Let’s Talk About Sekt, Baby! Everything You Need to Know About German Sparkling Wine

Now that we have your attention, we’d like to redirect it to the criminally underappreciated sparkling wines of Germany. German winemakers are known for amazing Riesling and Spätburgunder (aka Pinot Noir), but did you know that sparkling wines are one of their specialties, as well?

In Germany, sparkling wine is known as Sekt, and while Germans sure do love their bubbly, we don’t often see it represented outside of the local market (except for the omnipresent Henkell Trocken). But just how much do the Germans love Sekt? Well, according to the Wines of Germany, the annual per capita consumption of sparkling wine in Deutschland is the highest in the world. To that, we say: Wunderbar! 🍾

But where does this thirst for bubbly come from?

Scratching below the surface, we can see the imprint left by Germans on many Champagne houses in and around Reims, France. In a feature prepared for GuildSomm, Romana Echensperger notes that even back in the late 1800’s, almost every wine establishment in Champagne was under some control of a German! She also points out that many German names – Bollinger, Krug, Mumm – demonstrate that lasting connection. And, with that in mind, we can’t help but reflecting on how “German” our experience at the G. H. Mumm Champagne house was – it was punctual, orderly and direct! Just like taking a train from Frankfurt to Cologne, except… with Champagne! But, we digress. 😆

This connection brought the expertise of Champagne over to Germany, where winemakers desired to make it more efficiently (this is Germany we’re talking about, after all)! Moving up the historical narrative to the end of World War I in 1918, a number of treaties were signed which restricted the use of the term “Champagne”and from that, the term Sekt took off.

And while history is all well and good, we still want to know… where does the thirst come from?

Surely the fact that Sekt was seen as a cheaper alternative to Champagne has helped. Rebecca notes that even back in the early 1900’s, the production of Sekt was around 10 million bottles annually. That’s a lot of local sparkling love, over a long period of time! It hasn’t stopped. According to the International Wine & Food Society, of the 420 million litres (that’s about 560 million botttles) of Sekt produced in 2011, nearly 80% of it was consumed by Germans. As a point of reference, Ontario’s production of sparkling wine is in the range of 600,000 – 700,000 bottles annually (where most of it consumed locally as well).

With that in mind, why isn’t Sekt more popular globally?

Well, there’s a bit of a geheimnis, or sektret… er, secret, that supports this massive thirst for Sekt in Germany!

While the big brands (like Henkell or Rotkäppchen) have built names for themselves and are stalwart representatives of Deutchsland bubbly abroad, they are made efficiently using the tank method (the same way Prosecco is produced in Italy). Nothing wrong with a charmat bubbly, of course! We love it. But in Germany, the fruit or base wine for many charmat sparkling wines are not required to originate in Germany and can be imported. Italy and Spain support Sekt production, indirectly. So it can be tough to decipher which Sekts are produced using grapes grown in Germany to give you a true expression of the German terroir!

So how does one navigate the world of Sekt, beyond the (often delicious) but mass produced stuff we can find?

Well, the Wines of Germany provided us Sparkling Winos with a great guide to navigate the Welt (or World) of Sekt:

  • Deutscher Sekt denotes a sparkling wine made from 100% German grapes.
  • Sekt b.A. or Qualitätsschaumwein b.A indicates wine from an appellation of origin, and is labelled accordingly (“b.A.” means “from a specified region”).
    • If at least 85% of the wine originates from an appellation, a smaller geographical unit is also permitted on the label, such as a vineyard.
    • If at least 85% of the wine is of a specific vintage or grape varietal, a vintage or grape variety can be named on the label.
  • Winzersekt means a vintners’ vintage varietal sparkling wine that is produced by winemakers or co-operatives using grapes grown themselves, and must be made in the traditional method only. In this case, the vintage, varietal and producer’s name must appear on the bottle.
    • Approximately 10% of all German Sekt production is vintage or varietal sparkling wine. These are produced across Germany’s many wine regions, offering interesting insight into terroir, microclimate and approach to winemaking. Of the German Winzersekte, it is perhaps unsurprisingly that most are made using Riesling. With racy, pronounced acidity, Riesling Winzersekte are certainly something special. Köstlich!

But what other varietals are used?

Well, according to the Wines of Germany, the varietals include Silvaner (which provides a netural, refined bouquet), Weissburgunder (Pinot Blanc) and Grauburgunder (Pinot Gris) and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) for rosé Sekt. Alles ist klar, ja? We hope so!

Now for the fun part… let’s taste some, shall we?!

Several years ago on a business trip to Frankfurt, we stumbled upon to the Rheingau Wine Festival and we were gobsmacked: there’s more to Sekt than meets the eye! There were endless amounts of traditional method Sekts… brut, brut nature, rosé… we just couldn’t stop having Sekts! 😆

So, with that in mind, we made a trip out to Waterloo, Ontario for a pilgrimage of sorts. If you’re from Ontario you’ll know that Kitchener-Waterloo is the place to get bratwurst and put on lederhosen for Oktoberfest. Naturally, this is because of the regions’ long and rich history of German immigration. Luckily for us, this has also paid off with a German-wine focussed LCBO (Liquor) Store, and even more luckily for us… we picked up some amazing Sekts!

So, we hope you enjoy this journey down the Rhine, and Pfalz, and the heart of Germany with us…

Reinhartshausen Riesling Brut Deutscher Sekt
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  • Schloss Reinhartshausen is located in the Rheingau, another of the thirteen designated German wine regions. The Rheingau is small – accounting for only 3% of total German vineyard area – but is a source of important innovations in German wine making. Unsurprisingly, Riesling is the dominant grape varietal within the region and at Schloss Reinhartshausen!
  • Made in the traditional method, this wine offers a more “upscale” approach to Sekt. With rave reviews across the board, we were excited to try this Deutscher Sekt (made from 100% German-sourced Riesling). More complex than the Loosen Bros. Dr. L. Sparkling Riesling, this wine offered aromas of stone fruit, pear, lime gelato and toast. The lower residual sugar was also very apperant, in a very pleasing manner (5 g/L). At a higher price point, it is akin to a premium traditional method Cremant wine from the Alsace.
Ökonomierat Rebholz Riesling Brut 2012
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  • Made in the traditional method by Ökonomierat Rebholz, lcoated in Siebeldingen, Rhineland-Palatinate on the German Wine Route! Ökonomierat Rebholz cultivates 22 hectares of world-class vineyards and the winery building on the estate dates back to the 1500’s. The Weingut (winery) is family owned and the winemakers reside on the estate.
  • The Riesling Brut 2012  has an approachable, fresh aromas of citrus, spearmint and quince, with a delicate almost vegetal quality. On the palate, its racy acidity is quite lively, with citrus, lime gelato and zest and the same, vegetal (green pepper) note, but backed by light brioche. Very delightful!
Loosen Bros. Dr. L. Sparkling Riesling
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  • Dr. Loosen is located in the Mosel, a German wine region (Weinbaugebiete – try saying that three times in a row) known for its quality wines (Qualitätswein and Prädikatswein) and taking its name from the Mosel River. This region is Germany’s third largest in production volume but is considered by many to be the most internationally prestigious. The steep banks of the Mosel River valley are planted by almost vertical vineyards. Dr. Loosen’s other estate, Villa Wolf, is located in the Pfalz. The Pfalz, another of Germany’s Weinbaugebiete, has a long history of winemaking that dates back to the Romans who cultivated vineyards here around 1 A.D. Known for its Rieslings and Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir) still wines, this area is seeing an increase in Sekt production!
  • Dr. L. Sparkling Riesling is an approachable wine, crafted for everyday enjoyment. Made in the charmat method, from 100% Riesling sourced from Germany, this sparkling is aromatic, with a floral nose and a light mouse. The flavour is fruity – stone fruit dominate – and offers a clean finish. At a medium sweetness (19 g/L), the wine has a broad appeal and the acidity of the wine balances the sweetness. At an entry level price point, its akin to a classic, dry Prosecco. It’s also a great value wine from which to begin your Sekt journey.

We had the pleasure of meeting Ernie Loosen in Toronto and his dedication to his wines put Riesling into a new context for us! Dr. Loosen’s philosophy places terroir over technology, and grape quality over quantity. Loosen wines are intense, concentrated and proudly proclaim their heritage. It was a real treat to try Rieslings that express the terroir of the vineyard, from red slate to blue slate to volcanic soil.

Now get out there and try some Sekts!