German Food and Wine Pairings
Certified sommelier Matthew Whitaker gives us his top tips for pairing traditional German fare with Riesling and Pinot Noir.
Germany is home to arguably the best white grape in all the world: a grape that, as a sommelier, has been a trusty companion of mine for many years. It is a very versatile grape, renowned for its trademark acidity, its ability to age and delicate fruitiness. Of course, I'm talking about Riesling.
However, although most of the wine Germany produces is white, they are producing some fantastic red wines, including Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), which is slowly but surely finding its way into some of the U.K's finest eateries.
With an arsenal of arguably the best white wines and some stunning reds, you're bound to be able to find some world class German food and wine pairings.
Germany has several amazing local dishes. Nothing beats a local dish served with the local wine. "If it grows together it goes together" is a little phrase that gets thrown around a lot, but it is surprisingly accurate. A dish that seems to really stand out in a certain region can be elevated to superior deliciousness by pairing it with a wine that's produced in the same area.
German cuisine is a display of rich, hearty, and delicious food. Although each region of Germany has its own specialty dishes and traditional cuisine, several dishes are enjoyed country wide. I could spend page after page pairing German food and wine - consider that there are over a thousand varieties of Wurst alone.
To narrow things down, I've listed a couple of Germany's key grape varieties and a few dishes that I believe pair wonderfully with that specific grape.
The flexibility of Riesling when pairing with food is unmatched. In general, unless you're serving a heavy beef or lamb dish, steak, or rich Italian tomato-based pastas, you will find that as white wines go, you can't do much better than a German Riesling. Good 'off-dry's will balance sweetness with refreshing acidity and the bone-dry styles will cut through creamy rich sauce.
Käsespätzle is a traditional dish from the German region of Baden. It is the German version of a pasta dish - very small egg-based batter boiled and fried in butter. It is then baked in a rich cheese and wine sauce. As you can imagine, this dish is rather heavy and requires a wine with high acid to balance it out. Riesling with a bit of body can hold up to this dish perfectly. I've even seen this dish served with fresh truffle, adding another layer of intensity. This is the perfect opportunity to bring out a Riesling with a bit of age to hold up to this mighty dish.
Thanks to its high acidity, Riesling cuts right through fatty dishes such as Schnitzel. Although technical originating from Austria, it is widely consumed all over Germany. These pounded pork or veil cutlets, breaded and fried, would pair wonderfully with a delicious dry Rheingau Riesling. This is possibly the German equivalent the English fizz and chips. #
Remember, too, that Riesling can be super sweet, making it the perfect combination for the classic peach Kuchen, a bit like a pie but with a cake dough-like centre.
There are some great Pinot Noirs from Germany, especially from Baden, the most southerly wine region in Germany. The Pinot Noirs from this region are the perfect accompaniment to food. They have great structure, balance and tannins which aren't overpowering.
Sauerbraten is regarded as one of Germany's national dishes. This pot roast, often served as Sunday family dinner, takes quite a while to prepare, but is so worth it. Before cooking, the meat is marinated for several days in a mixture of red wine vinegar, herbs and spices. Covered in a dark gravy made with a beetroot sugar sauce and rye bread, Sauerbraten is then traditionally served with red cabbage, potato dumplings or boiled potatoes. A dish of this calibre would work wonders with a rich full Pinot Noir. The body of the wine would hold up to the rich dish, with the acidity working with the fat and the subtle tannin breaking down the proteins of the meat.
We can't forget the vast amount of Würste that are produced and consumed in Germany. Over 1,500 different varieties are made using pretty much every meat imaginable. These are commonly eaten with sauerkraut. I'm well aware that a stein of beer would be an absolute treat to wash down that meaty goodness. However, a glass of Pinot Noir wouldn't go a miss either.
A pairing that can often leave a few somms scratching their heads is Spargelzeit. What do you pair with the classic Spargelzeit - white asparagus which is very labour intensive and considered a delicacy. Grown underground, they have to be dug up and cut individually. The delicate flavour of this dish pairs wonderfully with Müller-Thurgau: light, crisp and aromatic, this wine won't overpower the asparagus and will help carry its delicate flavour.
This just scratches the surface when it comes to German wine and food pairing. It's not just local pairing either. German wines make such great pairing with a vast range of cuisine from all over the world. An off-dry Riesling with Asian food, particularly Thai, works wonders, balancing with all the aromatic flavours. A Pinot noir or Dornfelder goes very well with soft, creamy blue cheese. It's always great fun discovering a new food and wine pairing, the key is to experiment and jot down your findings and share them with us.