When you travel to Germany you think primarily about beer, notably regarding their Trinkkultur over there, this country being a big consumer of the beverage with a multitude of local breweries which still for many of them follow a very strict and natural brewing-process rule known here as Reinheitsgebot. Germany is also a wine producer with several important regions but somehow wine remained in the back seat which explains why wine bars are not so common here, but this is changing rapidly and in the matter of three years Berlin which had no real wine bar until recently had 3 wine bars open successively.
The wine bar is located on Große Hamburger Straße, a quiet street on Mitte close to Prenzlauer Berg in what was in the past part of East Berlin and the DDR. It's ironically located near a U-Bahn station (line 8) named Weinmeisterstraße, Weinmeister as you guess it, meaning wine master in German.
The venue is run by 4 associates, all passionate wine lovers, among them Willi Schlögl who was at the counter that day when B. and I dropped unannounced. The wine bar is the place to visit if you're here to taste not only German wines (which they have) but also Austrian wines, as it has a big selection of them. We have to aknowledge that as recently as three years ago the only place you could find quality wines was at Hotel Adlon, a high-end venue of Berlin, and only as a side thing in the restaurant. Elsewhere, from what people told me during this berlin stay, you'd find only generic wines without real commitment.
Cordobar opened in september 2013, it's barely more than one year old and it has already many followers and loyal patrons.
We arrived at the place at 6:30 pm maybe, it was still quiet at that time but it rapidly filled up. It's quite dark here in winter, the streets are dimly lit for some reason, and actually the night comes at around 4:30 pm, that's an encouragement to walk into the bars, be they beer- or wine centered. Plus that day the city was blanketed with snow, quite a nice experience to walk along the streets.
The venue has two sides, the square room along the street and a long, deep wing with the counter and also a few tables on the right. The lighting is dim, adding smoothness to the experience. There's quite a large staff it seemed to me, about 5 people were working when whe visited. If I remember we were asked if we had reserved as it was a busy weekend evening and we found a spot at the bar as we only wanted to have a glass or two, not eat (and for me it was also a better spot to look at the whole place.
Willi (picture on top of this page) explained that among the 4 associates behind this wine bar, two are Germans and two Austrians, the Austrians are sommeliers and the Germans were originally respectively a movie director and the other was a music editor in Berlin (he managed a music label). The idea was to create a casual place where you could have good wines an good food, all of them being wine amateurs keeping in their own cellars a wide range of wines picked along their wanders. They also think it is important to have wines from winemakers they visited and know personally. Willi says that last year was very successful for the wine bar. Willi is one of the Austrian guys, he was working when in Austria for Wein & Co, a wine-shop chain with many stores across Austria. Then he worked in Berlin at Hotel Adlon (the top-tier hotel in Berlin) as a sommelier and restaurant manager at Le Petit Felix in the back of the hotel, and at this time he met one of the future partners of Cordobar, Gerhard Retter, who also worked at Adlon before opening a successful restaurant near Hamburg, Fischerklause am Lütjensee). Gerhard is also Austrian, also from Steiermark, and he got the title of best German sommelier a few years ago. Both of them were having a few glasses of good wine together in Berlin at Adlon and they couldn't find a venue in the city where you could relax with a good selection of wines, so the idea came to them that they had to create such a place one day, a cool place where you could come just for the wine.
Regarding the wine list they all take part, Willi says that usually when you go to a restaurant with an appointed sommelier you can read what he's thinking or feeling just by looking at the wine list. Here it's a little more exciting because there are three wine-wise guys in the group who really brought each their touch and taste in the wine list.
70 % of the wine list is Austrian (30 %) or German (40 %) and the rest is international (New World, France, Italy). Willi says that the good thing is that more and more young people are interested in wine in Germany, there's a change in the way Germans look at wine.
The wine list is actually a wine book (ein Weinbuch, it's the third "edition" of its kind now and it lists 963 different wines. Leafing through it (pic on right) is exciting, it's printed in large type and you'll always able to read it after a few glasses... So many wine lists are printed in unnecessarily-small characters as if to be serious you had to be out of reach from the reader.
They keep at least 25 wines by the glass but it's very loose which means that if you're really interested in a wine that's not in the list they can open the bottle just for you, there will be other customers interested in the wine anyway. The wines by the glass are mostly Austrian and German (more Austrians, he says). For French visitors like us who are not familiar with German and Austrian wines (except for a few of them) leafing the book is an exploration through mysterious names, there are only the wine regions where we feel some connection, this is like opening a window on a vibrant new world, especially when you know that these guys have selected the best stuff, the wines they love to drink themselves.
The patrons at Cordobar come from various socio-economic backgrounds, some are wealthy, or professionals, some are young people, some students, it's very diverse. The wine choice makes it easy for every one from what I felt, some bottles are really out of reach for the average person but there are lots of affordable picks. Same for the food, as you can check on their recent menu (which changes regularly) you can have many different small plates from 3 € to 9 € and a couple others above those prices. The chef is a very important person here, he is the other Austrian guy who was working in Hamburg before, Lukas Mraz, he comes from a very famous culinary lineage in Austria (Mraz und Sohn at allensteinstraße in Wien), he is a young guy (not even 25) with a blond beard , I saw him that day but I haven't any picture of him. He worked in a string os high-end restaurants in Germany and Holland, at L'Arnsbourg, at De Librije, at Juan Amador and at Palais Coburg in Vienna, quite an experience already adding up to the one he got at his father's restaurant.
The name of the wine bar asks for an explanation : it refers to a football match which took place in Cordoba, Argentina in 1978 for the Worl Cup Championships, this was the only time the Austrians beat the Germans, so it was a humorous way to point at another rivalry, the one between Austrian wines and German wines, a rivalry or rather collaboration embodied by this Austrian-German team offering the best wines of the two nations in Berlin. If you look at the neon sign at the street window (picture on top, left) you can see a symbol that looks like a high glass but also like the World Cup. Christoph, the engine founder of the bar told me with a smile that Austrians never won the World Cup, so they just watch reruns of this match...
What is surprising here is that Willi Schlögl is not just a sommelier, he is having his own négoce wine which he makes with a friend, Hans Martin Gesellmann at Weingut Krutzler in Südburgenland, Austria. Here is the story of this cuvée (in German). The label shows the name of these two guys under their respective cartoon figure. You have noticed the large tatoo on Willi's right arm and if you look well you'll read the word Tasching underneath a large grape cluster, that's what I'd call a unique label. Willi says that while it's wholly made at Krutzler, the winemaker listens to the type of wine they want and they go taste from different vessels there. This Blaufrankisch is a very supple red with round tannins, black fruits aromas. B. feels a light bitterness too. Makes 14 % in alcohol.
Willi likes to say that he is sommelier and Wirt, Wirt being a classical name in Austria meaning host in a restaurant. There's a say in German : Was ist der Unterschied zwischen einem Wirtshaus und einem Gasthaus? Im Gasthaus ist der Gast König, im Wirtshaus der Wirt. Deshalb bin ich Wirt. In short, the difference between a Gasthaus and a Wirtshaus is that in the former the king is the guest while in the latter it's the Wirt, that's why I'll better be Wirt... The Wirt is a man who takes care that the customer gets the best experience, it's more than a sommelier, all the details count, I think that's what we name maître d'hôtel in French, only the best restaurants have one.
I was lucky to also meet Christof Ellinghaus, one on the main partners in the venture, who was in the bar this evening with his wife Gudrun. Christof has been living in Berlin for 30 years and his name is associated with the music scene there as he founded City Slang, an independant record label (Facebook page). His label has produced music from German groups but also prominent North-American groups like Arcade Fire or Lambchop. Before that he was organizing music tours, and as I was listening to him it reminded me another wine guy who had followed more or less the same path : François Dumas who is now a natural wine importer in Japan. Both retained strong connections with the music scene.
Christof says that his resolution for 2015 is resume French classes to improve his conversation, he learnt French in school but didn't exercise for 40 years. Asked how he came to open this place, Christof says with a smile that he had too much wine in his cellar, adding that it was at least what his wife was telling him at the time... More seriously, he says that he felt that there was a need for this sort of place in Berlin : a bar where wine was central and where you also could get a bit of food to go with, the other way around compared to the mainstream German understanding of wine, where it's only an accessory to a restaurant. The whole idea he says is that the wines had to be amazing and well picked. He says that to get a good wine in Berlin you had to go to a Michelin-starred restaurant and that's not what you could do casually after work. His first career, music producer, was a hobby which turned into a profession and the same thing is happening for his love for wine which he developped some 15 years ago.
Asked if this was a challenge to open a wine bar in Germany where beer is prominent, he says that the real challenge was to open a wine bar centered on Austrian and German wines because the mass of wine-wine people in Germany go for French wines or Italian wines or spanish wines, and the second challenge was that the venue wouldn't offer food in the German sense of the word, there would be a few side dishes to eat but apart from being of high quality this food would be accessory to the wine experience. The feedback he got before he opened the place was that he was crazy, it wouldn't work. But with the team he gathered, they all believed in the project and as the driving force of the venture he certainly took more risks. His wine Gudrun is an architect and her skills were useful to design the bar. As said above the wines were the sum of all the wines that his team loved and stocked in their own personnal cellars.
The wine bar has quite a few natural wines, depending of the definition (Willi seem to consider natural wines were only the ones with no added sulfites). Gut Oggau was one of these natural wines including the no-sulfites side. The wines at Gut Oggau are surprising, it's a collection of sketches featuring all the fellows of the family winery, all the informations being on the back label. I discovered these wines in Angers last year (see at the bottom of this page Eduard Tscheppe with Nicolas Joly), terrific wines, vibrant and full of life. I told B. to try it while I'd explore another wine following the advice of our sommelier.
This Gut Oggau Gudrun Weiss 2013 The back label said (I'm sure you read German) Unfiltriert - Im Umstellung auf Demeter. The wine has citrus aromas, also jellified ananas, the mouth shows a nervous attack says B., I had a sip and found it very mineral too. It's not clear what the varietal is here and I forgot to ask.
Christof says that he visited lots of potential places in Berlin when the project took form. This particular place had a fully-functioning kitchen, so they understood that they would server some food, then they met another member of the team, Lukas with his rich gastronomy background and he knew he would be the man for the job. He says that in spite of being only 24 he is an old-school chef, working 3 days in a row to prepare gulash the traditional way.
Then Christof found a willing parner in the person of Gerhard Retter who was running his restaurant near Hamburg and who loved the idea of setting up a wine bar in Berlin, Willi was a friend of Retter and loved the project too, that's how it all started.
Speaking about his wine taste, Christof says that while he loves all the Austrian and German wines which make the bulk of the wine list here, he is kind of rediscovering right now the wines of the Rhone and of the Languedoc (Chateau Rayas, chateau des Tours, Domaine Gauby, Matassa, Grange des Pères) and he wants to know more about them.
Back to the basics : when you walk into the bar you can see the list of the wines by the glass, it is printed on several pages pinned to a board, I just took a picture of the first page (on left) before realizing later that there were many other pages underneath. You can already have an idea of the choice and the prices, and there are natural wines too (Natur), although I'm sure the other wines are pretty natural too. The prices on this page went from 4,9 € to 11,5 €
I chose this Merlitsch Ex Vero I 2008, this is a chardonnay-sauvignon blend with a nice mouth feel, something chiseled which I found very refined. The nose was sauvignon type, B. tasted it and felt a toasted side.
Ihad spotted a patron holding his glass of wine, eeven from a distance the bright turbid red was utmost exciting, I reached him at the other end of the counter from our own spot and asked for a picture, and when our first glasses of white were empty I asked for a glass of this one. This is 100 % Cabernet Franc, it's so light colored it could be a press made after a very short maceration. The wine is Natur like they say in German, plus there's no filtration. That's nice indeed ! Nice chew, freshness, a bit oxidative, exciting to drink, and very easy swallowing.
I leafed through the big Weinbuch and I took note of a few wines I could relate to (excuse my awfull frenchness) : Chateau d'Yquem 1986 999 €; Chateau d'Yquem 2001 999 €; Chateau Bel Air la Royère 59 €; Chateau Léoville Barton 2000 275 €; Chateau Latour 1990 899 €; Chateau Suduiraut Sauternes 1985 299 € (B. says it's a wonderful wine, I'm jealous, she knows it); Chateau Haut Brion 1983 499 € (this wine had a stampel on the wine list reading Ausgetrunken meaning sold out); Chateau Haut Brion 1975 399 €; Coche-Dury 2011 Meursault 295 €; Tour de Pez 2001 49 €; Coche Dury Monthelie 2009 225 €; Domaine Joblot Givry 2009 79 €; Comte de Vogue Musigny Grand Cru 2005 999 €; Etienne Sauzet Puligny-Montrachet 2010 169 €; Domaine Geantet-Pansot Gevrey-Chambertin Vieilles Vignes 2008 499 €; Domaine Leflaive Les Pucelles PulignRoederer 2002y-Montrachet 1er Cru 2010 299 €; Champagne Billercart-Salmon Blanc de Blanc 75 €; Roederer 2002 Cristal Rosé 499 €; Domaine Weinbach Schlossberg 1997 125 €; Zind-Humbrecht Rangen de Thann 2005 135 €: Domaine Mosse Chenin Blanc Magic of Juju 2012 39 €; Didier Dagueneau Pouilly-Fumé Silex 2010 179 (and with a stampel reading War Gut); Stephane Tissot les Bruyères 2005 69 €; Gut Oggau 2011 Bertholdi Blaufrankisch 125 €; Ernst Triebaumer Ruster Ausbruch 1978 129 €; Eva Fricke Schlossberg 2013 75 €; Schäfer Fröhlich Monzinger Halenberg 2011 89 €; Württemberg Aldinger 2012 Sauvignon Blanc Ovum; Rheingau Balthasar Ress Hattenheimer Nussbrunnen 2012 190 € (32 cl); Franken Fürst Spätburgunder Centgrafenberg 2009 89 € (also Ausgetrunken); Nahe Diel 2008 riesling GG Burgberg 85 €;