“He who sits between two chairs falls on the ground” (Bulgarian proverb). “He who does not know the port to which he wants to sail, no wind is a favorable one for him” (Seneca). So what? What does this have to do with wine? The answer is given to us by the jack-of-all-trades in wine.
GERMANY (Dresden) – What reads like excerpts from a poetry album are – believe it or not – texts from a wine list in the form of a book. You can leaf through them in the WEIN | KULTUR | BAR in Dresden-Striesen by Silvio Nitzsche, who has already received a high award as “wine list of the year” by the Vinum magazine for the second time and is almost in danger of becoming the FC Bayern München of the wine list disciplines. After all, who can boast, as a relatively small wine bar, around 2900 wine items from 23 countries and regularly 70 to 90 open wines, and at more than respectable prices (12 euros for the cheapest bottle, 2 euros for the cheapest pint).
All this is a consequence of the passion that the head of the house feels for wine and that he wants to pass on. This was not really in his cradle …
From the deepest east to the world of wine
He was born in July 1974 in the municipality of Altdöbern in Brandenburg, in other words in the deepest East. When the fall of the Berlin Wall came and reunification was imminent, he had just finished school, wanted to become a chef, but was unable to find a suitable apprenticeship and decided to pursue a career as a waiter. However, in the West, in Friesland. Here he earned his first spurs and apparently so much merit that he became restaurant manager in a gourmet restaurant in Bayreuth. It was during this period that he made the acquaintance of a young lady who already had a lot of wine connections. “She put me on the right track,” Silvio looks back. He experienced the first wine revelations, made discoveries, but never felt the need to go to wine school until today. He did it like many in the gastronomy: continue his education by changing, develop himself.
In between, it looked as if he would be slowed down by the Bundeswehr. He joined the Air Force, was officially stationed in Neuburg on the Danube, but was allowed to do his military service in casinos in Canada and thus kept in touch with his profession. The Speisemeisterei in Stuttgart with chef Martin Öxle was his next professional stop. Here he was able to experience right away how it feels when a restaurant receives its second Michelin star (1996). And he got more intensive contact with wine. He used Alsace, Austria, and Paris for further trial apprenticeships before going to California for two and a half years “to finally learn English properly.” The job he found shaped what came next. The restaurant where he became employed had over 2000 wines on offer, including many from Germany and Austria.
In 2000, while he was still considering whether to stay in California, a sommelier job opened up in his home country with the legendary Dieter Müller at the Schlosshotel Lerbach in Bergisch-Gladbach – a three-star establishment. They knew each other from their first taste of each other before California, so Silvio was allowed to hold a responsible position for the next five years. “I had an incredible amount of freedom,” he recalls with gratitude. After that, he switched sides, so to speak, for two years, working in a responsible position at the wholesaler and importer KierdorfWein, but soon realized that “trading is not my passion.” So the young, married father formed the idea of a special wine bar, the likes of which did not yet exist in Germany. He sensed that the burgeoning Dresden could be a good location and finally found rooms in a house that had previously housed a hairdresser, a flower store and a café. 2007 marked the opening and the place has been thriving ever since. The small, cramped premises are usually packed, especially at the moment, as attention has to be paid to distance. In the warmer months, you have a chance to grab outdoor seating. Rumor has it that some regulars make reservations two years in advance …
The huge, versatile wine offer has just an enormous attraction. Above all, there are a lot of mature wines, some of them several decades old, in the wine book, this at unbeatable prices and therefore a bargain for every fan who is not on the wine youth trip. That there are enough guests for it, makes the stamp “sold out” with quite a few wines clear. In order to be able to offer a reasonably up-to-date selection, the book is reissued in an edition of ten copies every six months. “I have found a print shop that is happy to take on such a special order,” Silvio laughs.
Where do the wines come from? “I taste an incredible amount every year,” he explains. “I pay attention to trends, but I don’t ride on them; I research carefully. I prefer to search for myself and don’t want to be overwhelmed with samples. Dealers are a good source of information. And I get many mature wines through cellar liquidations.” Something like that is then often a real revelation and surprise for his guests. Older growths go particularly well with his refined selection of cheeses. He himself has no particular preferences when it comes to varieties or origins. “That would also be dangerous, because you can become a missionary so quickly. And I want to keep an open mind about many things.”
The jack-of-all-trades when it comes to wine
Vinum recently called him a “positive wine nut.” He takes that in stride, beaming. And he also likes to dance at other weddings from time to time. Several times, for example, he organized a wine cork throwing competition with vintner Friedrich Aust from Radebeul with several dozen participants. The best reached more than 22 meters. A few years ago, he set up a “wine project bar” in a small restaurant, which was previously run by his wife Roswitha, who is now peacefully divorced with him, where interested people could practice chef for three months. In 2018, a participant was then found who turned it into a permanent job.
And most recently, he developed the “Vision” wine glass series with the Franconian glass manufacturer Zieher in Himmelskron, which was limited to just a few shapes in a formally aesthetic design and is versatile. “Making something for specific grape varieties like some manufacturers, that wasn’t my thing,” he explains. The handmade, gossamer yet sturdy glasses are more oriented to the character of the wine. The sweeping shape provides optimal aeration and, compared with other vessels, allows the aroma to develop particularly clearly. However, these glasses are not generally used in his bar; their price range is too high for that (between around 75 to just under 100 euros for a set of 2).