We are very pleased to be able to present our conversation with Anne Krebiehl MW, acclaimed author and one of the world’s most famous wine critics. Having previously contributed to Decanter and Wine Enthusiast before taking over as Editor-in-Chief at Falstaff International, Anne has recently joined Vinous to take over their coverage of Germany, Austria and Alsace.
When did you first fall in Iove with wine? What is your earliest wine memory?
There is not one moment, but many. I guess I came to wine through the kitchen, food and cooking and an upbringing that was very close to all the flavours and tastes of real food and nature. I did not grow up in a wine-drinking household, so it all happened very gradually in my very early 20s. Wine was the only alcoholic drink I really enjoyed and I started drinking late – as an exchange student in the US. A little later, there was a key moment, however, on a camping trip to France – although I must have already been wine-conditioned already because the Sotheby’s Wine Encyclopaedia was on the car’s dashboard at all times. It was in Chapoutier’s shop in Tain l’Hermitage that I was given two white wines, same grape, same vintage, one from old, one from young vines – they were so different I did not believe it. This is what spurred me on to book a wine course the moment I was back home in London. I have not stopped learning and marvelling since.
Tell us a little about your wine journey and how you ended up as one of the leading German wine critics and Masters of wine?
Well, I guess that it all started from that curiosity evoked in Tain l’Hermitage. I went to various wine courses designed for consumers but felt none the wiser. Then I discovered the WSET and – Eureka! – there finally was structure. I completed the WSET courses one by one to Diploma and then went straight onto the MW programme. It was interesting to see how the world saw the wines of my home country and I guess I am lucky to have always had that outsider’s view while being German and of that culture, being able to dive into the German wine culture and read German in the original. Just before completing the WSET studies, I took the plunge into freelancing. I had a sensible but uninspiring job before – doing admin in a bank (not as some people like to believe as a banker – I have never had a head for figures). Then followed years of hard and impecunious freelancing in which I learned so very much and slowly established myself as a writer. Things got easier in 2013 when I became the reviewer for Austria for the US magazine Wine Enthusiast, they added Alsace to my patch in 2015, I added England in the same year and in 2020, they added Burgundy. I had written my MW dissertation on German Pinot Noir, got my MW in 2014 and continued writing, among other things, about German wines. So in 2017, I was approached by Infinite Ideas to write a book about German wine. The book was published in 2019 and once again I learned so very much by writing that. In 2020, I was asked to spearhead the English-language expansion of Falstaff magazine and came on board as editor-in-chief in 2021 – sadly the publication was merged with another title just one year after its launch. I was very lucky then to come on board with Vinous Media to cover Germany, Alsace and Austria – which feels very much like my home patch – although I still write avidly about all things fizz and Pinot Noir.
For you, in what region do you see the biggest growth in quality in Germany?
The quality revolution in Germany happened across the entire country. That paradigm shift from quantity to quality took place a number of years ago. This together with climate change means that German wines are now better than ever before – and above all dry. This makes all the difference. Last week at ProWein in Düsseldorf I tasted amazing Silvaner from Franken, gorgeous Pinot-Sekt from the Nahe, lovely Pinto Noir from Württemberg, hair-raising Riesling from the Saar…. I could go on. What has really happened now is that German winemakers are aware of what makes Germany special and unique – and they try and harness that rather than follow fashions.
Outside of Germany, as that has always been your focus, what wine region from around the world are you most excited about?
I have a total weakness for traditional method sparkling wines – from Champagne and everywhere else– so Tassie, England, California, Cap Classique, Austria, Germany and Trentodoc are totally exciting for me. I also have an abiding love for Pinot Noir, no matter where it is from. I would love to have more time to explore other lighter-coloured reds, like Mondeuse and such…there never is enough time in my days to taste all I want to taste.
What is your opinion on the role that scores play in the fine wine market?
I think scores are only ever like a polaroid snapshot of a wine – at the moment It was tasted and the impression it gave. Consistently high scores will tell you that a winery or estate or winemaker is up to great things, but because scores are numbers, they also imply a precision that I do not think exists. Sometimes I’d prefer to have a categorisation system of none to five stars for a wine – to avoid this perceived precision that does not really exist. I realise that some critics’ scores have a huge impact on the wine market, and I hope that non-inflated consistent scores from consistent critics will help to raise some underappreciated regions up into the spotlight they deserve. Scoring is also publication-dependent: some publications have become very generous scorers – so as a critic one is forced to go along with that – some people’s 94 is another person’s 90. I guess consistency is the most important thing.
How do you feel the role of wine critic has changed in recent years?
I do not think that the world will ever see another Jancis Robinson or Robert Parker again – simply because the media landscape was so very different when they emerged. They shaped the way the wine- and media worlds interact. Today there are far more critics, but few apart from a very small number of real and absolutely deserved stars have any real traction and that is perhaps not a bad thing. I know which critics I trust and follow.
For you as an outsider while still being very knowledgeable on the process, do you see winemaking more of an art or a science?
In all the best cases, winemaking is both art and science ad even more – it is intuition, inspiration and a manifestation of cultures and values. These are the wines that move us, that always evoke an emotional response beyond their technical skill. These are the wines we remember, that get under our skin. Sometimes, winemaking is just science – in the case of the vast quantities of wines made for a fast-moving consumer market. And this is only a good thing because never before in history has so much wine been so sound and so drinkable. I know that not everyone agrees with me, I have colleagues who argue that wine should only ever be artisanal, consumed locally, etc. but the world is simply not like it. And if some hardworking person gets joy, relaxation, comfort and deliciousness form a £6.99 bottle of supermarket red, who am I to sneer? I’d much rather have someone drink that than a bottle of Coca Cola and I salute them.
What is the best and/or most unusual food pairing that you have had with wine?
I know this sounds outlandish but one killer combo I have had was home-made cold cucumber soup, on a hot day, and an old-vine Alsace Sylvaner. It was as dreamlike as it was unexpected. And in our house, we love Pinot Noir so we have it even with ribeye steak and love it. I also love to drink mature Champagne – white or pink- with food. When you make saltimbocca with Champagne rather than Marsala, for instance…(please do not shoot me, Italians!)