Friday, January 29, 2010

Sparkling Wines in Germany

Excerpted from "Facts About Champagne and Other Sparkling Wines", by Henry Vizetelly, 1879

It is generally asserted that sparkling wines were first manufactured in Germany more than half a century ago from the inferior Neckar grape both at Esslingen and Heilbronn—the latter rendered memorable by the exploits of Götz von Berlichingen, whose iron hand distributed blows which effectually “cured headache, toothache, and every other human malady.” Subsequently, towards 1830, a former chef at Madame Clicquot’s establishment at Reims came to Herr Lauteren, of Mayence, and suggested to him to engage in the manufacture of sparkling Rhine wines, a proposal which the latter soon afterwards profited by; and eight years later Herr Rambs, of Trèves, vineyard proprietor and wine-merchant, aided by a French cellarman, made the earliest attempt to manufacture sparkling moselles, their first trials in this direction resulting in a breakage amounting to fifty per cent.

For some years the great anxiety of manufacturers of sparkling hocks was to render their wines as much as possible like champagne, which was only to be accomplished by disguising their true flavour and dosing them largely with syrup. In this form they satisfied, and indeed still satisfy, their German and Russian consumers; but of late years England has set the example of a decided preference for the drier kinds of sparkling wines, the result being that the character of the wines destined for the English market has undergone a complete change.

Next to its sweetness the principal difference between German champagne, or Moussirender Rheinwein as it is usually called, for Continental consumption, and sparkling hocks designed for the English and other markets, consists in the former being made principally from black grapes, pressed immediately they are gathered and not allowed to ferment in their skins, while the latter are made almost exclusively from white grapes. The vineyards yielding the black grapes used for these sparkling wines are mainly situated at Ingelheim, midway between Bingen and Mayence, and in the Ahr valley, between Coblenz and Cologne. At the black grape vintage, which precedes the gathering of the white varieties by some three or four weeks, the fruit is conveyed to the press in high tubs, carried on men’s backs, and holding about 40lbs. apiece. The old wooden presses are mostly employed, although of late small transportable presses with iron screws, and of French manufacture, are coming into use. In order that the wine may be pale in colour, the grapes, which, like those of the Champagne, are of the pineau variety, are pressed as soon as possible after the gathering; the pressure applied is, moreover, rapid and not too strong, and the must is separated forthwith from the skins and stalks.

On the other hand, the white grapes used in the making of German sparkling wine, and which are almost exclusively of the far-famed riesling species, are treated precisely as when making still Rhine wine—that is, they are crushed in the vineyards by means of grape-mills, and afterwards pressed in the usual way. The must for sparkling wines, whether from black or white grapes, is run at once into casks to ferment. If possible it is conveyed in large casks known as stucks—immediately after the pressing, and before fermentation begins—to the manufacturer’s cellars in town; but if this cannot be accomplished it remains in the cellars of the district until the first fermentation is over, which is in December or January. It is then racked off its lees, and the produce of 176 black and white grapes is blended together, only a small proportion of the former entering into the composition of true sparkling hock, which should retain in a marked degree the subtile and fragrant perfume of the riesling grape.

The process pursued in the manufacture of sparkling hocks is the same as that followed with regard to champagnes. The quantity of grape sugar generated in these Northern German latitudes being far from large, both hocks and moselles invariably need a small addition of saccharine, previous to their being put into bottle, to insure the requisite effervescence, whereas in the Champagne the practice of adding sugar with this object is not the uniform rule. After the wine is bottled it remains in a cool cellar for eighteen months or a couple of years, being constantly shaken during this period, in the same way as champagne, in order to force the sediment to deposit itself near to the cork. By this time the added as well as the natural sugar contained in the wine has become converted into alcohol and carbonic acid; and after the sediment has been expelled from the bottle the operation of dosing, or flavouring, the wine takes place.

Sparkling hocks intended both for the German and Russian markets are frequently almost cloying in their sweetness, as much as one-fifth of syrup being often added to four-fifths of wine. The sparkling moselles, too, for Russia, and not unfrequently for England also, are largely dosed with the preparation of elder-flowers, which imparts to them their well-known muscatel flavour and perfume. The manufacturers say they are doing their best to abandon this absurd practice of artificially perfuming sparkling moselles; but many of their customers, and especially those in the English provinces, stipulate for the scented varieties, possibly from an erroneous belief in their superiority. Effervescing Rhine wines of the highest class have a marked and refined flavour, together with a very decided natural bouquet. Moreover, they retain their effervescent properties for a considerable time after being uncorked, and appear to the taste as light, if not precisely as delicate, as the finer champagnes, although in reality such is not the case; for all sparkling hocks possess greater body than even the heaviest champagnes, and cannot, therefore, be drunk with equal freedom.

Great impetus was given to the manufacture of German sparkling wines during the war of 1870, when the Champagne was in a measure closed to the outside world. At this epoch the less scrupulous manufacturers, instigated by dishonest speculators, boldly forged both the brands on the corks and the labels on the bottles of the great Reims and Epernay firms, and sent forth sparkling wines of their own production to the four quarters of the globe as veritable champagnes of the highest class. The respectable houses acted more honestly, and, as it turned out, with better policy, for by maintaining their own labels and brands they extended the market for their produce, causing German sparkling wines to be introduced under their true names into places where they had never penetrated before, the result being a considerable increase in the annual demand, even after the stores of the champagne manufacturers were again open to all the world.