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July 2006

Shopping for Wine in Munich

Who hasn't stood in the supermarket, stared blankly at the meter-long shelves bursting with wine bottles and, clueless and full of doubt, lost all desire to buy anything at all? Or, perhaps you did finally choose a bottle. You went by price, country, and even the color of the label--and it was still a disappointing selection, though it had not been the cheapest bottle on the shelf. True wine lovers are rarely wine conoisseurs, those who can tell you the terroir, year, and grape with their eyes closed, or can recognize a quality wine by its label. Those who like to drink good wine can always use a bit of advice.

In Munich, we are lucky to have a handful of wine lovers who have made careers out of their passion. Fortunately, these wine purveyors are happy to share their vast knowledge with us “mere mortals.” And there are additional benefits of buying wine from a Weinhändler: there is hardly a difference in their prices and those in a supermarket, the shopping experience itself is a sensuous one and you will always leave the store happy and with the feeling that you have purchased something special. A good wine salesperson will always share his/her enthusiasm for the wines he/she has chosen for you—and that excitement makes the wine taste twice as good!

Because Munich is known as “the northernmost city in Italy,” we’ll begin with Italian wines. When it comes to unique wines. Rich in character, the Italians have long held the top spot among Munich’s wine drinkers—after all, we’ve all wanted to bring back home memories of our trips to Tuscany, Veneto, Sicily or Lake Garda at one time or another. “Italy begins with Garibaldi,” is, therefore, a most appropriate advertising slogan for the city’s small wine chain Garibaldi, owned by Eberhard Spangenberg, a man known for prolonging our Italian holidays right here in Munich. Spangenberg started this successful business in 1983, when he sold merely 30 wines in a shop located behind the university, on Schellingstrasse. Today, with an assortment of more than 300 wines, he also delivers to some of Munich’s most elite gastronomes. His secret? He knows every estate, every vintner and every cellarmaster whose wine he sells. Here, shoppers will not find mass-produced wines or ones that include flavorings or other additives used to “smooth out” the wine for mass consumption. Spangenberg’s offerings include only wines with extraordinary character—potables of which their vintners are proud and, in most cases, are the result of generations of traditional, natural production. The shop owner sees himself as the middleman between creator and savorer. Garibaldi is located at Schellingstrasse 60, Froschhammerstrasse 14, Nymphenburger Strasse 188 and, in Solln, at Diefenbachstrasse 1. On Burgstrasse 1, directly behind the Old City Hall, Garibaldi is called Dichtung und Wahrheit (Literature and Truth). This shop, as the name indicates, sells books, in intriguing combination with a selection of Spangenberg’s wine. This is where shoppers may find a meaty Barolo on the shelf next to a weighty Bukowski novel. But, if you like your books and your wine a bit less complex, the shop also has everything you need to enjoy an evening at home with a good read and a great glass of the grape. Wines at Garibaldi start at about € 7. To arrange a wine-tasting evening with Spangenberg, call 35 63 61 14.

The Weinhandlung und Weinbar Walter & Benjamin at Rumfordstrasse 1 follows a somewhat different concept. Specializing in a broader spectrum of European wines, except for a few pricey Napa Valley labels, the shop boasts a great selection of wines from Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, as well as an exceptional assortment from Austria. Walter & Benjamin includes in its repertoire only wines of vintners they have personally sought out and visited—those who have met management’s high standards. Here, among the 200 or so wines on hand, you will find a number of nice bottles under € 10. Wines with seasonal qualities are often a good bet—light and fresh for summer is the way to go now, for instance. If you give the salesperson a bit of information to go on—when, and for what occasion, you will be serving the wine, the tastes of your guests, etc.—you will be surprised at how competently you will be advised and how happy your company turns out to be! A Walter & Benjamin trademark is its flowery flavor descriptions: “Verdejo: White wine from old grapevines. Aromas of white peaches, white currants, gooseberries and herbaceous honey in your mouth. Refreshing as a green river over a bright stone.” Read that, and all you can do is say “Prost” and run to the shop’s wine bar for a taste! There, from Tuesday to Saturday (noon to 2:30 pm and 6:30 pm to 10 pm), diners can also enjoy a small selection of creative dishes with a Mediterranean flair. Wine can be purchased by the glass or, if you prefer to drink a bottle from the adjacent shop, you’ll have to add a € 10 corking fee. In summer, W & B offers seating at a few tables on the sidewalk in front of the store. This is a nice place to enjoy a lunch with friends.

Not far from there, directly on the Viktualienmarkt at Frauenstrasse 10–12, a new wine shop opened its doors, one that perfectly rounds off our discussion on stores that offer fabulous service and advice. Recognizing a market niche, the owners of Retters Weinschmecker & Feinschmecker decided to focus on German wines. Personally, I must admit that, over the past few years, I have ordered only the German wines that friends have recommended, directly from the vineyards themselves. I’ve looked at every German wine on the shelf with a great deal of mistrust because supermarkets carry few or no wines from the exciting new breed of German vintners—those who have pepped up their parents’ labels and even restored the reputation of German Riesling. And, if a supermarket does carry such a wine, you won’t find it, because there is no one to ask. This is where Baden native Nicole Retter and her two sommeliers, Jochen Benz and Tobias Promitzer, come in: in their very tastefully appointed shop, the trio offers wines from Germany’s top vintners, including those who have already won prizes as “up-and-coming talent”—a dream for any wine lover because the risk of taking home a bad bottle is next to nil. Here, shoppers also have the chance to discover new wines usually reserved for the initiated. Retters also features the fruitful symbiosis of wine shop and restaurant. German specialties with regional twists can be enjoyed right next door, along with fine national wines. At Retters, a midday meal is almost like a wine seminar—you’ll learn, with your own tongue, which wine goes best with which dish. And, for heaven’s sake, don’t pass up the chance to try Riesling Unplugged (yes, that’s what it is really called) from Riesling doyen Martin Tesch. One sip and you will know just why, once upon a time, German wines enjoyed a fine reputation—and why they are on their way back.

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