Liebfraumilch, Piesporter, Blue Nun - German supermarket wine blindtasting self-experimentation
The trio of "Liebfraumilch", "Piesporter" and "Blue Nun" represent the cheapest German wines available in the export market. They are infamous for giving German wine the image of sweet, headache-inducing plonk. But what do British consumers do? They still buy them. En mass. The power of the cheap side is too strong in these wines. Clearly, all the Wine Rambler's preaching has been in vain. And so one day I found myself in desperation considering a range of unthinkable options, ranging from jumping off a bridge to pouring Liebfraumilch over myself and then setting myself alight in front of Tesco. That will teach 'em!
However, as I am afraid of heights and as Liebfraumilch is too weak to burn I had to come up with a different idea. I decided to change tack and, instead of shouting "rubbish", to give constructive advice. I risked my palate and ventured out to learn which of the infamous three was the best. This called for an epic, scientific blind-tasting battle, a painful self-experimentation endured in the interest of humanity's greater good: Liebfraumilch, Piesporter, Blue Nun, which one is it going to be?
Liebfraumilch is probably the wine most English people associate with Germany. A hundred years ago it was one of the most expensive and sought after wines in the world, coming from a top class vineyard. Today the name can be put on all sorts of semi-sweet wines from many of the German wine growing regions. My Liebfraumlich cost just £3.06.
Then there is Blue Nun. The best known Liebfraumilch, it is no longer designated as such but runs under its own brand. Blue Nun produce to a somewhat higher quality standard than the cheap Liebfraumilchs. Price: £4.29.
Last comes Piesporter Michelsberg, short "Piesporter". Piesport is a wine growing village at the Mosel river that makes some of Germany's best Riesling. None of those grapes make it into Piesporter though as the wine can be made from white grapes from a wide area around Piesport's vineyards. £3.99
Round 1: visual inspection
During the blind tasting the wines were only known to me as glasses marked "A", "B" and "C" (not in the same sequence as above, to share my suspense with you). This was critical as it ruled out any bias I might have and also as the wines were so similar in colour that it was impossible to tell them apart otherwise. Colour can tell you many things about a wine, for instance about age or substance, but all three contestants were so (straw) pale that you might almost confuse them with water under bad light conditions.
Round 2: now trying to smell
Wine A does not smell of very much at all. Vaguely chalky, the nose has aromas of nail polish and indifferent fruit, more on the apple side perhaps, with hints of spice. Still, it is so indifferent, smelling anything that could be said to approach a defined aroma is hard work here. Not unpleasant as there isn't much to be un-pleased about, were it not for a light bitterness of unfermented fruit.
With a more distinct floralness wine B was not too dissimilar to A, but initially more pleasing. It was easier to point to specific aromas such as nectarine and sweet fruit gum (bordering on fake fruity), and again a faint, broad chalkiness.
Wine C has the most intense aroma with a range of fruit including melon and peach, plus yeasty and walnut aromas. Compared to the other wines it is almost multi-layered, but the different elements don't quite come together.
No clear winner emerged in round 2, with B the most inoffensive and C the more complex yet also a little more irritating; A was weakest. At this point I suspected either B or C to be the Blue Nun.
Round 3: tasting
Starting of inoffensive, wine A is light, not too sweet, a little watery yet vaguely juicy; no clearly defined fruit to be found here, but a soft finish that was mildly yeasty with a hint of muscat spice. Just not very much at all in this wine - but if you taste hard enough an unpleasant, unbalanced bitterness lurks in the background.
Wine B again is not too dissimilar to A, but offers a little more flavour, mostly peach, a little more balance and also a little more confidence. Lemon and again a hint of spice in the finish. Mind you, not remarkable quality, just a tiny difference.
The mouth sensation of wine C is consistent with the bouquet in the sense that it has more fruit (green apple and stone fruit) and substance than other the contestants. This sounds like an advantage, but it also meant that the lack of balance is more prominent, especially in the not so pleasant bitterness.
In terms of substance and flavour I was more and more leaning towards C being the Blue Nun at this point, but could the most expensive wine also be the most annoying in terms of its bitterness?
Winners, and second day losers
And the overall winner, ladies and gentleman, the wine I found most, erm, quaffable, is B - the dreaded Liebfraumilch. This came as a surprise to me because not only was it the cheapest of the three, it is also the German wine that had annoyed me most in the past. I was pleased that my gut feeling with regards to C being the Blue Nun was right, but also confused that the most expensive wine irritated me most. While the Piesporter Michelsberg is neither here nor there, Liebfraumilch wins as the least annoying wine.
A day later I revisited the wines. The overall impression remained unchanged. All had suffered a little, with more unpleasant, sharp bitterness coming out - an impression that was enhanced as I tasted the wines at slightly higher temperature. The Blue Nun proved to be the more substantial wine as it survived best, with more fruit flavours coming out, including a pleasant grapefruit tingle. The finish also was the best. Still, having more of everything also almost made it more unpleasant.
To sum up, if you want cheap, go for cheap. And then drink it cold - the light, floral Liebfraumilch may go down so quickly you don't notice it very much. Even so, I did not regret using a spittoon for this tasting - a first for drinking wine at home. Still, surviving the experiment unharmed rekindled my life spirit, and so instead of trying to electrocute myself in a bathtub full of Liebfraumilch I turned to the wine rack and a nice Riesling.
Glad you survived relatively unscathed.
Yes, someone has to take a
Yes, someone has to take a bullet for the team. Thanks for this masochistic eye-opener! :=)
Great post. Made me laugh multiple times. surprised you tried, but happy to hear you didn't set anything (or anyone) on fire.
Interesting little experiment. I don't think there's anything wrong with these wines mind you, the sales indicate that there are people who obviously enjoy them on some level or another. Similarly, Pinot Grigio, White Zinfandel, etc all get knocked consistently in the wine trade, but consumers absolutely love them. I think more wine professionals should keep in touch with these wines and what they're about, if for no other reason than to remain relevant and accessible to the ordinary drinking public.
Thank you all for your
Thank you all for your comments on this one. It is good to see that I have not done this in vain.
Ben raises an important issue. As I can see from our logs, previous posts on Blue Nun, Back Tower etc. are consistently the most popular items on the Wine Rambler (with the exception of the pages on the main menu). Other articles peak in the month or so they are published, but even a year later search engines lead many visitors to pages like this one. I would assume that most of these later visitors are not associated to the wine trade, so I would say that our access logs confirm what you can see in ASDA, Sainsburys etc.: many consumers want these wines.
Now, I do believe that once you give them a good Riesling Kabinett or similar most would agree that it is better - at least that happened whenever I tried it out - but we also should keep the price difference in mind. Black Tower charge almost twice as much as the Liebfraumilch and the cheapest Dr. L. Riesling at Sainsburys comes close to £7. If you are related to the wine trade, it is sometimes easy to forget that three quid more on a bottle of wine can be hard to stomach for many people, especially in the current climate. I would rather drink a lot less wine and invest in better quality, but that is both personal preference and due to exposure to higher quality wines. I actively care about wine and I know what else is out there.
Also, I can see the appeal of a wine that is light, both on the tongue and in alcohol, vaguely fruity, sweet enough to go down easily and yet not too complex to put people off. So maybe I should in the future try to write in a more friendly way about those wines and remind myself to keep in mind that there are limits to what you can expect from a very cheap wine. I have to admit I find this a little easier said than done. In Germany I could also easily point to Riesling that retails at €5 or less per bottle, sometimes even litre bottles, that are much better than those wines, but with duties and taxes in the UK I am not so sure. If you honestly only can spend four quid on a wine, can you get better? Maybe I should explore...
In reply to Thank you all for your by torsten
I think I could do more to
I think I could do more to explore the economic end of the wine spectrum myself to be fair. As a retailer of alcohol beyond just wine, I often easily fall in to the trap of overlooking the cheaper blended whiskies and mass produced beers in favour of niche foreign products and regional specialties. I think the best way to grab someone's interest in better quality stuff is by first engaging with them about what they already enjoy, and learning what wine/beer/whisky/gin/etc means to them.
Thoroughly enjoyed your post by the way, and your very measured and reasoned response. Refreshing to not see someone who doesn't feel that there are certain products that are 'beneath' them. :-)
In reply to I think I could do more to by TheWineyard_Ben
I think what you describe is
I think what you describe is only natural, Ben. The more you deal with a subject, the more you learn about it the more curious you will about the unusual niche products. Should I order a Riesling Kabinett or the Muskateller ice wine... Engaging is certainly the way forward, at least once you have started a dialogue. How to get people outside your usual circle to engage in a dialogue, well, that's the harder question... Thanks for your comment and compliment!
Brave. Dedicated. Target oriented. Tough. Selfless. You went far for this post! Thx thx thx. I share the same feelings towards these wines since seeing them too often in USA. And I am utterly irritated w them, because so many people will still associate German wines as being just this... The difference w i.e. low quality Italian wines is though, that most people seem to still see Italy's better wines. The damage there (and elsewhere) is not as high, I believe....
Great post, really had fun reading it!
(And if yr in the mood for good German wines, come by and read about our Bürklin-Wolf tasting. Rieslings from 2001...)
In reply to WOW! by Heike
Italy vs Germany
I agree that Italy does much better in general perception. Part of the answer might be that people often associate sweeter wines with lower quality - and Italy is commonly seen as dry wine country, as opposed to sweet Germany. This is made worse by the fact that while many customers will have heard of Barolo, Pinot Grigio, Prosecco, Chianti or perhaps Sangiovese, they will probably associate Germany only with Riesling. And here is the Riesling = Liebfraumilch = sweet = plonk trap again.
Anyway, it seems you have recently been drinking in much more style than me, Heike. I now have aged wine envy!
In reply to Italy vs Germany by torsten
I think Germany would benefit
I think Germany would benefit from educating consumers more about its different regions and styles. Perhaps some trade sponsored tasting events in larger cities would help to broaden people's horizons and open their eyes to what's out there? Consumers won't buy the wines out of curiosity, because they simply don't know what they are when they look at them.
In reply to I think Germany would benefit by TheWineyard_Ben
Ben! I could not agree more! I have done the Spanish Wine Education Diploma and was so impressed and ever since wondered, why German Wines are not out there, doing something alike. Even at the sommelier school in Sweden, German wines were treated as of 1970s - I was shocked to see how little even the 'professionals' knew about new trends etc...
Well - I guess, it will be coming somewhere in time...
In reply to Educating Consumers by Heike
...is definitely the way forward. It is not an easy business though. How do you get the interest of people to even walk into your shop or go to an event if they have no idea they might like it? You have to work with the wine trade, engage with writers (be they journalists or bloggers) and restaurants to get the message across in indirect ways and then think about luring consumers in with attractive events. I do actually have a few ideas here, but as a one man show (well, there are two of us Wine Ramblers, but Julian is in Munich) without a budget there is a limit to what I can do. Wines of Germany run a range of activities though and I hope to engage with them more this year.
Until the revolution happens and everyone starts buying German I will be happy though to enjoy world class wines at prices a little below top Burgundy and Bordeaux. Cheers to that!
In reply to Educating consumers... by torsten
Cheers to that!
Cheers to that!
In reply to Educating consumers... by torsten
Torsten! I'm with you!
:) I would love to work with educating about German wines... If you start this up, and if you are looking for help - please get in touch! A concept could be rather similar to what the Spanish Wine Education program does. Until things happen - let us just say Cheers! Today I am having Riesling Brut Weingut Schäfer, Mussbach. We'll see, if it is worth writing about it later on...;)
In reply to Torsten! I'm with you! by Heike
Thank you very much for this, Heike. Let's have a chat about it at some point in the not too distant future. And until then: I hope the Schäfer was good - will keep an eye on your blog to see if it was worth writing about.