Liebfraumilch, Piesporter, Blue Nun - German supermarket wine blindtasting self-experimentation
The trio of "Liebfraumilch", "Piesporter" and "Blue Nun" represent the cheapest German wines available in the export market. They are infamous for giving German wine the image of sweet, headache-inducing plonk. But what do British consumers do? They still buy them. En mass. The power of the cheap side is too strong in these wines. Clearly, all the Wine Rambler's preaching has been in vain. And so one day I found myself in desperation considering a range of unthinkable options, ranging from jumping off a bridge to pouring Liebfraumilch over myself and then setting myself alight in front of Tesco. That will teach 'em!
However, as I am afraid of heights and as Liebfraumilch is too weak to burn I had to come up with a different idea. I decided to change tack and, instead of shouting "rubbish", to give constructive advice. I risked my palate and ventured out to learn which of the infamous three was the best. This called for an epic, scientific blind-tasting battle, a painful self-experimentation endured in the interest of humanity's greater good: Liebfraumilch, Piesporter, Blue Nun, which one is it going to be?
Liebfraumilch is probably the wine most English people associate with Germany. A hundred years ago it was one of the most expensive and sought after wines in the world, coming from a top class vineyard. Today the name can be put on all sorts of semi-sweet wines from many of the German wine growing regions. My Liebfraumlich cost just £3.06.
Then there is Blue Nun. The best known Liebfraumilch, it is no longer designated as such but runs under its own brand. Blue Nun produce to a somewhat higher quality standard than the cheap Liebfraumilchs. Price: £4.29.
Last comes Piesporter Michelsberg, short "Piesporter". Piesport is a wine growing village at the Mosel river that makes some of Germany's best Riesling. None of those grapes make it into Piesporter though as the wine can be made from white grapes from a wide area around Piesport's vineyards. £3.99
Round 1: visual inspection
During the blind tasting the wines were only known to me as glasses marked "A", "B" and "C" (not in the same sequence as above, to share my suspense with you). This was critical as it ruled out any bias I might have and also as the wines were so similar in colour that it was impossible to tell them apart otherwise. Colour can tell you many things about a wine, for instance about age or substance, but all three contestants were so (straw) pale that you might almost confuse them with water under bad light conditions.
Round 2: now trying to smell
Wine A does not smell of very much at all. Vaguely chalky, the nose has aromas of nail polish and indifferent fruit, more on the apple side perhaps, with hints of spice. Still, it is so indifferent, smelling anything that could be said to approach a defined aroma is hard work here. Not unpleasant as there isn't much to be un-pleased about, were it not for a light bitterness of unfermented fruit.
With a more distinct floralness wine B was not too dissimilar to A, but initially more pleasing. It was easier to point to specific aromas such as nectarine and sweet fruit gum (bordering on fake fruity), and again a faint, broad chalkiness.
Wine C has the most intense aroma with a range of fruit including melon and peach, plus yeasty and walnut aromas. Compared to the other wines it is almost multi-layered, but the different elements don't quite come together.
No clear winner emerged in round 2, with B the most inoffensive and C the more complex yet also a little more irritating; A was weakest. At this point I suspected either B or C to be the Blue Nun.
Round 3: tasting
Starting of inoffensive, wine A is light, not too sweet, a little watery yet vaguely juicy; no clearly defined fruit to be found here, but a soft finish that was mildly yeasty with a hint of muscat spice. Just not very much at all in this wine - but if you taste hard enough an unpleasant, unbalanced bitterness lurks in the background.
Wine B again is not too dissimilar to A, but offers a little more flavour, mostly peach, a little more balance and also a little more confidence. Lemon and again a hint of spice in the finish. Mind you, not remarkable quality, just a tiny difference.
The mouth sensation of wine C is consistent with the bouquet in the sense that it has more fruit (green apple and stone fruit) and substance than other the contestants. This sounds like an advantage, but it also meant that the lack of balance is more prominent, especially in the not so pleasant bitterness.
In terms of substance and flavour I was more and more leaning towards C being the Blue Nun at this point, but could the most expensive wine also be the most annoying in terms of its bitterness?
Winners, and second day losers
And the overall winner, ladies and gentleman, the wine I found most, erm, quaffable, is B - the dreaded Liebfraumilch. This came as a surprise to me because not only was it the cheapest of the three, it is also the German wine that had annoyed me most in the past. I was pleased that my gut feeling with regards to C being the Blue Nun was right, but also confused that the most expensive wine irritated me most. While the Piesporter Michelsberg is neither here nor there, Liebfraumilch wins as the least annoying wine.
A day later I revisited the wines. The overall impression remained unchanged. All had suffered a little, with more unpleasant, sharp bitterness coming out - an impression that was enhanced as I tasted the wines at slightly higher temperature. The Blue Nun proved to be the more substantial wine as it survived best, with more fruit flavours coming out, including a pleasant grapefruit tingle. The finish also was the best. Still, having more of everything also almost made it more unpleasant.
To sum up, if you want cheap, go for cheap. And then drink it cold - the light, floral Liebfraumilch may go down so quickly you don't notice it very much. Even so, I did not regret using a spittoon for this tasting - a first for drinking wine at home. Still, surviving the experiment unharmed rekindled my life spirit, and so instead of trying to electrocute myself in a bathtub full of Liebfraumilch I turned to the wine rack and a nice Riesling.