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TOP PICK OF THE WEEK: Sekt, Sparkling German Wine

Whenever the topic of Champagne comes up, for special occasions, gifting or fizzy cocktails, we like to remind everyone that there are delicious—and less costly—alternatives to Champagne.

Consider these more affordable bubblies at half the price or less:

  • Asti Spumante and Prosecco from Italy.
  • Cava from Spain.
  • Crémant from France.
  • Espumante from Portugal.
  • Sekt from Germany.
  • Sparkling wines from Austria, England, New Zealand, South Africa, the U.S. and other countries.
  • Red wine sparklers such as Italian Brachetto and Lambrusco, and Australia’s sparkling Shiraz.

    Sekt is a German term for sparkling wines* (Sekts are also made in Austria).

    Finally, excellent Sekts from Germany are being imported into the U.S., and are waiting for you at fine wine stores in major markets.

    Sparkling wine accounts for 31% of Germany’s total wine production (Gewürtztraminer and Riesling account for most of the majority).

    And its Germans—not the French—who are the world’s biggest consumers of sparkling wine, consuming more sparkling wine per capita than any other people (not just Sekt, Champagne, Cava and Prosecco as well) [source].

    The vast majority of Sekt produced is everyday, middle quality and isn’t imported into the U.S. in significant quantities.

    You don’t want that $10 bottle of Sekt. Instead, you want the 5% of Sekt that is rated premium in Germany, now available in the U.S. starting around $20 a bottle.

    Premium Sekt is made by the méthode traditionnelle that is used to make Champagne, although the grapes used and the terroir create very different flavors.

    You don’t get the famous toast-and-limestone flavors of Champagne, but instead, delicate biscuit and brioche accents.

    Some fruits are similar: apple, citrus, pear. Among the Sekt-producing regions—Mosel, Nahe, Pfalz, Rheinhessen and Rheingau—each has its own general flavor profile.

    Premium Sekt is made only from grapes from one of the 13 quality wine regions in Germany. These wines are labeled Sekt b.A, indicating a protected designation of origin wine region.

    The grapes used include Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir† and Riesling. Some vintners have begun to use Chardonnay†. The majority of premium Sekts are single varietals.

    Premium Sekts are usually vintage dated with the vintner, and optionally the village and the vineyards. Those labeled Winzersekt (winegrower’s Sekt) are made by a producer who has vineyards of his/her own.

    Germany has a history of winemaking that dates back to 100 B.C.E., when the conquering Romans planted vineyards.

    During the Middle Ages, monks cultivated vineyards that are famous to this day. Historical properties like the Cistercian Monastery Kloster Eberbach in the Rheingau have a viticultural history dating back to about 1200 C.E. [source].

    For many centuries, Germany and France were considered the two greatest wine producing countries in the world.

    The Noble Sweet wines of Germany, so-called because they were favored by the nobility—stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the classified growths of Bordeaux and Burgundy. These were the wines to collect and treasure.

    Germany produced (and still produces) fine dry Gewürtztraminer and Riesling along with their sweet counterparts.

    Alas, in the 1960s, the U.S. and other markets were flooded with large quantities of sweet blended wines that were created for export, including the now-infamous Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch (brands unknown in Germany).

    Advertising campaigns got people to buy them. Not knowing the difference, they served them with beef, pasta, and other foods that created a train wreck of pairings.

    So German wines—except the top Gewürtztraminers and Rieslings coveted by connoisseurs—went under the radar in the U.S.

    Sekt was unheard of in the U.S., except by people who knew it from Germany.

    German production of sparkling wines dates back to 1826, when Georg Christian Kessler returned from 16 years of working at the Champagne house Veuve Clicquot.

    If you’ve ever wondered why some of the best Champagne houses sound German—Bollinger, Krug, Piper-Heidsieck and Mumm, for example— it’s a result of Germans’ love of Champagne.

    In the early 19th century, numerous Germans traveled to Champagne to learn the technique of making sparkling wine. Some stayed to found what became famous houses.

    Initially, in Germany, sparkling wines could not be called Sekt.

    To make a long story short, a legal decision in the 1970s abolished the large producers’ monopoly on Sekt production, allowing winemaking cooperatives and individual winegrowers to produce and sell their own sparkling wines.

    And now, better Sekts from those winegrowers are appearing at wine stores and e-tailers in the U.S.

    Another legal decision enabled the name Sekt being for German sparkling wines [source].

    Sekt pairs with everything you’d enjoy with another sparkling wine.

    Serve it with hard-to-pair foods like Asian and Indian cuisines, asparagus, and anything fried.

    Sekt loves cheeses, especially blues and the semisoft.


    [1] You can enjoy a lovely glass of German Sekt for less than a bottle of French Champagne (photo © Rebelle | NYC).

    [2] A trio of Sekts from Fürst von Metternich, made with (from left to right) Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

    [3] Sekt made by Mathieu Kauffmann the former cellarmaster of Bollinger (photo © Foodepedia).

    [4] Like Champagne, Sekts are made in different levels of sweetness, from dry to slightly sweet (brut, trocken, halbtrocken); and are also made in rosé. Sparkling wines are so popular in German that Henkell, a popular-priced producer, makes an alcohol-free Sekt (photo © Henkell.

    [5] For people who don’t drink alcohol, how about a gift of alcohol-free Sekt (photo © Henkell).

    [6] Serve Sekt with cheese and charcuterie (photo © Castello Cheese).

    Since Sekt brands are not familiar to most Americans, it’s better to ask for guidance from the store clerk.

    How about a Sekt tasting with different grape types, and different regions?

    That’s how we recently enjoyed a Sekt tasting of 15 different wines, courtesy of German Wines USA.

    Brands we loved:

  • Dr. Loosen (Riesling Sekt Extra Dry NV)
  • Dönnhoff (Pinot Noir Brut 2013)
  • F.B. Schönleber (Riesling Extra Brut Sekt 2016)
  • Fitz-Ritter (Riesling Sekt Extra Trocken NV)
  • Eva Fricke (Pinot Noir Rosé Sekt Brut Nature 2016)
  • Hild Elbling (Sekt Brut #52 NV)
  • Leitz (Pinot Noir Rosé Sekt Brut 2017)
  • Max Ferd Richter (Mülheimer Sonnenlay Riesling Brut 2008)
  • Raumland Cuvée Katharina (Blanc de Noir Brut 2012)
  • Robert Weil (Riesling Sekt Brut 2016)
  • Von Winning (Riesling Sekt Extra Brut NV)
  • Weiser-Kunstler (Riesling Zeppwingert Sekt 2016)
  • It was an eye-opener!

    The wines ranged from $20 to $50 a bottle.

    For $20 a bottle, the Fitz-Ritter is a wonderful aperitif, as is the Dr. Loosen for $25.

    For $22 and $27, respectively, the Hild Elbling and Von Winning are lovely food-pairing wines.

    *Some inexpensive German sparkling wines don’t meet the standards to be called Sekt.

    †Pinot Noir is one of the two major grapes, along with Chardonnay, that are used in France to make Champagne. Here are the different styles of Champagne, which have some analogies in Sekt.


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