Welcome to Pro-Sips, our new series sharing pro-tips from sommeliers and wine experts! There’s so much to learn and explore within the world of German wine – 13 distinct regions offering numerous wine varieties in a range of styles – so to help you get started, we’re bringing wine wisdom from the pros straight to you.
Chris Poldoian’s German Wine Tips
We interviewed Chris Poldoian, sommelier and host of By The Glass podcast based in Houston, TX. Chris began his career in wine while working for Hillstone Restaurant Group. After managing wine programs for their locations in the Southwest, he took over the celebrated Houston wine bar Camerata in 2016.
During his tenure, he made the wine bar more approachable for a new generation of wine drinker, thanks to collaborative pop-ups, an emphasis on hospitality, and a focus on natural wine. In 2017, he was recognized by Wine Enthusiast in their annual 40 Under 40 list of beverage professionals. During quarantine, he pivoted into consulting with a focus on education and brand management. His podcast, By The Glass, has an international listenership and features in-depth interviews with chefs, sommeliers, importers, and winemakers.
Chris believes in giving back to the hospitality community. After Hurricane Harvey, he co-founded Wine Above Water, which helped non-profit Southern Smoke raise funds for bar and restaurant workers impacted by the storm. He has served as an organizer for I’ll Have What She’s Having, which fights for gender equality and women’s reproductive rights.
He also co-founded WellWeek, a weeklong, city-wide initiative to raise awareness about depression, anxiety, and alcoholism. An avid runner, he has completed over 17 marathons and helps other beverage professionals train for road races. In 2018, he pre-gamed the Berlin Marathon with a week of winery visits in Mosel, Rheingau, Pfalz, and Nahe.
Connect with Chris on Instagram at @BraisedThoughts and read his Pro-Sips below!
Q1: How or why did you get into the wine industry, and at what point were you introduced to German wine?
My first love was cooking. I know it’s super clichéd, but my gateway into the culinary world was reading Anthony Bourdain’s Kitchen Confidential my freshman year of college. After that, I would spend summers working in kitchens. Then I spent my junior year of college in Madrid and lived around the corner from the famed wine bar La Venecia, so that was probably the start of my shift from food to wine. My senior year of college, I would visit Formaggio’s Kitchen in Cambridge, MA. They had a killer selection of wine, which helped nudge me further into wine. Eventually, I found myself working for Hillstone Restaurant Group in California and then in Texas. While there, I discovered how much I enjoyed learning about wine. I loved picking wines to share pre-shift or write about for the training manual. It was really the opportunity to connect with guests and staff on an interdisciplinary level that sealed the deal for me.
With German wine specifically, I can pinpoint the exact point I was properly introduced to German wine. Hillstone had just relocated me to Houston – it was late August and hot AF. I got to the city late night and hadn’t even checked into my hotel yet when I decided to stop in at Uchi, this great Japanese restaurant. They have this really amazing dish on the menu that contains Maguro, Goat Cheese, green apple, and pumpkin seed oil. The bartender paired it with a Riesling featured for Summer of Riesling, and I immediately fell head over heels for the grape. As a matter of fact, once I became the wine buyer for the Houston location of Houston’s Restaurant, the very first wine I put on the menu was Leitz Dragonstone. I still think that the Hawaiian Ribeye and Spinach-Artichoke Dip go best with a lil’ Kabinett Riesling.
Q2: In your opinion, what sets German wines apart from other country’s or region’s wines?
With German wine, I think it’s this amazing juxtaposition of concentration and lightness. Even the richest styles of German late-harvest wines have that telltale brightness. Living in Texas where it’s a bajillion degrees, I’m always craving something refreshing. In Germany, there’s always that through-line of acidity. These wines pair with everything. Just last month, I went to Houston’s mecca of meat – Pappa’s Steakhouse – and ordered two German wines to go with my meal. I doubled-down with Riesling that night and had a Schloss Schönborn 1993 Berg Schlossberg as well as a Von Winning 2011 Kalkofen GG. Those two wines paired with everything. Also, I’d be hard-pressed to find a country that produces more age-worthy white wine. Best advice I could give someone would be to buy a case of good, moderately-priced Riesling and set it aside for at least a decade or so.
Q3: For consumers new to German wine, where or how do you recommend they start their discovery? What varietal or style would you recommend as an introduction?
The easy answer to this question is dry Riesling. Sometimes it can feel like an echo chamber when you get a group of sommeliers together – everyone harping on how underappreciated these wines are by US consumers. I personally love a lil residual sugar in my white wine (and tbqh: anyone that doesn’t is a party pooper) but also understand that for a large swath of the drinking public, trocken might be an easier lateral from Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris. For an introduction to German red wine, I really like Trollinger. Producers like Andi Knauss and Jochen Beurer are making delicious summertime reds. Some people reference “seafood reds,” others tout “summertime reds,” but I say “crushable tintos that you can take straight to the dome while lounging in an inflatable pool, listening to the new Tyler The Creator album.”
Q4: While interviewing German winemakers and importers for your By The Glass podcast, were you introduced to a fact, perspective, or anecdote that stood out to you as particularly interesting?
It’s hard to pinpoint a specific anecdote from those recordings, but what stands out most is the enthusiasm of each winemaker. So often we talk about precision and acidity in German winemaking, or we get bogged down in technical terms. But when you speak to the people behind these wines, what really stands out is their warmth and effusiveness. Sisters Dörte and Meike Näkel make some of the best Spätburgunder in Germany but are as down-to-earth as you can get.
Q5: Finally, for all the wine lovers out there, what’s your favorite pro-sip about wine that more people should know?
There’s a right wine for every occasion. The wine I wanna drink out of a zalto at a white-tablecloth restaurant might not be the same vino I wanna drink out of a tumbler at the beach. But I think the most important thing would be to try different wines. Venture out of your comfort zone and explore new grapes and new regions – I guarantee you’ll never get bored!