Wines of Germany is offering the UK wine trade a deep dive into German wines on June 22 when its live event, The Big G Trade Sessions, returns. Through a series of panel discussions, masterclasses and tutored tastings, members of the trade will be able discover the quality of German wine and learn all about the current trends. Here we talk to Jonathan Kleeman head sommelier at London’s two Michelin-starred Restaurant Story who is hosting one of the sessions about what he thinks of German wine.
Jonathan Kleeman is hosting the ‘Making A List’ session at The Big G event on June 22 with his advice on how to pull together a list of German wines that can work in the premium on-trade.
Jonathan Kleeman thinks German wine is on the cusp of a long overdue renaissance which is why he has included a number of German wines, including red wines, on what is the eclectic list at Restaurant Story that is always looking to surprise and excite customers at this only 10 table Michelin-starred restaurant.
Kleeman has had the opportunity to test, trial and sell a whole range of German wines during his career that has taken him to The Ritz, Social Eating House and Orwells.
“I think we can all be a little bit guilty of just showing Rieslings when it comes to Germany,” he says. In his Big G session, like in Restaurant Story, he wants to take a new look at German wines and offer some alternatives for German listings.
“I’ll be focusing on wine lists and where German wines fit into them. I’m keen to show how German wines other than Rieslings can fit in and how to sell them as well,” he says.
On the dry white side of the spectrum these include Pinot Blanc and Müller Thurgau. “German Pinot Blanc is a key wine that I think is overlooked a lot and it comes in lots of different styles,” says Kleeman. “I’d like to see more Müller Thurgau again, it’s disappeared a little bit lately. I think it’s another great variety, and Müller from Germany can be very distinctive and even if internationally it is not so well known, I think that sometimes can be a strength as it gives the sommelier the chance to tell the story.”
It’s obvious from talking to Kleeman that he is passionate about German wines and understands the challenges it can offer in the on-trade. He thinks a story-telling, hand-selling approach is particularly important when it comes to German wine because consumer knowledge varies so much.
German red wines, on the other hand, offer an immediate appeal in Kleeman’s eyes – especially as the key red grape variety from Germany is Pinot Noir, an instantly recognisable grape. With gaps appearing on lists due to the scarcity and price of red Burgundy, Kleeman believes this presents an opportunity for German red wine producers.
“This is very important because for years now people have been asking ‘what are we going to replace Burgundy with’, because there is not so much Burgundy around, and I think style-wise German Pinot is probably closer than anything,” he says.
“It’s not that far away in terms of terroir, it’s still different, but you can find a lot of comparable German Pinot to Burgundy for me. There is a lot of quality German Pinot Noir out there, and it’s not expensive like it used to be. When I first started it was really hard to get hold of German Pinot but now it is much easier.”
Pinot from Germany is never going to hit the eyewatering-prices of top end Burgundy either so there’s a huge advantage there on the affordability front too. “More and more when I look at the price of German wine I think they are extremely competitive at the moment, especially the reds,” says Kleeman. ”Even at the top end names like JJ Prüm – a big name, high quality – offer great quality. I feel that German wines haven’t inflated as much as wines from other regions.”
Working with food
Another advantage of Germany is its affinity for food, which is a big win for high end on-trade operators like Restaurant Story. Kleeman believes that across the board German wines are perfect for fine dining. “With the sort of cooking we do – so fine dining and elegant cooking – German wines complement what we do very well, and more so than wines from hotter countries like Spain and parts of Italy where you tend to need more rustic or richer food,” he says.
As well as shaking off the impression that white wines from Germany are sweet, another area which needs addressing by the trade – and something Kleeman will speak about during his masterclass – is the idea that German wines are old fashioned in their style and appearance.
Germany is one of the countries at the forefront of ‘modern winemaking’ so when it comes to addressing the ‘old fashioned’ narrative this is largely a job for the trade to take on by getting wines in front of the consumer and showing Germany in a different light. For example, “I’m using a broad brush, but German reds, in particular Pinot Noirs tend to be a bit bigger and juicy and a little bit more fruity than they used to be,” says Kleeman. These are modern, approachable wines.
It’s clear that there’s work to do but it’s amazing how quickly opinions and tastes can change, especially if there’s a willingness to nudge consumers in the right direction through listings,and re-telling the story of German wine… then it’s a case of letting the wine do the talking.
Big G Tasting: June 22