The German Sekt
6th April 2021
From inexpensive wine to luxurious consumer good
Over many decades Sekt was nothing more than a bland sparkling wine produced with imported base wines. It took visionaries and enthusiasts to bring German Sekt on par with the best sparkling wines in the world.
Sparkling wines (in German: Schaumweine) have a long tradition in Germany. At the beginning of the 19th century, the first sparkling wine houses were already founded. Many owners gained their knowledge in the Champagne and returned with their expertise to Germany like Georg Christian Kessler, long time the right hand and companion of Madame Veuve Clicquot. He established the Sektkellerei Kessler in 1826 near Stuttgart and is the oldest sparkling wine producer in Germany.
All Sekt has been produced according to the traditional method.
THE DECLINE OF GERMAN SEKT
Having always been in the shadow of Champagne, it took some developments in history to destroy the thriving and prosperous sparkling wine production in Germany.
In 1902, Emperor Wilhelm II introduced a sparkling wine tax (so-called Sektsteuer) to finance, among other things, his war fleet. The taxation is still in place today and makes up 1.02 Euro per bottle. Until today, it regularly brings in revenue for the German government. Germans are the world champions, drinking about 3, 2 Litres of Schaumwein per capita. In 2019 the German treasury earned 383,9 million Euro!
Even more devastating has been the impact of the two wars. World War I caused the loss of the Lorraine region where many established sparkling wine companies had settled. Only the roaring Twenties lead for a short time to the increased consumption of traditional method made Sekt. After World War II, Germany lay in ashes. There was no mood or financial power to enjoy sparkling wines at all. People could simply not afford to buy fizzy wine.
In the 1960s, the most influential incident happened! The introduction of the Charmat method into the German wine business. By then, Sekt was only allowed to be produced by the (often large) Sektkellereien and according to the traditional method. Quickly, these key players adapted to the cheaper, faster and more quantity producing tank fermentation. As a result, the price of bottles dropped tremendously. Also, the invention of half bottles called Piccolo allowed the population to enjoy at least some of their beloved sparkling wine.
SILENT REVOLUTION – THE GERMAN WINZER SEKT
From then, big Sekthauses prospered, and today four key players hold a share of over 90 % of the German production. The profit had been increased further by not using German base wine but imported base wines, coming mainly in big trucks from the Mediterranean. Sekt was no longer that artisanal wine it used to be. The former glory was not present any more. As a result, today, you will find the majority of tank-fermented Sekt as cheap as under five Euros. Unfortunately, that shaped the view on German Sekt: being cheap and dull. But the change is on its way!
WINERIES STOCK UP
Germany’s government would never dispense the Sektsteuer, no, but small wineries were allowed to stock their own Sekt in their cellars without paying Sektsteuer immediately. This caused the opportunity for experimenting, for own Schaumwein production. At the end of the 1970s, the name Winzersekt (Winzer meaning winery) stood for Schaumwein produced in the traditional method by small wineries. Definitely, inspiration came again from Champagne as many of the young, modern Sektmaker have travelled or worked abroad. The rising awareness of terroir and expert know-how encouraged them to try what is possible in Germany.
All started in the late 1980´s when a few pioneers and visionaries took on the task to put German Sekt back to its former glory. Take, for example, Volker Raumland in Rheinhessen. He started with a mobile bottling line to earn the much-needed money to establish his very successful Sekthaus Raumland. He took a new approach with the goal of producing highest quality, terroir-driven Sekt. Starting with the selection of the best-suited vineyards, hand-harvesting only healthy grapes with good acidity and perfect phenolic ripeness. He implemented cellar techniques like gentle whole-bunch pressing, avoiding longer maceration times as well as using only the best cuvée for the production of his premium sparkling wines.
Many of his colleagues probably shook their heads as Sekt used to be made from lesser quality wines. There was the belief by adding CO2 faults would not be detectable. Not a pleasure to drink, for sure!
Highly acclaimed is the Raumland 2011 X. Triumvirat Grande Cuvée brut, which has been released in 2020. A cuvée showing elegant ripe citrus fruit and delicate brioche with a silky, refreshing mousse. The likes of Schloss Vaux, Sekthaus Solter or Sektkellerei Bardong, all nestled in the Rheingau, have also worked on high quality and characterful sparkling wines. In the South of Germany Privat-Kellerei Reinecker or Wein- und Sektgut Wilhelmshof has been doing the same.
CHAMPAGNE SPARKS GERMAN SEKT
In 2013 one incident caused an earthquake like spark in the Sekt industry. Rumours were heard that Champagne Bollinger´s Chef de Cave Mathieu Kauffmann would leave the famous Champagne house for becoming Cellar Master at the historic Weingut Reichsrat von Buhl (Pfalz). And it proved correct. Already his first releases – like the Riesling Sekt 2013 – have been a success, not only in the media! His wines combine both worlds – terroir from the Pfalz with the perfect touch of French expression. He also proved that German Sekt from the Riesling grape can be outstanding. The fresh and not really German view on Sekt encouraged even more enthusiasts to establish their own Sekthauses.
NEW MAISON DE SEKT
Newcomers like Weingut Braunewell won, with their Pinot Prestige brut nature, a Silver Medal at The World’s Finest Glass of Bubbly Awards 2019. Other sparkling shooting stars include Griesel & Compagnie (2014 Grande Cuvée dosage zero), Sekthaus Krack (2014 Freundeskreis – Grande Cuvée brut) or Weingut Apfelbacher (2016 Blanc de Noirs Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier brut). They all have successfully proven that German Sekt is on par with international high-end sparkling wines.
SHOUT-OUT – THE NEW GERMAN SEKT
Still, Winzersekt counts roughly for only 4 per cent of the Sekt market, internationally the wines needed to get more visible as well. But German consumers are getting aware of the sparkling wine gems they can find locally. The German Sektmaker have gained much self-confidence, challenging even more what is possible in the high end sparkling wine production.
Today, you find excellent samples of prolonged lees aged Riesling Sekt like the Decade (10 years on its lees) from Wein- und Sektgut Bamberger (Nahe). Others are trialling with Solera base wines like Griesel Sekthaus, others experimenting with PIWI (due to global warming). The latest state of the art Sekt was the Pinot Gris Non Vintage Sekt from Fürst Metternich. The first Sekt in Germany, made from base wine fermented in a Concrete Egg. Showing a wonderfully creamy chalkiness along with elegant stone fruit flavours of Pinot Gris.
PINOT VARIETIES AND RIESLING IN THE LEAD
In Germany, Burgundy varieties have proven to create excellent sparkling wines while Riesling showed tremendous potential to produce some of the best sparkling wines in the world. Today, German Winzersekt stands for artisanal craftsmanship, highest quality and diversity you won’t find elsewhere.
Written by Nicole Wolbers DipWSET
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