We all know the stereotype: German food is just bratwursts, schnitzel and sauerkraut, with a little spätzle thrown in. On my recent visit to German wine regions, I was blown away by the caliber of the food. We are talking word class, Michelin Star cuisine, with a nod to local sources and seasonal availability.
Our first night on this trip, hosted by P.J. Valckenberg, we dined in Frankfurt at “Heimat” which translates as “home” or “from where you originate.” We experienced a six-course meal, perfectly paired with German wines, the only aspect of the menu that was obviously German.
The wines represent numerous German wine regions from Franken in the south to the Mosel in the north, to a little Rheingau and Württemberg in between. Seasonality came into play as we had white asparagus (spargel) in two of the courses, and we saw fields of it all over Germany. Here is a rundown of the meal by course and the wines our hosts selected to pair.
An Amuse Bouche of Iberico Ham paired with Valckenberg Riesling Sekt
A sparkling wine to start is always a nice touch and a great way to enliven the palate. Though this was a sparkling Riesling, it was “Sekt” or dry style on the finish. That subtle fruit balanced the salty Spanish cured ham, and cleansed the mouth from the rich avocado-based amuse bouche, with just a little shellfish and fresh spicy salsa which begs for the hint of Riesling fruitiness for balance.
Asparagus Cream Soup paired with 2014 Schloss Castell Dry Silvaner, Franken
Here is a delicate soup, using a local favorite, white asparagus. Sulfurous vegetables are tricky to pair in a meal, but choosing a wine with strong mineral tones is a great start. At first whiff I got subtle floral notes with crisp acidity on the palate and potent minerality through to the finish. The soup brought out some of the softer fruit aspects to this wine but still leaves one with a lean and clean experience.
Foie Gras with Mango, Hazelnut and Woodruff Herb paired with 2003 J. J. Prüm Wehlener Sonnenuhr Reisling Spätlese, Mosel
Foie Gras is often paired with Sauternes in France, and choosing another late harvest, botrytis-affected wine, makes this an easy pairing. This 2003 Riesling still had plenty of sweet fruit, though I got that hint of petroleum on the nose that blows off, leaving honeydew melon rind and something tropical. To balance the fatty richness of the liver, we need some acid, and that hint of tropical fruit in the wine catches that flavor in the mango. On the palate I got this sense of “sweet tart” since this wine has plenty of Mosel blue slate to balance the later harvest aspects, leaving an elegant finish that harmonizes beautifully with the mango and woodruff.
Filet of Sole with White Asparagus, Morels and Green Pea Purée paired with 2012 Johannishof Rudesheim Berg Rottland, Riesling “GG”, Rheingau
Here was my favorite course as I adore fresh morels, and paired with roasted white asparagus and green pea puree, they make the perfect backdrop to the filet of sole. This is a dish that would be overwhelmed by a big Cali Chardonnay, so pairing with a Great Growth Riesling was inspired. Great Growths, or “GG’s”, are a comparatively new classification for dry wines in Germany, parallel to “Grand Cru” in Burgundy. On the nose I got lavender flowers and mint with a strong lemongrass backtone. On the palate I tasted brisk citrus acidity, with limestone and tart mineral notes. Rheingau Rieslings tend to be a little drier than their Mosel compatriots and this dry-vinified later harvest Riesling is completely new to me. The earthiness of the mushrooms works with the minerality in the wine (which also works with the asparagus), while the pea purée brings out the subdued sweeter tones of this bone dry Riesling.
Roast Beef and Beef Cheeks with Celery, Beech Mushrooms & Pearl Onions paired with 2013 Graf Neipperg Lemberger QbA Dry, Württemberg and 2013 Graf Neipperg Spätburgunder QbA Dry, Württemberg
I would’ve been shocked if we did white wine with the beef course, so I was happy to see two of Germany’s prototypical reds, Lemberger and Spätburgunder. The Lemberger had spicy notes with hints of anise and cedar. Sharper mineral tones come across on the palate, which were mellowed by the perfectly cooked beef. The Spätburgunder is Pinot Noir, with a very Burgundian style, where hints of violets merge with a fresh loaminess that pairs well with the beech mushrooms. Loads of acid cut through the richness of the beef yet still allows the celery and pearl onions to shine through. Not the big, heavy Cabernet we might usually pair with beef, but these two reds worked very well, especially considering the side dishes.
Lemon Tarte with Raspberries and Raspberry Sorbet paired with 2012 Schloss Castell Rieslaner Spätlese, Franken
For dessert we get some real sweetness from the Rieslaner grape, a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner. Utilizing lemon in the dessert is smart, since the wine has strong citrus notes, though up front I get tropical flavors, like a cantaloupe stuffed with lychees. On the palate I get loads of citrus, sweet yet balanced by bright acidity and a slightly pithy finish so that it never becomes cloying. Elegant and balanced are my final descriptions of this incredible meal.
As you can see this was quite a dinner, and something one would find at any of the best restaurants this world has to offer.
Don’t assume you know German cuisine, as I did, from my one visit to Munich in 1987 when I was in college. This trip I not only reexamined the breadth and depth of German wines, but also witnessed their love of food and wine pairing at a very high caliber. Give Germany a try, you will be delighted.
Daniel Eddy, ABC Fine Wines & Spirits wine consultant
Follow me on twitter @ABCwineDanE