German wines are generally heralded as great food friendly wines. This is a very bold statement, but most sommeliers and other food and wine professionals will agree.
Germany’s wines, while following strict wine laws, offer among the most variety, and one can find a wine for any occasion, matching any food and satisfying almost anyone.
The not-really secret here is the variety in styles (dry to sweet, sparkling or still), grape varieties (Riesling and Pinot Noir, to name the top ones of either white or red) and the distinct levels of richness (light to full, to honey-like) plus, based on the cooler climate, the wines generally have a good amount of acidity (considered vital for a great food wine) and lower levels of alcohol than warmer climate peers.
“If you don’t love German wines, you just have not yet found the right one for you. ”
Much has been written about food and wine pairing suggesting what goes and what does not go together. In the belief that enjoyment of food and wine is a very personal experience, we encourage everyone to experiment often (yet responsibly!).
Now, let’s take a look at the components of wine and their interactions with food:
Acidity: a most vital element of good food wine. Acidity provides freshness, crispness and vibrancy and can serve as a balancing component to sweetness (like in lemonade). It gets the digestive system going and readies the body for food. Based on the interaction described above, a wine with high acidity will taste more mellow when combined with a high acid dish; a low acidity wine with the same dish will appear flabby. Make the test: get a glass of wine, taste it, bite into a lemon wedge and then taste the wine again.
Sweetness: Unfermented sugar or residual sugar is responsible for sweetness in the wine. In addition to sweetness, it also provides texture and viscosity. Furthermore, sweetness leads to a soothing experience when enjoyed with spicy food. In respect to interaction: a sweet wine will taste drier when combined with a dish containing sweetness. To experience this, try a sweet wine, take a small spoon full of honey or simple syrup and taste the wine again. The same wine will taste significantly drier, but the texture will remain virtually unchanged.
Alcohol: Most German wines are lower in alcohol than equivalent wines from warmer climates, so in most cases, the alcohol is not dominant and well integrated. If a dry (higher alcohol) wine is combined with food containing sweetness, the alcohol will come out and become more noticeable. Spicy / hot food also increases how we perceive alcohol. Spicy food combined with dry, high alcohol wines generally apprears even more spicy and hot fueled by the alcohol in the wine.
Texture and flavour: Wines light in texture and flavour are good to drink by themselves or with light food so they have a chance to still be noticed. They will be overpowered by rich and flavourful food, which can be good, if the food is better than the wine. The flipside: heavy wines stand up better to flavorful food, or if you find yourself with not-so-tasty food, drink heavier wines and you will notice less. Or open another wine, would be the other option.
Pulling this all together, it is important to look at the wine you plan to drink after you looked at the food you are about to eat. Then think of what you want to achieve:
- light food: chose a light wine if you want them to play together, be aware that a heavy wine will overpower the food, consider the acidity component especially in light fresh fair.
- food with acid elements such as lemon, lime and tomatoes: a low acid wine could become flabby, a higher acid wine will become more mellow, but sustain its texture.
- food with sweetness: a dry wine will lose its fruit and become sharp, focused on acidity and alcohol, a sweet wine will lose some of the sweetness but maintain its texture,
- food with rich texture and sweetness: a light wine will be overpowered, a rich and sweet wine will appear less sweet but provide the texture to match.
The question remains, how do I find the German wine with the right elements?
Here are basic guidelines:
- look at the alcohol level of the wine to get an idea of the approximate sweetness
- look at the price to determine the approximate richness, higher priced wines are richer
- look at the region as a guide to texture: northern regions like Mosel are in general more delicate, southern regions like Pfalz and Baden are richer (at the same price level).
- acidity is generally high in German wines and will vary with vintages and the ripeness levels, but you can count on it to be there.
Now that you got the basic playing guidelines it is up to you to gain experience.
Another great thing about German wines with the higher acidity levels is that the wines last better than any other wines after they are opened. Hence don’t hesitate to open more than one bottle, taste and decide what will be the best for the occasion and return the other opened bottles to the refrigerator for later enjoyment.
Please experiment, gain experience and enjoy responsibly all along the way.