Monday, 25 July 2016

Off-Topic: Württemberg Wines

One of the best things about living in Germany is the wine. Germany is a country with a large production of wine in several areas, but hardly any of it is exported. The only German wines that you're likely to find in English stores are Liebfraumich, Blue Nun and Hock. All three are sweet white wines of questionable quality. This has led to many people thinking that all German wine is white, sweet and poor quality. The Germans laugh about this. They say that people in other countries, especially England, know nothing about wine and wouldn't be able to appreciate good wine. They export the rubbish and keep the good wines for themselves.

Speaking of myself, I drank very little wine when I grew up in England. The only wines sold in my home town, Aldridge, were French and Spanish. The French wines tasted better, but the Spanish wines were cheaper, so I stuck to the latter. When I moved to Stuttgart (Germany) after finishing university I was told repeatedly by my colleagues that the local wine from the Württemberg region is the world's best wine. That's a big claim to make, so I felt that I needed to try it to make up my own mind. And yes, it was really good. At first I drank more white wines than red wines, but over time I grew to prefer the red wines. It was usual for me to drink about a litre of wine every day with my friends and work colleagues. I would never have been conceited enough to call myself a wine expert, but I knew what I liked.

It was usual for my friends and colleagues to talk badly of other wine regions in Germany and abroad. They called Italian wine Zuckerwasser (sugar water) and French wine tasteless. They also called the Rhein wines (the biggest wine producing area in Germany) Zuckerwasser. In Germany it was customary to give your host a bottle of wine if he invited you to his home. I was warned that the best way to insult someone is to give him a bottle of French wine. The people I knew in Stuttgart cursed French wines so badly that I didn't understood why they were sold in the supermarkets. Maybe they were just meant to be sold to non-Stuttgarters who had moved to the city from other parts of Germany.

After three years in Stuttgart I spent two years in my company's subsidiary office in Mannheim. I was surprised to find no Württemberg wines in the shops. None at all. When I asked I was told, "Württemberg wines taste horrible, they're much too dry. Drink Baden wines instead". Very strange. Baden and Württemberg are two halves of the same German state, but the wine areas were mutually exclusive. It was also impossible to buy Baden wine in Stuttgart. I made an effort to get to know the Baden wines. The white wines were acceptable, not as dry as the Württemberg white wines, mild and drinkable. The red wines tasted horrible. I was glad when I returned to Stuttgart after two years.

During the 20 years I spent in Germany I frequently travelled to other parts of the country. I tried to overcome my prejudices by sampling as many different wines as I could. I never found wines in other regions that I enjoyed as much as the Württemberg wines, but I at least acknowledged that the other wines were good, just not my taste. I quite enjoyed the Pfalz white wines (the area is called Palatinate in English), which were medium sweet and refreshing. They became my wine of choice when nothing else was available. There were a few Baden wines which I knew by name. I completely avoided the Rhein wines (too sweet) and the Franconia wines (too dry).

Now, after spending 19 years in America and England, I'm back in Germany, living just outside Stuttgart. Almost the first thing I did on arriving was buy myself a bottle of wine. My local supermarket only has a small selection of wines, unfortunately, but the wines it has are very good. My first bottle was an Uhlbacher Weinsteige, a dry wine made from Trollinger grapes, one of the three main grapes cultivated in Württemberg (Trollinger, Lemberger and Black Riesling). It has a milder taste than the region's other red wines, dry but crisp.

Please note that Württemberg wine is sold in litre bottles, not 0.7 litre bottles as is usual in other countries. If you see 0.7 litre bottles -- and my supermarket has a few -- avoid them. They're either inferior blends of Württemberg wines, or they're wines rebottled by profiteers hoping to fool people into paying higher prices.

Here are two other wines I have been enjoying recently. Both are wines made from combining different grapes. Ochsenbacher Stromberg is a mix of Trolliger and Lemberger, a very common mix. Both grapes produce equally dry wines, but the Lemberger grapes are fruitier, making the two an excellent combination.

Haberschlachter Heuchelberg is a mixture of two similar grapes, Black Riesling (known in France as Pinot Meunier) and Spätburgunder (called Pinot Noir in other countries). By themselves the Black Riesling grapes produce dry wines with a sharp acidic taste which might surprise drinkers when they first taste it, but after repeated drinking it's delicious. Take my word for it. Pinot Noir, one of the world's best known grapes, but only grown in Germany in small quantities, has a milder taste. In Württemberg the grapes are usually harvested late, giving them a sweeter flavour. Mixing the two results in a very pleasant wine classified as halbtrocken, half-dry.

Heilbronner Stauffenberg is a pure Black Riesling wine. It used to be one of my favourite wines when I lived in Germany. Try it and see what you think.

This is also a Black Riesling wine from Besinger Felsengarten, a large vineyard that cultivates grapes of different types. It's described as a Schwarzriesling Weissherbst. This is a special type of wine that is made from grapes that aren't plucked until after the first frost. This results in a very pleasing natural sweetness. It's a wine best drunk by itself, not in combination with a meal. The late harvest makes the wine look paler, so that some people mistakenly call it a rosé wine. It's not. It's a beautiful pale red wine.

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