In January I had the opportunity to go on a tour of the Kessler Sekt cellars in beautiful Esslingen am Neckar. Sekt is Germany’s version of sparkling wine and the Kessler Sektkellerei is the oldest sparkling wine producer in Germany. The 1.5 hour English guided tour and tasting was kindly organized by the International Women’s Club of Stuttgart.
To begin, our group was escorted into Kessler’s medieval vaulted cellars located underneath the Esslingen Marktplatz (market place) in the centre of the city. The cellars were romantically lit with the glow of flickering candles to guide us through the dark space.
Inside the cellars, we learned that Kessler Sekt was founded in 1826 by Georg Christian Kessler. Not long after the company was founded, Kessler Sekt became the favourite drink at the royal court of Württemberg. Word of the ‘effervescent Neckar wine’ soon spread and Kessler Sekt went on to achieve high honours at international exhibitions.
Our guide also enlightened us about the way in which sparkling wine is produced. While regular wine only undergoes one fermentation (from juice to wine), sparkling wine also undergoes a second fermentation (from wine to sparkling wine). A tirage (a mixture of sugar and yeast) is added to the base wines (the cuvée) to produce a second fermentation. The carbon dioxide produced during this second fermentation is the source of the characteristic bubbles in sparkling wine.
Kessler Sekt is produced by way of the traditional or classic method — that is, the second fermentation takes place inside the bottle (as opposed to in a tank). Each bottle is riddled (ie. shaken either mechanically or by hand) until the yeast settles as a deposit in the neck of the bottle. The yeast plug can then be removed (disgorged), leaving the sparkling wine behind in the bottle.
After disgorgement, the aging process sets in, so sparkling wines should be consumed relatively soon after production, ideally within one to three years. Take note: don’t keep your Sekt bottles stored away for 20 years in hopes of ageing it like a fine wine; the fizz will have disappeared!
While walking through the cellars, we were somewhat alarmed when we noticed the distinctive black mold hanging from the cellar ceilings. According to our guide, this odorless black mold is a harmless fungus that acts as a natural air filter, both providing and absorbing moisture in the air as needed. The mold does not reappear on areas of the ceiling that have been cleaned, so the mold is left to its own devices to help regulate the air quality inside the cellars.
Following our cellar tour, we were guided into a private tasting room in the main building where we sampled three different kinds of Kessler Sekt.
- Kessler Hochgewächs Rosé – A blend of 85% pinot noir, 15% chardonnary grapes with notes of cherry, black currant, and cinnamon.
- Kessler Hochgewächs – A 100% chardonnary brut with notes of pear, apple, and anise. This full-bodied Sekt was highly favoured by former German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer for being neither too sweet nor too dry. He loved it so much that he served it at official receptions and international meetings.
- Kessler Jägergrün – A 100% riesling brut with notes of apple, apricot, peach, and honey. This Sekt is named after the Württemberg royal court hunters who wore green clothes — Jägergrün means ‘hunter green’. My personal favourite Sekt at the tasting.
Since Kessler is a small company that only employs about 30 people and uses the traditional method of producing Sekt, they can only produce about 1.3 million bottles per year. This quantity is just enough for the state of Baden-Württemberg, which is why you cannot find Kessler Sekt in other German states. (However, it can reportedly be found in Bonn where Konrad Adenauer made Kessler Sekt famous!). Therefore, if you’re looking for a unique gift or taste of Baden-Württemberg, a bottle of Kessler Sekt would be just the thing.
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The Kessler Sektkellerei is located at Georg-Christian-von-Kessler-Platz 12-16 in Esslingen am Neckar, a town about 15 kilometers southeast of Stuttgart. They host guided tours, tastings, and special events year-round.
Have you ever tried Kessler Sekt? What did you think? Can you recommend any other sparkling wines?