11 Sparkling Wine Experts, 4 Days, 4 Regions, an Epic Unforgettable Adventure!
Let’s talk about Sekt, baby! Last week, the German Wine Institute invited us to visit Germany to explore the wonderful world of “Sekt” (AKA German Sparkling Wines). Not familiar with Sekt? Fear not! Before reading on, check out our handy Sekt 101 guide for an in-depth guide to German bubbles. Already in the know? 🤔 Well then, let’s go! 🙌
The trip was a sparkling whirlwind! 💫 In four days we visited four different German wine regions, tasted over 100 German Sparkling Wines, and helped to select the best Sekt’s in all of Germany. All in a week’s work for a Sparkling Wino! 😎 Here’s how it all went down…
Day One: Rheingau
Our journey began with a trip to the Wines of Germany headquarters in Bodenheim. The first task at hand? Selecting the Top 20 Sparkling Wines in Germany. No big deal right? 😳 We were part of a judging panel with 10 other Sparkling Wine experts from around the world, including MW and Champagne specialist Essi Avellan, renowned author on all things bubbly Guénaël Revel (AKA Mr. Bubbles), and many more prominant people in the Sparkling stratosphere. Needless to say, we were in fantastic company, and all very qualified to do the job. 😎
The German Wine Institute put out an open call for premium examples of German Sparkling, and they received 250+ submissions. The Institute tasted all of these wines blind, and narrowed them down to the Top 44. From there, the panel of international judges (including us!) tasted these 44 wines and scored them using the 100 Point Scale.
The Top 20 wines selected by the jury will be presented and poured at ProWein (the leading trade fair for the wine and spirits industry) in Düsseldorf in March, where the Top 3 will be announced as the top Sparkling Wines in Germany! It was an incredible honour to be a part of this tasting panel, and we can’t wait to see who came out on top when we return to Germany in March for ProWein!
After lunch with the crew at the German Wine Institute, we embarked for Wiesbaden, where we visited our first “Sektgut” (or Sekt producer) Matheus Müller Sektkellereien (part of the larger Rotkäppchen portfolio.). With production dating back to the late 1800’s, Rotkäppchen is the largest Sekt producer in Germany. Today they command 55% of the market share in Germany, producing an astounding 163 MILLION bottles of bubbly per year. And we had a chance to experience production in full swing.
The majority of their Sekt production is done using the Charmat (tank) method, catering to the German taste for a more fruit-forward, easy drinking, and off-dry style of bubbly. However, they do also produce bottle fermented Sparkling Wines under the Geldermann label, as well as a growing production of alcohol-free Sparkling Wines. All in all, it was a very interesting visit, and easily one of the most impressive Sparkling Wine production facilities that we’ve ever seen. It was an important stop on our itinerary in helping us to understand the full picture of Sekt production in Germany.
Bis morgen! 😉
Day Two: Nahe
Day two began with an early wake-up call, and a one hour drive to the picturesque Nahe region. Despite being one of Germany’s smallest wine regions, it’s impressive range of diverse soil types result in some seriously complex and interesting wines. The steeper sites are rich in volcanic soil, producing elegant and mineral driven Rieslings (the most popular grape variety in Nahe). Most of the wineries in Nahe have a relatively small production (quite a contrast from our visit to Rotkäppchen the day before), and many of them were family farms before they became wineries.
Which brings us to our first stop… Wein & Sektgut Bamberger! Bamberger produces vintage wines only, from 37 acres of estate grown vineyards, and primarily from the Riesling grape. Every step of their production is done by hand – from harvest to disgorgement. And speaking of hand disgorgement… we had a chance to try it out for ourselves!
Pretty epic, right? 😍 Bamberger crafts approximately 20,000 bottles of Sparkling Wine each year, which accounts for about 20% of their entire production. They typically have 5 – 7 Sparkling Wines in their portfolio (depending upon stock), and their goal is to craft food friendly bubbles, not just something to sip on as an aperitif. So let’s get to tasting shall we? 😎
We tasted through a flight of 7 wines (including one surprise… the one we had just hand disgorged! 😜). As we mentioned, Bamberger focuses on Riesling, and boy do they do it well! From a 2007 Riesling Brut (disgorged in 2009), we had the chance to see just how well Riesling holds up and develops in bottle after it’s disgorged. Rich, with the typical honeyed and petrol notes, yet still incredibly fresh and vibrant! We also tasted a 2013 Extra Brut Reserve Riesling, which spent 5 years sur lie. And a 2012 Brut Riesling (disgorged in February 2016), followed by a bottle of the same vintage that we hand disgorged with zero dosage! All in all, showcasing the diversity of the Riesling grape in the sparkling format, and a seriously epic tasting for us die-hard Sparkling Riesling fans.
Sparkling Riesling is seriously underrated and deserves way more love.
Day two continued with a drive to Rümmelsheim, and a visit to the beautiful and historic Schlossgut Diel. The Diel family has a long love affair with Riesling, and a 200 year history of crafting some of the best in Germany. With 62 acres under vine, winemaker Caroline Diel led us through a tasting and explained the family vineyards and the terroir that makes them so unique. Their four vineyards are side by side, along the Trollbach Valley. But what makes them so special? Well, although their directly next to each other, each one has it’s own distinct soil type, allowing the Diel family to craft a broad range of exceptional and complex wines… and making this one of the most interesting and sought after vineyard locations in the world.
Diel produces 30+ different wines from their various vineyards, with a production of 180,000 bottles each year. 2/3 of that production is focused on Riesling, and the remaining 1/3 on the Pinot varieties. But, of course, we were there to taste through their amazing Sparkling portfolio. 😎 Beginning with the recently released 2012 Riesling Extra Brut Reserve, followed by the 2008 Goldloch Riesling Brut Nature (which spent an incredible 108 months sur lie 😳), and the 2009 Cuvée Mo Brut Nature – a blend of Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, aged on its lees for 96 months. Needless to say, Diel focuses on the rich, extended lees aged style of Sparkling… and we couldn’t be happier! Incredible wines with power and structure, a very distinctive minerality, yet still almost bizarrely fresh and vibrant. Not only some of the best Sparkling Wines we’ve tasted in Germany, but… around the world! 🙏
After the tasting, we toured the Castle Cellar (the oldest cellar on the estate) followed by the barrel cellar and tank cellar, which featured graffiti-like artwork by Johannes Helle, whom Caroline’s father commissioned to decorate the cellars in the 1980’s. So not only is Diel rooted in tradition and excellence, but they’re also seriously cool. 😎
From there, it was off to Wachenheim (in the Pfalz region) for a tour and tasting at Schloss Wachenheim. After visiting a massive producer like Rotkäppchen, and a boutique producer like Bamberger, Wachenheim fell somewhere in the middle. Founded in 1888, the Wachenheim Castle is one of the oldest Sparkling Wine production facilities in Germany.
Their range of Sparkling Wines run the gamut, from Riesling, to Chardonnay, to Pinot Noir and even Gewürztraminer. However, they all have one thing in common: they’re crafted in a fresh, vibrant, and fruit-forward easy drinking style to appease the German palate. While the wines weren’t quite as complex as those that we tasted at Bamberger or Diel, they were certainly well made, and crafted using the traditional method. And fantastic value (especially for a mid-week splash) at €11.50 for their higher end wines like the 2016 Crémant and 2016 Pinot Blanc de Noirs.
Day Three: Pfalz
The Pfalz is bordered by Rheinhessen to the north, and by France to the south and west. It’s Germany’s second largest wine region, but typically has the largest crop of all. Riesling is king here, producing wines with great substance and finesse. Modern technology and viticultural practices have had a huge impact on the region in the past 40 or so years.
Our day began with a tasting (and second breakfast!) at Sekt & Weingut Winterling. We arrived to the tasting room and were greeted by Anne & Martin Winterling, along with their children Sebastian & Susanne… oh, and a huge platter of oysters and a glass of Sparkling Riesling! How’s that for a warm German welcome? 😍
Winterling’s story began in the 1980’s, when Anne & Martin began producing Sparkling Wine in the Pfalz. With a focus on quality, Winterling produces a number of Cuvées, from Riesling to the classic Champagne blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Meunier. They are certified organic, and follow the strict Crémant guidelines as set by the EU. All grapes must be hand-picked (in small crates), whole pressed and aged on lees for a minimum of 9 months.
We had the chance to taste 6 different cuvées (a couple of which were just disgorged fresh that morning using their super high-tech disgorging machine from Epernay), and a 1973 Riesling Auslese… which they gave new life to after putting it through a second fermentation 20 years later! How cool is that?! 🤩
Winterling ist wunderbar and are doing some incredible things for Sparkling Wine in Germany. It’s a true family affair, and we can’t wait to see what they do next!
Day Four: Rheinhessen
Before departing for the Rheinhessen, we had one more stop to make in Pfalz… Sekthaus Krack in Deidesheim!
The Krack family has been producing sparkling wine for years… but, the catch? They were never producing their own wines! They used their winemaking knowledge and facility to make Sparkling Wines for other producers, until just a few years ago when Krack decided to launch their own brand. And you know what they say… practice makes perfect right? 😎 And Krack are certainly masters of their craft!
They launched the Krack label in 2015, when they released their first vintages from 2011 and 2013 (you know how it goes with Sparkling Wine… it takes time and requires endless amounts of patience). And these wines from Krack were certainly worth the wait! Rich and powerful, yet elegant and fresh, they are wines we won’t soon forget… and luckily we won’t have to since we snagged a few bottles to take back to Canada. 😁🇨🇦 The 2014 Freundeskreis Grande Cuvée Brut was truly something special, and as the name suggests, is a wine meant to be shared and enjoyed with your “Circle of Friends”. And we certainly felt amongst friends as the wonderful folks at Krack invited us into their living room for the tasting!
The Krack label has been a hobby project for the winemakers up to this point, filling their evenings and weekends as they spend their days continuing to produce Sparkling Wine for others at their facility. But we have a feeling this is all about to change reaaaal soon. 😉
And with that, we were off to the Rheinhessen – Germany’s largest wine region. Laying in a valley of gentle rolling hills, the Rheinhessen is made up of steep vineyard sites with varied soils and favourable climactic conditions, making it possible to grow a wide range of grape varieties. Wines from the Rheinhessen are often described as soft, fragrant, and easy-drinking, however there are plenty of premium examples which exude elegance, depth and complexity. So, that brings us to our next (and final) stop: Weingut Weinreich!
The family’s name (Weinreich) literally translates to “Rich with Wine”, so it goes without saying that they were born to make wine. They are dedicated to using environmentally sustainable practices in the vineyards, and minimal intervention throughout the winemaking process. Their wines tell the story of winemaker and origin, with a unique sense of place. And they have chosen to focus on Riesling, Silvaner and the Pinot varieties.
We kicked off our visit with a taste of Weinreich’s Pét-Nat (one of the first in Germany), comprised of a blend of Riesling and Silvaner. From there, we embarked on a tour of the facility, which was incredibly modern and astoundingly tidy. Wouldn’t expect anything less from the Germans! 😎 And check out that sediment in the Pét-Nat…
Crazy right! 😱 After a tour of the barrel cellar, and a taste of a couple base wines for future Sparkings, we made our way up to the tasting room for a mind-blowing flight of Pinot Meunier based bubbles.
Now we always say that Pinot Meunier is the unsung hero of the classic Champagne blend, and this rang true after a vertical tasting of the 2012, 2013 & 2014 Pinot Meunier Brut Nature Sekt. All on lees for 36 months, it was amazing to taste the vintage variation between the wines to get a real snapshot of what those vintages were like in the Rheinhessen. The 2013 was by far the standout, with exceptional balance and a stunning purity.
How would we sum this trip up? Well, we think “🤯” pretty much covers it! We’ve had the opportunity to taste a number of Sekts in the past… some good, some great, some “just ok”, but this adventure really opened our eyes to what a “tour de force” German Sparkling Wine can be. From the elegant, finessed, and long-lasting Rieslings, to the rich and powerful Pinot blends, premium Sekt is something seriously special, with many that we tasted rivalling fine Champagne. So if you haven’t explored Sekt yet, what are you waiting for? The secret’s out… it’s Wunderbar! 😍🍾🇩🇪
Thanks for reading! And be sure to check out our Story Highlights on Instagram where we documented our entire journey through Germany with tons of fun photos and videos! 🙌