In a city the size of Berlin, you can count on the fact that there are many, many options when it comes to finding a decent bottle of wine. Some of Germany’s best retailers call the capital city home, not to mention several of the nation’s most important online retailers. Wine bars of every price class and theme abound and every department store, grocery store and even the ubiquitous corner kiosk has a selection of wines on offer. All this in a city relatively far-removed from any vineyards of its own – unlike, say, Vienna. At more than 3.5 million inhabitants, Berlin has over twice the population of the next-largest German metropolis: Hamburg.
With that in mind, it should come as no great surprise that many of the best wine shops in Berlin are, in fact, specialists of one kind or another. “Find your niche” has long been a staple of advice given to entrepreneurs, and Berlin shows how this is done; here you can find Germany’s best source for fortified wines, a dozen wonderfully-sorted French, Spanish and Italian wine specialists and more than a few who focus on German wines. Austrian, Portuguese, Brazilian, even Mexican specialists can be found. And let us not get started on spirits! In Berlin, you are well-served no matter what beverage you might be looking for.
And so it is all the more impressive that a relatively small and unassuming wine shop called Planet Wein, with an admittedly prime location right in the centre of the historic Mitte district of Berlin, can be such an oasis of wine enjoyment. Particularly as its founder and owner, Anja Schröder, has chosen not to specialise in any particular style or country. No, her focus is on “classic” European wines.
It is a small storefront, decorated in a Mediterranean style and flooded with light, and offering a feeling of spaciousness that belies its size. Of the 600 positions (including spirits) Anja has listed, the lion’s share comes from Germany, France and Italy – only around 10% of the selection comes from overseas (including South Africa). Sparkling wines, sweet wines, fortified wines and spirits all find a home. At Christmastime, there is even a white mulled wine – made from German Riesling and Anja’s own spice mixture.
As it is located right in the middle of one of Berlin’s most popular tourist hotspots – literally across the street from the Gendarmenmarkt – a great deal of business is driven by people from out-of-town. They ask for important and well-known producers, and Planet Wein has them. But that is not all that Anja carries. No, she loves wine and wine people, and she stocks plenty of lesser-known grapes, regions and producers – all of high quality and at prices that defy expectation. So the selection is excellent, even for hardened wine nerds.
But that isn’t the best part.
In addition to a rotating selection of open wines that can not only be tasted, but bought by the glass, any of the bottles beckoning from the industrial shelving can be purchased, opened and drunk on the premises (during business hours, naturally) for an almost ridiculously low corkage fee. There are several tables set up on the warm, terracotta tiles of the ground floor – and there is an upper level overlooking the sales floor laid out with comfortable furniture, should you desire a bit more privacy for your quaffing.
The idea of offering wines by the glass or bottle evolved naturally, says Anja, during her first year of business at the location some eleven years ago. Coming from the restaurant industry herself, she missed the hubbub – and noticed that, particularly at Christmastime, there was real demand from her clientele. Since the location already fulfilled all the legal requirements for a licence to serve alcohol, it was an easy step to take.
But even that isn’t the best part.
The best part is the service.
Of course, in a shop as modestly-proportioned as Planet Wein, the customer is never far from a salesperson. Taking after Anja herself, the staff is extremely knowledgeable and passionate about wine, offering help and advice with pleasure and without pressure. And they are all great at reading your interests. On my very first encounter with her and her fine shop, and after tasting a few of the wines she had open, I asked Anja to pour me a glass of something interesting. I ended up drinking an excellent glass of Regent from a producer in Württemberg. Although I have tasted dozens of wines made from this recent German hybrid, I can honestly say that I have never found one interesting enough to order a glass. And I didn’t regret this one for even a moment. It was expressive, earthy, interesting and delicious, certainly one of the best I have ever tried. This is the kind of experience that one can only have at a bricks-and-mortar business, and it is unquestionably one of the beautiful parts of the wine industry.
The remarkable Ms Schröder got her start in the restaurant industry as an apprentice at an establishment at the North Sea in Northern Germany. Moving on, with time, to other hotels and Michelin-starred restaurants, she opened the famed Rutz Weinbar in Berlin together with Lars Rutz early in the new millennium. The idea for a wine shop lingered in the background until opportunity and a great location presented themselves in 2005; Planet Wein was born.
Anja is a firm believer in and supporter of the German wine scene and the talent and skill of German winemakers. She enthuses about the quality of white wines, commenting particularly on Weißburgunder, a variety which, in Germany, can be found as “Grosses Gewächs”, the top-tier in the VDP Classification and a level of prestige unmatched anywhere else in the wine world, where, known as Pinot Blanc, it is often neglected or relegated to inferior sites. Her favourite wines? Riesling for whites and Spätburgunder for reds, of course. Driven, she feels, by the superb training, ambition and energy coming, in part, from another generation of young winemakers, she sees big things ahead for German wines. Particularly with red wines, where there isn’t such a longstanding tradition for styles, there is room for innovation and interesting things are afoot.
Tasting some of the wines she has stocked, one cannot help but agree.
You can visit Planet Wein in Berlin at:
(Entrance on the Charlottenstrasse)