With the festive season well and truly upon us, many will be making trips to Europe’s Christmas markets. Veritable fairgrounds of street stalls selling their wares of traditional nutcrackers and wooden toys, with festive music permeating the atmosphere – these markets ooze holiday spirit and promises of sleigh bells jingling their way to every chimney.
Working your way through these twinkling aisles can be hungry and thirsty work, and what is the weary traveller to do other than sample the local delicacies of bratwurst sausages, magenbrot (gingerbread) and glühwein – mulled wine. This warming tipple simply tastes of Christmas with its aromas of cinnamon and cloves – a tasty treat, prepared with local wines. But must German wines be warmed and spiced in this way, or are they of a quality to enjoy on their own merit? Can the likes of Germany, Austria or Hungary offer up any half decent table wine to satisfy the discerning visitor? Well, perhaps surprisingly to some, the answer is yes.
Germany’s wine trade has traditionally been associated with the flat taste and limp body of Liebfraumilch. Developed as an introductory wine, this sweet and cheap drink offers little to the wine drinker, but has had a huge impact on Germany’s wine-making reputation. If we could leave our preconceptions to one side, we would discover that Germany in fact can offer some excellent wines. Most notable would be its superb Reislings, which vary in flavour and intensity across the region – one to suit every palate perhaps. Reisling grapes originated in Germany and are usually classed as one of the ‘big three’ grape varieties used in wine, alongside Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Drier Reislings are noted for their compatibility with a huge range of foods, particularly those seen as difficult to match with a wine – and a nice sparkling variety would be the perfect accompaniment to your Christmas dinner.
Germany isn’t alone in boasting some excellent quality wine, across the former Austro-Hungarian Empire. Hungary has also suffered from cheap and substandard wines flooding our supermarket shelves over the last couple of decades. Thanks to the privatisation of the vineyards, however, quality has improved enormously in recent years, and there are some lovely varieties available now – particularly those making use of the unusual Cserszegi Füszere grape. What a pity that we could so easily miss the best they have to offer. Across Europe, there are some real gems to be found – don’t make a trip to the fabulous Viennese market, for example, without sampling some of the excellent Grüner Veltliner – look for bottles marked Smaragd, which indicates the finest quality.
Wherever you visit this Christmas, there is much to be gained in sampling some of the local wine … even if it is warmed, spiced with cloves and cinnamon and decorated with orange pieces. You could even leave out a glass for Father Christmas – he would certainly enjoy it.
Asgar Dungarawalla is a bon viveur & wine expert from Champagne Gifts 4 U that offers champagne gifts for all occasions.