Saturday, October 3, 2009

German Wine Basics: Sekt

Picture: Christian G.E. Schiller with Mark Barth, Sekt- und Weingut Barth, Hattenheim, in Wiesbaden, Germany. See more: Barth Primus is Germany’s First Sekt Made with an Erstes Gewaechs Wine

Germany is one of the largest sparkling wine markets in the world. One out of four bottles of sparkling wine is consumed in Germany. Sparkling wine produced in Germany is called Sekt.

Sekt is made in all German wine regions, both in the méthode traditionnelle and charmat method. There are three groups of Sekt makers: (i) large and (ii) smaller Sekt houses, who only make Sekt and (iii) winemakers, who make predominantly wine, but complement their wine selection by a few Sekts. The Sekts produced by large Sekt estates tend to be in the demy-sweet and sweet range, while the Sekts of smaller estates and the wine makers are mostly in the brut and extra brut range. In addition to Sekt, Germany produces semi-sparkling wine, which is called Perlwein. But the production of Perlwein is small.

There is a dozen or so large Sekt houses. They produce more than 2.000.000 bottles each annually. Most of these large Sekt houses were established in the 1800s. At that time, there was only one method known to produce Sekt, the méthode traditionnelle. But in contrast to the champagne houses, the large Sekt houses have all moved to the charmat method as main method of the second fermentation after World War II. Like the champagne houses, Sekt houses do not own vineyards, but purchase the base wine from winemakers. More than three quarters of the base wine used to make Sekt is imported from other EU countries, essentially Italy, France and Spain. Sekt can only be labeled as Deutscher Sekt if it is made exclusively from German grapes, which is rare in the case of the large and the smaller Sekt houses. Most of the Sekt houses have beautiful chateau-type facilities with old underground cellars for the second fermentation and storage. Overall, these Sekts are reasonably priced, are of good quality, but with the introduction of the charmat method are no longer in the same class as their counterparts in the champagne region.

The Rotkäppchen-Mumm conglomerate is now the largest Sekt producer. Rotkäppchen was founded in Freiburg (Saale-Unstrut) in 1856, in the eastern part of Germany, and has experienced a phenomenal expansion since reunification of the two Germanys in 1989. It introduced the charmat method in 1956. Mumm was founded in 1827, initially as a champagne house, by the German banker and wine merchant P. A. Mumm. His sons J. and H.G. Mumm created the famous “Mumm Cordon Rouge” at their estate in France and also branched out to Germany. A few years ago, the French branch was bought by Pernod Ricard and the German branch by Rotkäppchen, and the Mumm estates separated. Henkell-Söhnlein, also a conglomerate, is the second largest Sekt house. Henkell was founded in 1832 in Mainz (Rheinhessen). Its most famous “Henkell Trocken”, made of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Chenin Blanc, is available in the US with (supposedly) the same taste as in 1894, when this cuvee was created by Adam Henkell, although then, the charmat methode had not yet been discovered.

The smaller Sekt houses, like the large Sekt houses, do not own vineyards, but also buy the base wine from winemakers. They also tend to have a long history and often links to the champagne region, beautiful facilities and old cellars for the second fermentation and storage. The big difference is that they typically have not gone the route of tank fermentation but continue to ferment in the méthode traditionnelle.

Geldermann in Breisach makes its Sekt exclusively from French wines imported from the Loire valley. The two Germans Deutz and Geldermann founded a champagne house in 1838 in the champagne, and the Breisach (Baden) outlet became their German branch in 1904 for tax reasons. Another one is Kessler, in Esslingen (Baden-Wuerttemberg), the first German Sekt house, founded in 1826 by Georg Kessler, who had worked for Veuve Clicqot. Fürst von Metternich Sekts are produced in a beautiful castle overlooking the Rhein river in the Rheingau. Von Metternich received the castle from the Austrian Emperor Franz I in 1816 as a gift for his skillful negotiations as his Minister of Foreign Affairs during the Vienna congress (1814 -15). The von Metternich Sekts are all Rieslings from von Metternich vineyards.

Finally, increasingly, there is a number of top quality winemakers, who, in addition, to their still wines, have started to include Sekts in their portfolio. These Sekts are typically vintage Sekts, from a specified vineyard, made of specific grapes, often Riesling, in the méthode champenoise and with little or not dosage (brut or extra but). While the first fermentation typically takes place at the winery, the second fermentation is often not in the cellar of the winemaker but in the cellar of a Sekt house that bottle-ferments for other wineries. One of those is award-winning Volker Raumland in Rheinhessen. He bottle-ferments for himself and for others. He keeps the bottle sur lie up to 12 years before corking and labeling the bottle for sale. There is a large and growing number of winemakers who have started to produce world class Sekts. Unfortunately, their production is very limited and they are difficult to find in the US.

One of them that is available in the US, is the “Georg Breuer Brut 2002”, an outstanding sparkling wine differing from the champagnes only in the mineral content of it’s soil. Georg Breuer is a top winemaker in Rüdesheim (Rheingau). This Sekt is made using the Riesling grape, but premium Sekts are also made with the Pinot blanc and the Pinot gris grapes.

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