Anne Krebiehl MW is one of the foremost experts on German wine and author of the award-winning book The Wines of Germany. Amanda Barnes interviews her about hipster Spätburgunder and an early fancy of white Rhône in this Meet the Member interview. You can watch the full interview live on Instagram.
What was your earliest memory of wine?
I did not grow up in a wine drinking family. My mum had a cookery book, which had a recipe for Weinschaumcreme, which is the German name for Zabaione, and I – as a kid – tried to make this with some sh*t white wine. Then, I was rather abstemious as a teenager. However, I spent one year in the States as an exchange student and it was there that I started drinking red wine. Funnily enough, I was never into beer and certainly not spirits, so wine was totally up my street. Then, it took a quite number of years for me to actually get into it.
They key moment was on a camping holiday in France. We were travelling with a copy of the Sotheby’s wine bible, and it was just a fun thing to do – to stop at vineyards and taste. That in itself was memorable, but there was a key moment in the Rhône Valley in the shop of Chapoutier, in Tain l’Hermitage, where I was given two wines to taste. They must have been Marsanne or Roussanne, because they were white, and I was told these were from the same vintage and the same grape, but [this one was from] old vines and [the other was from] new vines. I thought you’re having me on, how could there be such a difference? Investigating that difference back in London was what made me go and do a wine course.
What has been your perspective as a German in learning about German wines from afar, being based in London?
A fellow MW said to me that German wine law is the bane of every wine student’s life. I remember when I did my WSET Diploma, back in 2008 and 2009, that I wanted to hand the WSET coursebook back with red markings [laughs]. I never did and I know it’s been much improved since, but what became clear to me then is that a lot of wine education is an indoctrination of sorts, whereby a hierarchy is being perpetuated that isn’t necessarily valid anymore.
It was incredibly valuable for me to see how the wines of my own country are seen from a distance, and I think this is also what helped me write my book, because I knew exactly the things I had to address. I could take a look at something from the outside, while also being an insider, and being able to read German and the history – understanding and connecting the dots as to why this is so complicated. I want to understand where things are from and how they came about. Having a historic perspective is always key for me.
You are author of the award-winning Wines of Germany book, which is quite a revelation on the wine regions, styles and challenges it faces. What are they key understandings that journalists, communicators and educators need to really get into German wine?
German wine culture is as ingrained and as old as that of most of Europe… other wine-producing countries in Europe with that same history would be France, Italy, Spain and Portugal, and also Greece. Here, we go to that hierarchy again, whether it’s a language barrier or an export barrier – the markets absolutely form this hierarchy. I know people have done it, but would you ever just talk about French wines, Italian wines or Spanish wines? We would never just lump together the Loire, Burgundy and Bordeaux, and talk about them in pretty much the same terms.
Germany’s always [joined] together as one big lump of something impenetrable, which is possibly sweet and possibly not, and comes in a weird bottle with gothic lettering. Those days are gone and people just have to accept that there are ways into German wine that are accessible.
The other thing is that the wines have really changed, because there’s been a paradigm shift from quantity to quality, and all of the things that beleaguered German wine so much were also down to marginal climates, overproduction and not paying too much attention to site. But what has happened since the turn of the millennium is remarkable in terms of quality. You can have really proper dry wines, because the grapes actually ripen. You also have – and this is true for every wine country in the world – a young generation that has truly worked globally, and there really is such a thing as the United Nations of Wine. Everybody now who takes over at home has worked vintages in the other hemisphere, in other countries, and at university or wine school, they have tasted wines from absolutely everywhere. They’re no longer blind to their own home, and they take their home for what it is. This is what’s happened to a larger degree in Germany, because it was disregarded to a larger degree than elsewhere.
If you have a super steep slope and old Riesling vines, growing in a climate that is still just about marginal, then you realise that is something that doesn’t really exist anywhere else in the world, and you’re a young person – you cotton onto this and clock how special your own home and soils are. There were some brave souls in the 80s and 90s, who started all this, but then their children were those who really saw it, and now everybody sees it.
Is there a particular region or style that you’re especially excited about?
I do love the really properly dry Rieslings, and I love them when they are hair-raising and spine-tingling. I want adult wine with adult thrill. And that to me happens a lot in the Nahe, and some of the borderland of Rheinhessen edging in there. But also [such style of wines] from the Rheinghau and Württemberg.
I’m a devotee of German Spätburgunder – Pinot Noir. I really love how the top makers of Pinot Noir have stopped looking to Burgundy for all of their clues, and are now working out what makes their Pinot Noir so German. I like the latest hipster Pinot Noirs that are translucent, shimmering and lighter, because [the winemakers] feel they don’t have to prove themselves by putting their wine into new oak.
Of course, I’m excited about Sekt, because I’ve always loved fizz.
Can you tell us about what’s been keeping you busy for the last few months?
The magazine is called Falstaff and the website’s gone live under Falstaff.com. It is the leading publication in food, wine and travel in Austria, Germany and Switzerland. The owner of the magazine said something that is the key to this entire publication. He calls it the holy trinity of wine, food and travel. It really is a magazine with absolute competency in wine, with a focus on wine, but with tons of other stuff in there. We did a lot of competitor analysis and we have found that there currently is nobody doing anything in that league that really has this trinity in equal measure. The exciting thing is that my HQ is in Vienna, my managing director and a lot of the business side is in Munich, I’m in London, and we will go out globally. This is not a UK publication. I may be editing it here in London, but it truly is an international publication with a global distribution.
Full video interview with Anne Krebiehl MW
View this post on Instagram