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A World Cup Wine Experience: Müller-Thurgau Scores!

Watching the World Cup Soccer games has been a whirlwind of excitement and anticipation. Now we’re down to the semi-finals with only four teams still in the running. Tomorrow Netherlands plays Uruguay, and Wednesday Germany plays Spain.

My hopes are pinned on Germany going all the way. They are my Lieblingsteam having spent four years in Kiel, Germany as a college student. My fellow German students’ passion for Fussball was contagious and I’ve been a fan ever since.

As a soccer fan in the U.S. one can feel pretty lonely at times — especially during the World Cup. So two weeks ago I made a special visit to one of the San Francisco Bay Area’s best German restaurants, a little place called the Speisekammer in the East Bay city of Alameda. Owned and managed by well-known local chef Peter Kahl and his wife Cindy, this restaurant is a serious Gasthaus with authentic German cuisine, one of the best beer lists in the Bay area, live music (eclectic jazz, blues, R&B ) and an outdoor Biergarten.

The spirit of the World Cup permeates the place. The day of my visit the doors had opened at an amazing 4 AM to welcome die-hard soccer fans to the first group match of the day!

Seated at the table next to me were a friendly San Francisco attorney and his wife, scrutinizing the Speisekammer’s wine list. I couldn’t help but overhear how thrilled they were to find a favorite Franken wine on the list, which they said they’d enjoyed while living in Germany but can no longer find in the U.S.

Well, that caught my attention. I spurned my “gutes deutsches Bier” and immediately ordered a “me-too” glass of this mystery wine without even glancing at the wine list. When it arrived I was very pleased with its food-friendly character. Light to medium body. Good balance between crispness and softness with a slight green apple/vegetal nose. I found it to be a delightful pairing with my Gravlachs appetizer and Kasespätzle main course.

I couldn’t tell what varietal I was drinking, so I asked to see the wine bottle. I was surprised when the waitress brought out a 2007 Thüngersheim Müller-Thurgau Qualitätswein, Halbtrocken in a traditional “Bocksbeutel”. Hardly seen in U.S. wine shops, this bottle shape as been in use for centuries and enjoys (with some exceptions) legal protection specifically for quality wines from the Franconia (Franken) winegrowing region in northwest Bavaria. (I’ve learned now there is even a wine route named after the bottle shape.)

Müller-Thurgau is a hybrid white grape variety developed in 1882 by a Swiss enologist, Dr. Hermann Müller-Thurgau (who else) as a cross between Riesling and Sylvaner. Some DNA studies also relate it to Golden Chasselas, a white grape widely cultivated in Switzerland and reputed to be the perfect wine to pair with cheese fondue.

The Müller-Thurgau grape was widely planted in Germany in the 1970s and 80s, overtaking even Riesling. Today, Müller-Thurgau is on decline in Germany but it does produce fresh light wines of good quality in Franken as well as in Italy’s Alto Adige and Friuli-Venezia Giulia wine regions.

Generally Müller-Thurgau grapes produce smooth, low-acidity, medium-sweet wines with a hint of muscat character. I quite enjoyed the wine at the Speisekammer. I would recommend it as a light-bodied white, well-chilled with cheese, fish or seafood, especially smoked salmon, trout or gravlachs. I’m planning to serve it this Sunday when Germany plays the World Cup final!

I’m not all that worried about what to serve if the German team doesn’t make it to the finals. I’ll just look for another representative wine. It could be a Spanish Rioja… but I wouldn’t bet on it.

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