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In today’s global economy, gastronomy is beyond generalizations. No cuisine can be justly profiled with a list of a few traditional dishes. Like cultures, cuisines evolve, influenced by trends and new ideas.
Germany is no stranger to the modern culinary zeitgeist: healthy food, sustainability, simplicity, and purity of flavors; it’s the call to arms. The Neue Küche, or new cuisine, is spearheaded by a diverse genus of chefs from across the globe. Germany is now home to a dizzying array of Michelin-starred restaurants, second only to France.
Foodwise, Germany can roughly be divided in north and south, cold weather and maritime products are seen in northern food. In contrast, French, Swiss, and Austrian cultural influences can be found in southern cuisines.
Germany has opened its doors to the world in the past few years. Turkish influence in gastronomy abounds. Every major city has döner kebab stalls, and Italian pizza has grown deep roots in the country. Russian, Bulgarian, and Polish food still permeates, a constant reminder of the Eastern Block.
For this article, our German food and wine pairings will focus on classic dishes. We will address Modern German food and wine pairings in a future article. You can also check out our food and wine pairing classes as well.
German Fish Dishes
Fish like herring and Alaskan pollock abound in the north, around the city of Hamburg. Seafood flavored with dill, battered fish, pickled white fish, and many other fresh, light dishes are popular. Beer is king in the region, but wine is a fashionable import in these latitudes. If you were to choose a wine to pair with northern cuisine, you would choose a light white wine with bright acidity and assertive minerality. Champagne, Chablis, or Sancerre are hard to beat, and national dry Rieslings, Chardonnays, or modern crossings like Rivaner (Muller Thurgau) will work well.
Sausages (of course)
We can’t talk about German food without mentioning its sausages. More than 1000 styles are produced in the country and are enjoyed at all hours. Colors, sizes, and flavors vary greatly. Bratwurst, currywurst, blutwurst, and weiβwurst are similar just for the name. Grilled or boiled, made out of pork or veal, they are popular as snacks and the main meal. Again, beer styles have evolved through time to pair local specialties, but a full-bodied white wine or a light red will pair nicely. Consider the cooking method and the accompanying sauces to increase accuracy.
The Rheinischer Sauerbraten is a common dish throughout the country. This meat stew consists of veal marinated in vinegar layered with spices and herbs. The mixture is cooked slow and low. The resulting hearty dish is intense, flavorful, and sour. Red wine, especially with high acidity, can tackle the local specialty successfully. German red wine is improving every year and is worthy of consideration. Pinot Noir is the most planted red grape and produces light-bodied wines with an often-piercing acidity.
Rinderroulade is rolled veal meat common in Germany and Austria. It’s filled with ground meat, onions, pickles, or vegetables with many variations. A rich sauce keeps the meat moist, and potatoes or cabbage are served on the side. This dish is bold enough to take a medium-bodied red wine like Merlot or Montepulciano.
Käsespätzle is a starchy dish of Alpine influence. The handmade spätzle pasta grated with cheese is unctuous and filling. These types of dish, along with others like Kartoffelknödel, potato dumplings, go well with wheat beer or full-bodied, lactic white wine like Burgundy.
The wiener schnitzel, a breaded thin pork cutlet, is part of many European cuisines. It is a classic in southern Germany. The tender, comforting dish can pair well with light white wines like Austrian or German Rieslings, Grüner Veltliner or Pinot Grigio. The dish will also work with light-bodied reds like Gamay, Pinot Noir, Schiava, or Dornfelder. Weiβbeer is obviously good too.
Apple sauce, a common side dish, can add sweetness to the meal, and its tart sweetness might enable off-dry white wines like some Rieslings.
Sauerkraut is another common side dish on the Dutch table. The fermented slaw adds vinegary acidity to any meal, making it compatible with tart wine styles. Malolactic tones developed in sauerkraut can be mirrored in oak-aged whites too.
Germany is well known for its pastries and luscious desserts. The Schwarzwald torte, or Black Forest cake, is amongst the most popular. The deep flavor of chocolate and the tangy kirsch makes it a good pairing with Port or any other acute sweet wine.
A Final Thought on German Wine & Food Pairings
Germany has lots to offer to the table; its traditional cuisine is rustic and distinct. Their wines are restricted by merciful weather, and not all styles are possible. This is a lesson on restraint, of delicate pairings. German food and wine pairings must be precise and can only be mastered by dedicated Sommeliers with acute, sober, straightforward focus. The results can be as refined as a classic French dinner.