on the lees.
- VDP Erste Lage (premier gru) and VDP Grosse Lage (grand gru): requiring the wines to age for at least 36 months on the lees.
There are several other wineries currently not part of the VDP association that nevertheless follow similar strict standards and today produce really excellent sparkling wines.
If you want to be sure to buy a good quality German Winzersekt, make sure the label on the bottle indicates the following:
- A specific German wine region which has to be one of the official 13 German wine regions
- That the sparkling wine is made using the traditional method (called klassische Flaschengärung in German)
- A quality control test number (A.P.Nr.)
- A VDP eagle on bottle capsules (optional)
Where to buy German Winzersekt
OK, that’s the tricky part. Because German Winzersekt are rarely exported. Thus you are likely to have a hard time finding it retailed anywhere outside Germany.
You might be able to find a winery that is shipping its wines also abroad, and this will include their sparkling wine too.
However, you will be required to buy a minimum amount of wine and shipping costs might add a fair bit on your bill.
The best opportunities to enjoy a good glass of German Winzersekt thus are to do this directly where they are made.
Most German restaurants now have a selection of German Winzersekt on their wine list, you will find them in German wine shops around the country, and you can off course taste them directly at the wineries.
Have you tried German Winzersekt yet? I’d be curious to know if you like it!