Heymann-Löwenstein, Blanc de Noirs, NV
If you have a look around on the Heymann-Löwenstein website you will eventually stumble upon a message from a Belgian wine merchant. He reports from a blind tasting of Champagnes into which he smuggled a bottle of Löwenstein's non vintage sparkler - and despite being the cheapest wine it got by far the highest score, beating the likes of Billecart-Salmon, Jacques Selosse and Ruinart. This is the type of underdog story that would usually be told about English fizz, but it doesn't hurt to remember that other countries also produce great wines made according to the classic Champagne method.
That Germany is one of them should not be a surprise, after all it consumes around a quarter of the world's sparkling wine and produces close to 400 million bottles a year.
Yes, that is right, hundreds of millions of bottles every year. Most German sparkling wine is an inexpensive, mass-produced product - a handful of companies control almost 90% of the market. "Winzersekt", sparkling wine (Sekt) made by growers (Winzer) makes up only around 1% of that market; interestingly that means that the small growers in Germany produce more sparkling wine than the English production of still and sparkling wine combined (I just mention this as here in London I engage a lot with English wine, which might be even more of an oddity to many of our readers than German sparkling wine). So Germany does it all, cheap bulk wines retailing for just a few Euro and hand-crafted products from family-run companies with vineyards the size of my back garden.
With 14ha of vineyards the Heymann-Löwenstein estate is just a tiny bit bigger than my garden, but it definitely belongs into the artisan category. Reinhard Löwenstein is the figurehead of the German terroir movement and his Mosel wine is of outstanding quality. I have enjoyed his Riesling sparkling wine before - the aptly named Fantasy of Slate Terraces -, but today is Blanc de Noirs premier, a sparkling wine made from Pinot Noir. Only a few thousand bottles are produced every year and I believe the grapes do not come from Reinhard Löwenstein's own vineyards (so technically this would not be a Winzersekt).
The Mosel Blanc the Noirs has a lovely golden brown colour and a very interesting bouquet. One of the English friends I tried this with came back to me with "chemical fertilizer from a garden shed", but before you think I'd recommend you ditch wine for fertilizer let me say that this aroma was just a nicely balanced counter-point (and a very faint one for that matter) to lovely winter herbs, including soft sage and thyme, delicious fruit such as strawberry and yellow apple, yeast, citrus, vanilla and mineral. I hope this sounds more attractive now, and attractive it certainly was.
On the tongue the wine shows a more serious side, a well-structured, savoury nature with bitter aromas, spice, a hint of tannins, really good grip - but also red berries and a sweeter touch that comes out in the finish. I loved the tingly acidity too. On its own the Mosel fizz is a great reminder that sparkling wine can also be a savoury, more serious pleasure; with food, however, the freshness really came into play in such a pleasing way it was almost like discovering a completely new side to an old friend.
If you don't know anything about German sparkling wine or if you have been burned by the cheap fare from German supermarkets I would strongly encourage you to give the Löwenstein Blancs de Noir a try.