For 99% of the Western population, the word “Oktoberfest” conjures an image of beer.
For those unfamiliar with the Bavarian festival, it is a 16-day beer-drinking, bratwurst-eating bonanza that takes place in Munich every year. Over six million beer lovers flock to Germany to participate in the festival, collectively consuming a staggering 1.8 million gallons of beer each September. (No, that isn’t a typo – Oktoberfest takes place in September. Honestly).
Although I am definitely not enough of a beer drinker to travel 600 miles for a pint, I did find myself donning a Bavarian hat for an Oktoberfest-themed brunch party last weekend.
Anyway, the whole experience forced me to reflect on German culture and, inevitably, wine.
In relative terms, Germany doesn’t produce a huge amount of wine (wein) – it just about edges in the top 10 of wine-producing countries. It bottles between 8 and 9 million hectolitres per year – for context, that’s only about 3% of total global production and just a quarter of what France produces.
Unfortunately, the country’s reputation has been plagued by Blue Nun – a brand famous for sweet, unserious, mass-produced wine that achieved extremely high levels of popularity in the UK in the mid to late-1900s. Although last two decades have seen a substantial decline in the desirability of such wines, the reputation of German wine is still arguably a bit “taboo”.
In my view, this needs to change – there is so much more to German wine than the big brand names. The country famous for cars also produces some extremely high quality wines.
So what’s it all about?
Riesling: about two-thirds of German wine is white. The finest and most popular ones are made from the Riesling grape, ranging from dry (‘trocken’) to lusciously sweet (Late Harvest Rieslings is an unapologetically sweet dessert wine). The wines are characterised by level of ripeness – look for ‘Kabinett’ on the label if you are looking for something dry/off-dry; ‘Beerenauslese’, ‘Trockenbeerenauslese’ and ‘Eiswein’ will get you a super sweet wine! Light in style and almost never oaked, Riesling offers crisp acidity as well as aromatic and floral flavours – and when aged, it can sometimes smell like gasoline (but in a good way, obviously). Regardless of where you stand on petrol sniffing, Riesling is a fabulous companion for spicy cuisines – particularly Thai, Chinese and Indian.
Pinot Noir: in spite of contributing just 3% to the world’s wine supply, Germany has the third largest area devoted to Pinot Noir in the world. Known locally as Spätburgunder, this red wine offering flavours of blackcurrant and blackberry coupled with refreshing acidity. It is considerably less tannic and lighter in body than its counterparts from warmer climates. Perfect with gamey dishes – ham, venison and pork sausages.
But that isn’t it for German wine. Other grape varieties grown include Gewürztraminer, Silvaner, Müller-Thurgau and Pinot Blanc. So if you’re going to a dinner party and looking for a bottle of vino to present to the host, one of these wines – which are quite niche / lesser known – will make you stand out.
So with all of this in mind, and in spite of the mammoth glass I am holding in the image above, can you blame me for staying clear of beer at the Oktoberfest brunch party?
I think I’m going to start a petition to the Munich authorities to establish a wine version of Oktoberfest. Millions of fun-seekers chugging a glass filled with 1.5 bottles of wine – what could go wrong?
Visit www.grapefulapp.com to download Grapeful, the app that helps you wine while you dine. Available for free on iOS and Android devices.