Thursday, 26 April 2012

Presenting Her Majesty, The German Wine Queen!

German Wine Queen - Annika Strebel
The message has oft been repeated; German wine has changed. The sweet, fruity whites of yore have been replaced by delicate, bone dry styles with steely acidity and complex flavours. Serious reds, based on the Pinot Noir varietal, are being crafted in regions such as Ahr and Baden. The buzzword now is quality rather than quantity. 

Caviar canapés. An excellent start at BLU.
Admittedly, the message gets through far more effectively when presented by the lovely Annika Strebel (Germany’s newly anointed Wine Queen) than by a stuffy wine writer. I had the pleasure of meeting this poised and articulate woman during a wine dinner jointly hosted by the German Wine Institute (DWI) and local wine merchant Wein & Vin. The latter has been instrumental in bringing top German wine producers such as Dönnhoff and Meyer Näkel to our sunny shores. 

Feminists may express outrage at the idea of using a beauty pageant to promote an industry, but the road to becoming a German Wine Queen involves more than just looks. The contestants, who hail from each of Germany’s 13 wine-growing regions, must speak on a multitude of wine-related issues in front of a jury of 80 professionals from the wine industry, politics and the press. This helps them to prepare for the ambassadorial role of a German Wine Queen. The ability to answer questions about German wines confidently and competently is a necessary skill for the winner, who will be speaking at over 200 engagements around the world during her reign. 

These engagements will bring Annika to many locations around the world. Singapore is in fact her first international stop before going on to Beijing. While she was here, she participated in numerous events as part of the first ever “Riesling Week” held from the 14th to 22nd of April and gave a talk at the Wine & Spirits Asia exhibition. She tells me of one of her more unusual events, involving an underwater wine tasting in Germany. Weighed down by a heavy belt and surrounded by photographers, she confided that she had a slight worry about choking as the belt would have prevented her from quickly ascending to the surface. But like a true professional, she handled the event with ease and her trademark vivacity (for a glimpse of this surreal setting, search for “unterwasser weinprobe Annika” on Youtube). 
Annika charming the audience

Annika’s favourite varietal is naturally Riesling, a grape that has naturally high acidity and ages well. She is also partial to Silvaner, a little-known German varietal that finds its best expression in Annika’s home region of Rheinhessen. As befits her royal title, Annika is a staunch nationalist and believes that the native varietals of Germany should be promoted over international ones such as Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. “We should concentrate on our competencies,” she asserts. “If we make Cabernet Sauvignon like the French, we can be as good as them but not better.”

Besides having a sharp palate when it comes to wines, Annika displays a keen interest in food as well, frequently enquiring on the ingredients of our dinner menu. She was excited about trying out Singapore’s local specialities such as chilli crab and laksa, although I was confused when she admitted a distaste for “organics” (I later realised she was talking about organs). Her opinions of the food and wine pairings during the dinner were precise and succinct, displaying an in-depth experience that belied her youthful 24 years. The German Wine Queen competition has been around for a long time (since 1949 in fact), but Annika will be setting a precedent as the first wine queen to engage Asia in a big way. 

Her Majesty's ring representing the German wine regions
Her travelling schedule means that she has had to put her viticultural studies at Geisenheim on hold this year, but once her duties as the German Wine Queen are over, she intends to complete her studies and join the family winery, Weingut Strebel. I ask her what qualities she would look for in a German Wine Prince to aid her work. There is only the briefest of pauses before she replies with a twinkle in her eye, “He’d better be able to help me carry my bags!”

The throne only has room for one. Long live the Queen.

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