About regional food and wine in Germany
Fresh seafood is always worth investigating in the north coastal regions: Matjes and white Rotbarsch are common. Hamburg vies with Berlin for the title of gourmet capital of Germany, and is arguably more cosmopolitan in its range of restaurants. Nevertheless, you’ll still find traditional sailor’s dish Labskaus, a filling mash of beef, pork, salted herring, potato, beetroot and gherkin, topped with a fried egg. Aalsuppe, a piquant eel and vegetable soup with fruits such as pear and prunes, is another one for adventurous diners. More conservative tastes will prefer Rotes Gruz, a dessert of red berries, and keep an eye open for Pharisäer, coffee with a swig of rum and topped with cream. You’ll also find widespread use of Nordseekrabben, tiny North Sea shrimps.
Further south, lamb from the heather-clad plains of the Lüneburg Heath is excellent, while a traditional dish in Lower Saxony and Bremen is Grünkohl mit Pinkel, curly kale with spicy sausage.
Bavaria, the Land of beer-hall-and-Lederhosen cliché, comes good with a no-nonsense pig-fest, typically great hunks of Schweinhaxe (roast knuckle) and Rippchen (roast ribs). This is also the sausage capital of Germany: short and thin, those of Nürnberg and Regensburg are acclaimed by gourmets, though Munich acclaims its veal Weisswurst as far finer. Franconia in north Bavaria is renowned for carp. Thruringians will tell you the state’s charcoal-grilled Rostbratwurst (grilled sausage) is better than anything produced in Bavaria, made to a recipe that dates from 1404. And finally to Berlin, which has the full glut of modern restaurants of a capital city. By common consent, traditional Prussian cuisine is solid rather than exciting – perhaps the most iconic taste of Berlin is the Currywurst.
Such is the German love of beer it would be easy to overlook its wines. The memory of sickly Liebfraumilch once exported to Britain may play its part. But in recent years Germany's better wines are being exported, prompting foreign wine-buffs to wax about a renaissance in German wine-making. Quite simply, German wines of the past decade have been superlatively good, aided by global warming and a return to Riesling rather than exotic crossbreeds. Of the thirteen areas in which wine is produced, most in the southwest, the most celebrated are those of the Rhine and Mosel valleys (see German wine regions). Most areas produce wines that are trocken or halbtrocken, though there are some lieblich (sweet) wines. Another reason non-Germans may have steered away from German wine is that the classification system seems absurdly over-complicated alongside the classic French AOC standard. Basic plonk is sweetish Tafelwein; a better choice is Landwein, a dry, German vin de pays. By the Qualitätswein level you're in the good stuff, either Qualitätswein bestimmter Anbaugebiete from defined regions, or Qualitätswein mit Prädiket from specific vineyards. Of the latter, Kabinett wines are reserve wines – unsugared dry wines of natural personality and occasionally sublime – while Spätlese are produced from late-harvested grapes to produce fuller, usually dry flavours. Auslese wines are a step up in strength and sweetness, their intensity often prompting comparisons with honey. Eiswein, sharp with a concentrated, often sweet flavour, is made from grapes harvested after being frozen. Sweeter still are rare Beerenauslese, produced from exceptionally ripe grapes. Three-quarters of German wines are white (Weisswein), typically Rieslings, which comprise over a fifth of total wine output and at their best are sensational – light and elegant, often almost floral. Silvaner wines have more body, while Gewürztraminers are intense and highly aromatic in flavour. The German Grauburgunder is better known in English as Pinot Gris. Notable reds are Spätburgunder, a German Pinot Noir, rich in colour, velvety in taste, and Trollinger, a light, fresh wine that's delicious in summer. Rosé is less common. A notable addition to the cellar is Frankfurt's Apfelwein – cider – and at Christmas everywhere Glühwein.