Our Date With The Wine Queen Of Germany

Julia Bertram is not exactly your typical American tourist. Yes, the 23-year-old is sitting across the table from me at a gimmicky raw bar dangerously near Times Square and we're chatting about her first ever trip to the U.S. But then there's the crown that she proudly wears atop her strawberry blonde locks. And she casually mentions the 250 public appearances she's made over the past year. And there's all this swishing.

You see, Bertram is the sitting Wine Queen of Germany, having been elected at the end of last summer by a jury of 80 wine professionals on live national television. (Indeed, the wine business is serious with our Teutonic friends.) Over an hour-long lunch, the former oenology student talks German wines, New York manners and temporary Riesling tattoos.

What do you think of New York?

I really like it! I live in a village with 200 inhabitants, so it's a bit bigger here. The people here are all very polite.

Are you sure we are talking about the same New York here?

Yes! People are always so eager to help you out!

We met last year's Wine Queen, Annika. Do you know her at all?

Yes, she is a good friend of mine because we studied together.

We miss her! How is she doing?

She just finished her studies now. She had to take a break for a year when she was Wine Queen. It's great, because whenever I need help with what to do or what to wear, I call her on the phone. "Annika, you have to help me!"

Annika told us the school was a lot of fun. Did you party a lot?

Well, I did go to school with Annika! [laughs] Yes, it was a good time and we drank a lot of wine – I think it's much easier to study it by drinking [rather] than just reading about it.

Oh wow, I just saw the "Riesling" tattoo on your forearm.

It is a fake one! We have been handing them out as part of the 31 Days of German Riesling program. I will give some to you.

[Editor's Note: I sported this temporary "Riesling" tattoo over the past weekend. A terrific conversation starter and smash hit with bartenders.]

What makes German Riesling the best in the world?

We've got a cool climate in Germany and many different soils. The grape variety reflects the soil where it is grown. The Mosel region has slate, which gives it a nice mineral touch. The Palatinate region has limestone, which lends a creamier flavor. In general, what is special about German Riesling is the crisp and lively acidity, and the fresh fruit. You can drink them without food because they are light and fresh. Other countries have creamier Rieslings, which are more like Pinots.

Have you had any Rieslings from the U.S?

I tried some from the Finger Lakes that were really good. You can compare them to German ones because they have a crisp acidity. I recently tried a Riesling from Australia and it was completely different. No acidity!

I know the final rounds of your competition can be stressful and are on live television. What are the questions like?

There are questions about winemaking, like "What is different about organic wines?" "How can you get more color in your red wine?" "How can you reduce your winery yield?" Then, there is one question in English, since there are so many international appointments for the winner.

What was the English question?

"Can you explain the grape variety Gewürztraminer?"

So, Julia, can you explain the grape variety Gewürztraminer?

[laughs]. It's a bouquet variety so there are flavors of raisins and dried fruits. They are a bit flowery and most of the time the wine is quite sweet. There are some good dry ones, too, though and I would recommend having them with some chocolate or fruit.

What do you actually "win" for being elected Wine Queen?

You win nothing! But it's like being hired for a job. You are hired to represent all of Germany and all of the winemakers in the country. You barely have any time for your family or friends, but it's so amazing.

And you get a badass crown...

Yes, I do! There are 13 gems on it, one for each wine region. But I have to give it away afterwards. And I get a ring, which I can keep.

Have you always been this interested in wine?

Well, even though I grew up in a winery, I thought it would be horrible to be a winemaker because I only saw the work side. And as a child, I couldn't even drink the wine. Then when I started to drink wine at 15, I started to fall in love [laughs].

Drinking at 15, that's not a bad deal. Are there a lot of sparkling Rieslings in Germany?

Germans love to drink sparkling wines. The country is actually the world's largest market for sparkling wines and about one fourth of sparkling wines worldwide are consumed there. I am not a big fan, though.

What are you going to do when your reign ends in September?

It will be harvesting time, so I will help my parents at the winery. I want to do a line of wines – my own label and style – in my family's winery. I would also like to go study wine in South Africa.

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