It’s okay to be a bit of a wine buff and know your way around a complicated wine menu. Some people find it a good characteristic to have. To know about food and wine is even better, with a perfect combination of bottle and pan of lovely hot food often bringing several smiles to any dinner table – at home or out and about. But I have noticed something recently – many people who’re experts on fermented grape juice and have no problem knocking up something fantastic in the kitchen often don’t have the faintest sense of a clue when it comes to beer. Alright, they say they like it and they drink it but how can you spend £50 on a meal and then enjoy it with a bottle or pint of watered-down, chemically-brewed Belgian or Australian beer made in Luton (not exactly famous for its culinary heritage)?
Why do people like Jamie Oliver (a disputed cooking genius) like having their photos taken with a bottle of something like Budweiser (Anheuser-Busch) or Cobra in their hands?
Sure, it’s okay to recommend the best wine on the menu to the man who just ordered the most expensive dish but why are you prepared to let him drink something awful if with it if he happens to be a beer man?
It’s not a lager thing – in Germany there are many thousands of lager and pilsner breweries that compete with each other to brew the best beers (although very alike). You can enjoy a lovely glass of bitter Jever with a fresh fish pan or a litre of Augustinian with a braised pork shoulder joint – the Germans know about this kind of thing and beer is often more popular than wine even in top restaurants.
In dark and damp North-Rhine Westphalia (at the moment anyway) the Altbier kitchen reigns supreme with the inhabitants of Dortmund, Düsseldorf and surrounding cities well aware that the winter dishes (hefty dark meats in even heftier sauces) fit just as well with a gorgeous half-litre of Alt or Dunkles just as well as they would with a native Spätburgunder or Dornfelder.
Although a small number of restaurants worldwide are now employing beer sommeliers, often even the best of restaurants only offer a small range of beers – in Germany a proper restaurant rarely offers more than three choices: Pils, Weizen or Alcohol free and the breweries often forbid the restaurants to sell anything that they don’t make – you’ll see their logos on the sign outside, the menu and probably on any table decoration too.
In defence of aforementioned Mr. Oliver, his fifteen restaurant offers a klein but fein range of locally made beers from the excellent meantime brewery in Greenwich.
London brewery Fuller’s offer a menu in its pubs that is designed to complement its beer choices and even chain-run organisations like Greene King and Wetherspoon include beer recommendations with some of the meals on their slimy food cards stuck to the table.
But these are pubs, already well known for their beer ranges (it is safe to say that British pubs offer the widest range of brewed drinks in the world) but not so well known for their food.
So think about it next time you’re eating out in a fancy establishment, you’ve just ordered something really special and then the waiter can only offer you Foster’s or Stella – complain and suggest a more comprehensive beer menu – the drinks are part of the experience as well. You wouldn’t make a steak sandwich with prized Aberdeen fillet and then finish it off with Tesco Value White Loaf would you? Don’t let restaurants try and hit you with an expensive wine list when they only offer a poor beer choice and don’t let wine buffs tell you what beers to drink. If you're not a wine person or you just fancy a beer - you should be able to have the same or similar choice as a wine drinker would have.
Ever wondered what Champagne is really all about? Over-expensive Fizz with multi-million Euro advertisement schemes ensuring the next month of strong sales figures – this is the impression of many. But really, Champagne is just like any other wine producing region. With exception of the big houses: VCP, Moët and other names, the region is full of small, family-run, traditional wine-producing neighbours.
You won’t see Scarlett Johansson generously pouring a decent amount of their Champagne onto her hands and into the ground below her, nor will you find Formula 1 drivers wasting a magnum’s worth showering each other after finishing in the top three. They also don’t invest thousands of Euros into cool, clean-yet and bright-yellow coolers, instead they invest the money they earn into their lifestyles and producing great fizz at an affordable price, without great advertising.
I’ve found a great source of such Champagne, the real stuff – where Andy Warhol isn’t pictured on the brands’ advertising because, quite simply, they don’t have any advertising. Their websites aren’t a flash-based jungle with diamonds and funky longue music. Instead they’re individual efforts, straight out of 1and1's template archive, sometimes without even a domain name (a bit like this one then).
Champagne Warehouse is a UK-based online-shop that champions the sale of real Champagne from real makers. They don’t bother with the big-brand stuff, instead they sell Champagne from producers that most haven’t heard of but they they also ensure that they only sell quality fizz.
This isn’t limited to just Champagne, they also offer a nice range of Cava and Prosecco from people who are more bothered about creating good wine than they are good advertising and their price range extends from fully-affordable Prosecco at under a tenner a bottle to some great Vintage Champagne at no more than £34.99 a bottle – £35 for Vintage Champagne!!
Check out their website by clicking here. I may have been guilty of recommending big-brand Champagne before but I’m also a fan of the little people, the ones whose entire concentration is directing in the attention of creating good wine for a good price. Champagne Warehouse stock many such wines. Perhaps instead of Veuve Clicquot for Christmas this year, you could try something from their great range of Forget-Chemin and Ellner wines.
As you know, I love German wine. I think the wines produced in Germany are some of the world’s best kept secrets and I’d like them to stay that way.
The Germans produce some of the best white wines in the world, on top of that, they’re about the only people in the world to charge realistic prices for high-quality produce.
But exactly that is a problem. Availability is pretty scarce, you’ll have serious trouble finding good German wine in a supermarket near you (unless you live in Germany or Austria), even if you have a good selection the complicated grape names and bottle descriptions often don’t do the bottles’ content any justice and the design on the bottles looks like it came from a local restraurant advert from the 1980s.
Imagine as well that first date: “Hi, I’ll have the poached haddock with grilled asparagus please and can we have a bottle of Michael-Schneizer Müller-Thürgau Qualitätswein Halbtrocken please?” It doesn’t roll off the tongue so romantically like Chablis, Chardonnay or Châteauneuf.
Some of the producers have recently invested a great deal of money in trying to make their products sound less Germanic. A lot of producers have started to rename the wines that they produce substituting words like Spätburgunder, Weißburgunder and Grauburgunder for the French and Italian equivalents: Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris/Grigio. Label designs have become more modern and even those that retain the traditionalistic element have been given a bold new colour scheme or a simpler font to make them more accessible to those who choose wines simply by which one has the most attractive label.
So here is a list of the troubles that German Wine faces, whether or not the industry will work out a way to solve them is another issue.
Apart from in Germany, German wine is pretty hard to find. Some larger supermarkets and specialist wine stores might have a “Germany” section but this is usually close to the floor, locked between Greece and Macedonia. These wines are usually sweet Rieslings with less than 10% alcohol. They tend to be low in quality and high in quantity. Expect to find Hock, Piesporter and Liebfraumilch – three wines that don’t represent modern German winemaking.
2) Romance factor
German isn’t a romantic language and, although many producers now adopt generic names for their wineries and use the French grape names, German wine is seen by some as a bit harsh, a bit too powerful – none of which has anything to do with romance. Also, labels are usually emblazoned with wild animals, old bishops and princes, not attractive.
3) The New World
The new world has stolen most of the UK wine scene and consumers are more aware of Australian Shiraz and Californian Chardonnay than they are of Mosel Riesling and Pinot Noir from Baden. By being aware, most consumers don’t bother trying anything they don’t know and often supermarkets and wine dealers are forced to reduce on their old-world assortments because people don’t buy them as often.
4) It being German
The German image overseas is one of German efficiency an people with humour and/or soul. How can people that have no enjoyment in taste make good wine? Well, the fact is that Germans do have a sense of taste, sense of humour and when it comes to wine, bar a few exceptions, it is all away quality and not how much a single Weingut can pump out.
So boycott these rules, get out there and buy yourself something German and good! Forget the unsexy names, the awful labels and the stereotypical German image – German wine is great and it is waiting to be discovered.