The final tour of our Spring programme has started, and it’s Fliss blogging again.
We all zipped through super efficient Frankfurt airport, and arrived at our central Wiesbaden hotel in plenty of time to grab a sandwich/other before we headed out at 4.30 for a pre-dinner visit.
Our destination was Henkell, the biggest producer of sekt (sparkling wine) in Germany and it felt like it must be one of the biggest in the world. We entered what looked more like a palace than a winery, and found ourselves in a palatial hall, with chandelier, art and marble – our first introduction to the scale at which Henkell operates.
Christina, our guide, explained that from the very start when Adam Henkell, the founder, had visited Champagne in 1832, the company had been ambitious to bring the pleasure of sparkling wine to as many people as possible. It now owns a portfolio of famous fizz beyond Germany including cavas, proseccos, crémant producers in France and even Gratien & Mayer in Champagne! The heart of the business is the building we were in, commenced in 1856 and added to over the next century, where 90 million bottles are produced each year. As the doll’s house model showed, its foundations are 50m into the site of an old quarry.
We descended to the lowest floor where the base wine was originally stored in wooden stücke, of which there were many – up to thousands of litres capacity. As we walked through and ascended to the ground floor to see the modern bottling lines (capable of producing 50,000 bottles an hour), Christina explained about what it takes to produce quality sparkling wine at such a scale.
We were a bit surprised to learn that sekt, while produced in Germany, is not made of only Germany wine. Henkell own no vineyards, and buy wine from France, Spain and Italy as well as Germany. They manage the second fermentation, which for most wines is done in tank (a small proportion of their wine is done in bottle as in méthod traditionelle), and left on its lees for several months before being bottled at low temperature and under pressure.
A bit dizzy from the scale of the building, the wine statistics and the bottling line we were led to an airy tasting room where we explored the Henkell range of wines. It took us several goes to understand that every one of the five wines we tasted from this range only cost €5.50 (in Germany), as we really enjoyed their light mousse and soft fruit. The range is largely structured around sweetness and we tasted the Brut (with 14g of residual sugar), the Trocken (22g), Rosé (25g), Blanc de Blancs (28g) and Halbtrocken (which at 34g of residual sugar was quite different). All were under 12 degrees alcohol. Tim ensured we finished with something more ‘top end’ – the Adam Henkell Chardonnay Brut, made in the traditional method using French base wine, and really super.
We had had a fantastic learning experience, and our initiation into German wine was completed by a gift on departure of a bottle of Piccolo, a ‘two glass’ bottle of the Trocken.
An quick turnaround back at the hotel and we headed off to Martino Kitchen for a fabulous meal of chicken salad, sublime steak, and tiramisù. Our fantastic maître d’, Dominic, recommended a lovely riesling and a pinot noir/pinot madeline blend, a first for most of us, which we really enjoyed.
A fantastic start to our German adventures, we have fully embraced the Henkell philosophy of wine bringing joy and enjoyment and can’t wait for the next stage.