Annika Strebel has never had a lobster roll, which makes sense given she grew up in a town of 300 people near the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. Luke's Lobster has yet to expand there.
But here we are, sitting in the sunny dining room of the John Dory Oyster Bar in Manhattan, where I’m going on and on about lobster rolls. They are incredible, Annika. It is a foodstuff from the gods, Annika! Strebel, 23 and girl-next-door sweet, politely nods as I play Maine Lobster Board PR man.
There’s a pause in the action. Drink orders are taken, and we switch roles as the sitting Wine Queen of Germany tells me all about German Rieslings. They are incredible, Matt. It is a foodstuff from the gods, Matt! And you know what, she is more right than I am. Simply put, I love German Riesling more than lobster rolls. It is dry and acidic and works well with food. The Kabinett is what I want to drink all summer long.
Strebel is in town to promote the 31 Days of German Riesling program, which includes a boat cruise and several restaurant visits. During our lunch I found out more about her reign.
Before you were crowned the Wine Queen of Germany, you were a viticulture and oenology student? That sounds hard.
This is more for theoretical knowledge. I really get to learn a lot about wine chemistry – not everything that I will always need, but there is a wonderful atmosphere there and there are so many wine students that have wineries at home, so we can always drink wine for free, which is the best.
So you guys have parties?
Many parties! We party a lot.
Like ragers? Do they go really late?
Usually it’s in our flat and we drink a lot of wine. We don’t get up in the morning because we are so tired.
Did you always want to be a Wine Queen?
Did you ever go to any of the actual pageants when you were young?
I don’t know if they consider it a pageant. I’d have to look that up. When people say pageant here, people think immediately about beauty pageants, but in Germany it is based much more on the wine knowledge that you have. I had to become the regional Wine Queen first, so I became Wine Queen in my region of Rheinhessen first.
So there is no swimsuit component?
No, absolutely not. Then I wouldn’t have taken part in it! You have to answer a lot of questions about wine in front of a jury of about 80 people who really know a lot about wine. It’s on regional television. It’s also important to be spontaneous and to have language skills. I can only speak English though, and a little bit of French.
Can you give me an example of a question that you were asked and how you answered it?
I had to answer a question about international varieties of wine. Like, “Do you think that Germany’s future lies in international varieties or more national ones? Should we concentrate more on Rieslings and stuff or should we also try to have better Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnays?”
So, do you think that Germany’s future lies in international varieties or more national ones?
I think France and Spain can make very good Cabernet Sauvignons. The Germans can also make these very well, maybe better, but not much better. There are no regions in the world, however, that can produce Rieslings like Germany. We could really concentrate on our white wines and on Pinot Noir. These are fresh and very lively straight wines, and why the people love Germany.
There are some pretty well-regarded Rieslings here in upstate New York, around the Finger Lakes region, because the climate is very similar to Germany.
Similar, but not the same. Our Rieslings are much better!
I would agree. I would never say straight-up that New York Riesling is better, but there are some New York Rieslings that are better than some Rieslings from Germany. Have you ever had one?
I would like to try one.
What did you win for being the Wine Queen of Germany?
A crown, but only for one year. A necklace. It’s all sponsored. On the back, you can see all the wine queens from the last 12 years. The next wine queen will get this same necklace and crown.
Do you know these people [pointing to the names on the crown]?
Yes, almost all of them.
Are they nice?
Yes, very. We also get a ring, and it’s sponsored so we can keep it. I have a hybrid car at the moment…
What kind of car?
It’s very cool. It’s an Opel Ampera car.
Why do you like Riesling? Why is it such a great wine to drink?
I think it is always nice to drink a wine that you always want to drink more of. I think that this is a great feeling and I always feel this when I drink a Riesling because it has a great acidity. It’s very refreshing and very lively and I think that this is the backbone of the wine – it’s not alcohol that is the most important. If you drink two glasses of Riesling, you are not at all as drunk as if you drink a glass of Syrah, which is around 15% alcohol.
Or these California Cabernets that are massively alcoholic.
Yes, I don’t like that much. I like to drink a little more and drink something that goes nicely with food. We have so many levels of sugar in our Rieslings that you can give a Riesling to anyone. Someone who likes to drink something sweet can drink a sweet Riesling, others can drink our dry Rieslings.
Where have you traveled for wine?
As a wine queen, I went to Singapore, which was very cool. It was a very tough job. Also, Beijing for an exhibition about the top wines in China. I went to Caracas, Venezuela.
You went to some cool places! Did you like Caracas?
I loved it.
Did you get tan?
No. I was more in the hotel and restaurants and it was only for three days, unfortunately. They also told me that it was too dangerous to go out on my own. They took me around a little bit, though.
Do you have a boyfriend?
Is he like a wine farmer?
His family has five factories that produce grapes and then give them to another big winery. They produce grapes, but no wine.
When you give up your crown, what will you be doing?
I want to finish my studies and then go to France to do a practical semester for half a year and learn more French. Eventually, I want to work in Germany at a winery – I don’t know where in the country. The best would be near my boyfriend so I can stay with him in a flat. It’s wonderful for a wine queen because it is very easy to get a job in the wine business. Everybody knows you and they know you can do the marketing and are very open-minded. I am never afraid to go to people and talk to them.
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