On a recent trip to Germany to visit my sister-in-law and her family, we drank our fill of light, crisp, fruity, floral goodness. No, it wasn't beer; it was sparkling wine. Known as Sekt, German sparkling wine often rivals Champagne in taste tests — but if you haven't heard of it, you're not alone.
The German Sparkling Wine You Don't Know About (but Should)
Although most people don't automatically associate Germany and wine, Germany is actually a significant producer of wine — especially the sparkling stuff. "Germany is, after France and Italy, the third biggest sparkling producer in the world," says Florian Lauer, the winemaker at Weingut Peter Lauer-Ayl.
And Germany isn't just making a lot of the fizzy stuff; it's actually good. "Blind tastings with other European sparkling wines have proved many times that the German Sekt is as good, sometimes even better, than the well-established brands for sparklings," Lauer explains.
3 Reasons You've Never Heard of Sekt
So, why haven't you heard of Sekt? There are a few reasons.
For starters, the good stuff often stays in the country. "Germany itself has the highest sparkling consumption in the world," Lauer notes.
Another explanation? "The answer is Germany," says Terry Theise, portfolio consultant at Skurnik Wines and an expert on German and Austrian wines. "There's this underlying consideration that it's somehow trivial or distasteful."
Theise is not alone in his assessment of German culture as inextricably linked with bratwurst, lederhosen, and buxom blondes carrying beer steins.
"The German culture, at best, is known for luxury automobiles," says Stephen Bitterolf of Vom Boden, a small-scale specialty importer of mostly German wines. "It's not known for beautiful people drinking wines on yachts and in gorgeous vineyards. Until that changes, it's bound to be niche."
A third reason: It's not Champagne. "Most people think if it doesn't say Champagne, it can't be any good," says Rudi Wiest of California's Rudi Wiest Selections. His analysis of this point of view? "That's just a bunch of baloney."
Wiest points out that many of the French Champagne houses were started, and often still run, by Germans. Mumm, Krug, Bollinger — all of them German winemakers. And the first Sekt house was founded in 1826 by Georg Kessler, who worked for Veuve Cliquot for years before striking out on his own.
Is Sekt the Next Big Thing in Sparkling Wine?
For now, Sekt is definitely a rare find stateside, but that may be changing.
"We regard German Sekt to be the next 'big thing,'" notes Frank Schulz, head of communications at the Deutsches Weinsinstitut in Bodenheim.
Not only is Riesling a great base for sparkling wine — "Its natural acidity and fruitiness is regarded as very refreshing by a growing number of consumers, compared to Champagne," says Schulz — but producers are also making better and better wines.
"The Qualitätssekt, especially the dry and extra dry, has gotten so good," says Debora Weber-Wulff, professor of media and computing at Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft in Berlin and my sister-in-law. "I often prefer it to cava."
Another selling point for Sekt? It's a fraction of the price of high-end Champagnes. Like most other sparklings, you can get a bottle in the $15 to $35 range.
How to Find Sekt in the States
Have you tried Sekt? What did you think?