Sekt may not be Champagne, but don't fret

I’ve written about cava, prosecco and other sparkling wines, but it occurred to me the other day that I have yet to write a column about sekt.

Though sekt is a German word and the term is associated with German sparkling wine, not all sekt is made from German grapes, as a large portion comes from Hungary and other European countries. However — and I risk offending some Austrians here — the best sekt is made in Germany. To be sure of its Germanic origins, look for the label “Deutscher Sekt.”

The term sekt was first used in 1825, six years after the Treaty of Versailles was signed and forbade Germany from using the word Champagne in reference to its sparkling wines. Unlike the Champenois, who are increasingly protective of their name, attempts to safeguard sekt have largely failed, so there’s tremendous variance is quality. The overwhelming majority is made using the charmat method, where the secondary fermentation occurs in tank as opposed to bottle. The latter method produces finer wines as a rule, and most found in the Bay Area are made this way.

You will also notice that most sekt is made from riesling, though other grapes are permitted. It’s produced in all of Germany’s 13 wine regions, although the Rheingau and Rheinhessen seem to dominate, at least from a quality standpoint.

Sekts can be very dry and often have floral and strong mineral components. When it comes to caviar, nothing other than vodka is a better match. They are perfect with smoked fish, cheeses and as an aperitif.

Fitz Ritter riesling sekt, extra trocken (dry), NV (Rheinhessen, Germany): I’ve always enjoyed Fitz Ritter’s wines. But since 2007, when Johann Fitz took the reins of his family’s 224-year-old winery, the wines have soared. Light-bodied and delicate with pure green apple fruit, this is a tasty treat. Suggested retail: $17

Barth riesling sekt, extra brut, NV (Rheingau, Germany): Barth is a family-run estate smack dab in the middle of the Rheingau. Located in the town of Hattenheim, the property is strewn with 20-year-old vines planted to a variety of white and red grapes. Made entirely from riesling, this “extra brut” is bone dry yet emits a generous portion of tart peach, nectarine and green apple flavors. Suggested retail: $30

Sekthaus Raumland Prestige brut pinot blanc, 2004 (Rheinhessen, Germany): This estate makes other wines, but it’s known for its superb sekts that are made from a variety of grapes. This is an exceptional sparkling wine by any standard. Medium-bodied with cream, almond, hints of chamomile and honey, it can go head to head with many a Champagne. Suggested retail: $47

Pamela S. Busch is the wine director and proprietor of CAV Wine Bar & Kitchen in San Francisco.

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