Welcome to Pro-Sips, a 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.
Jesse Warner-Levine’s German Wine Pro-Tips for the Holidays
We interviewed Jesse Warner-Levine, owner of Convive Wine & Spirits located in New York City, where Jesse curates a selection of high-quality wines at all price points and aims to make buying wine an engaging and educational process for all customers. The beloved East Village bottle shop was founded on the belief that buying wine for any budget and taste preference should always be personal, fun, and without judgment.
Jesse has worked in the wine industry for 19 years, including time at New York Vintners, Skurnik Wines, and Vintage Wine Distributors. He’s come to love wine because of its complexity and its entwinement of history, geology, science, creativity, and nature. But mostly, he loves wine because it tastes good and is fun to drink with people!
Q1: How or why did you get into the wine industry, and at what point were you introduced to German wine?
I consider myself a “late bloomer” getting into the wine industry, and I really fell into it. But as I learned more, I came to love the connection between people, culture, geography, and wine – this is what got me invested.
While I can’t recall the first German wine I tasted, there are moments that have stuck in my head, such as working with influential people like Rudi Wiest or visiting winemakers like Willi Schaefer [in the Mosel], seeing their tiny cellar and tasting the best Auslese wines I’ve ever had. German wines are ever-present in my mind because it’s always been about quality, and there’s no other place for wine production where my experiences have all been so positive. I’ve tasted wines from all over the world for my business, but I’m more apt to buy German wine with my own money. German wines are not just about Riesling – it’s so much more.
Q2: What is your favorite German Sekt [sparkling wine] recommendation for the holiday season and why?
There are so many Sekts to choose from because it can be made in any style from any grape variety. But you can’t go wrong with a Riesling Sekt for holiday parties or ringing in the New Year – the variety’s aromatics, complexity, and balance of acidity and fruitiness shine in sparkling form. I’ve been absolutely devouring the Von Winning Riesling Sekt Extra Brut (Pfalz) – whether you need something classic, something fresh, or something to impress guests, it fits all occasions. It pairs well with a good time!
Q3: What is your favorite German Pinot recommendation for the holiday season? Why?
Germany makes fantastic Pinot Noirs – we poured the Enderle & Moll Buntsandstein “Ida” Pinot Noir (Baden) at a recent dinner, and it showed remarkably well.
If you’re looking for a white Pinot, the Becker Weissburgunder “Kalkgestein” is a great white Burgundy stand-in – probably because I’m a sucker for oak.
If you’re feeling adventurous and want to go beyond Pinot – I personally am really into Lemberger. The best Lemberger I’ve ever had is called Endschleife from the producer Roterfaden (Württemberg). It’s a great variety that offers fruit and softness – things that go with an American holiday meal – but there’s also a polish and perfect seamless character that marks it as great quality. We carry the Endschliefe and a Lemberger Trocken from Roterfaden at Convive.
Q4: Can you describe your favorite holiday pairing? Or do you have any general pairing tips for entertaining?
When it comes to food pairings for the holidays, wines that offer some perceived sweetness from ripeness offer much more versatility, and Germany’s cooler climate wines tend to lend themselves to fruit-driven flavors. In particular, the white Pinot grape varieties work perfectly with a traditional turkey or ham dinner for the holidays – there’s a textural quality in Weissburgunder and Grauburgunder that matches the meal, and they’re typically dry with some acidity but won’t cut through the flavors harshly.
Q5: Do you have any advice on German wines for holiday gifting?
I’d recommend anything labeled as a single-vineyard wine – the bottles with one or two usually long German words before the grape variety. You’ll know that 100% of the grapes came from that specific vineyard, which were likely planted there because the winemaker knows the variety thrives in the unique soil and conditions of the plot. And if the vineyard is on the label, that also means the wine meets certain quality criteria, so it carries meaning and prestige. That’s great for a host you don’t know very well or for someone who doesn’t know much about German wine, because it is a signature quality you can point to.
My personal go-to gift wine is a Willi Schaefer Kabinett Riesling – It’s perfect for anyone from the nerdiest wine buyer that will age it for 20 years to the novice that just wants a zippy, fresh wine to drink tomorrow with spicy food.
Q6: Finally, for all the wine lovers out there, what’s your favorite pro-sip about wine that more people should know?
If you can tell a sommelier or wine shop employee three things about a wine you either like or don’t like, they can lead you to the next drink that will be interesting to you. You can just tell them what you’re having for dinner or that you’re in a bad mood, and that’s enough for wine pros who know what they’re doing, while “I don’t like red wine” alone isn’t very helpful.
Also, don’t take wine too seriously – it’s supposed to be fun!