Enjoying German wines at the 2018 Rheingau Wine Festival (until 7th September)

The 2018 Rheingau Weinfest, hosted on the Freßgass' in Frankfurt,  is a great opportunity to familiarise yourself with classic German wines. Put any preconception of sweet wine out of your mind. Good German wine is a whole new World waiting to be appreciated, however the German wine classification can feel complicated to novices so, to get the most out of the wine festival, below are some hints and tips to launch you into your voyage of wine discovery.

Dry or Sweet

Trocken is the word to look for if you want a dry, crisp wine. If you find the wine too crisp and minerally you might want to try a halbtrocken or feinherb wine which contains a small amount of residual sweetness, but are not sweet wines! Lusciously sweet wines, the ones you associated with dessert wines, carry the labels Auslese, Beerenauslese, Eiswein or Trockenbeerenauslese.

Trocken and feinherb labels. Photograph © Anne Noble

Trocken and feinherb labels. Photograph © Anne Noble

Grape Varieties

The Rheingau is renown for it's riesling, the king of grape varieties. Many people underestimate riesling however Masters of Wine highly rate it for it's complexity and amazing ageing qualities. Gently sniff the bouquet of your riesling and you'll be amazed at the variety of scents ranging from floral, fruit, honey, herbs and the very distinct 'petrol' nose of an aged riesling. The Rheingau offers some other grape varieties which might be more familiar once you recognise their English names: Grauburgunder = Pinot Gris and Weissburgunder = Pinot Blanc. If you have the chance also try a Scheurebe a truely unique German grape created in 1916 by Dr. Scheu. He combined two grape varieties, riesling and bukettraube (of silvaner heritage) resulting in a wine which is dry with gentle fruit overtones.

Spätburgunder, aka Pinot Noir, dominates red wine production in the Rheingau. The style produced varies from a light finesse, which reflects the cool climes of the Rheingau area, to a richer, darker wine from grapes nurtured in the vineyards using select harvests. The difference is easy to spot in the glass, a light transparent red wine of the old style and a rich deep red of the new style.   

VDP

Some producers belong to the elite VDP association. VDP (Verband deutscher Prädikatsweingüter) started in 1910 and serves to promote quality viticulture focussed on regional grape designation, quality production and vineyard management working in harmony with nature. Wine producers have to meet with strict requirements before they can carry the VDP eagle on their bottles. There are a few VDP producers at the Rheingau Weinfest. One repeat visitor is F. B Schönleber and Weingut Hamm is another renown producer which has also achieved the organic certification.

VDP Eagle. Photograph © Anne Noble

VDP Eagle. Photograph © Anne Noble

Wine Stands

This is a list of this years participants, and all offer great quality wines. All along the Freßgass will be the wine stands interspersed with food stalls making it a great place to head for an evening out with friends.

Federweisser - a special wine available after the grape harvest

What is Federweisser?

(A printer-friendly pdf file, with written content but no pictures -> What is Federweisser?)

Federweisser suddenly appears at the end of September in towns and cities within the German wine regions. Some towns host a Federweisser Fest whilst in cities like Frankfurt Federweisser appears at the local farmer's markets. The season is short, so enjoy it while you can. 

Federweisser is known as "new" wine. After the juice has been extracted from the harvested grapes, yeast is added to the must (juice) and fermentation begins. As fermentation progresses, the alcohol levels are monitored and once they reach 4%, the juice can be drunk in the form of Federweisser. The wine is still actively fermenting, so expect a glass of cloudy, refreshingly prickly wine which has a natural sweetness to it. The name means "feather white" and derives from the white'ish appearance of small yeast particles floating in the glass which, some say, looks like small white feathers. Don't be fooled by it's sweet taste though, Federweisser can achieve an alcohol content of up to 10%.

Federweisser - cloudy in appearance and naturally sweet

Federweisser - cloudy in appearance and naturally sweet

In the Rhineland you'll see Federweisser written Federweißer. In other regions it is also known as Süßer, Sauser and Neue Wein. Roterweisser is the same product but made from red grapes hence it has a deep pink appearance. Because the wine is still fermenting and releasing carbon dioxide, bottles cannot be fully sealed and are left partially open to let the gas escape. As a result transportation of Federweisser is a delicate business and this is why it is rarely available outside of the wine regions. Occasionally you can find a bottle in local supermarkets, but be warned - if the bottle is unsealed (a sign of good quality) you'll have to carry your precious cargo upright all the way home!

Traditionally Zwiebelkuchen (onion cake) is eaten with Federweisser and it's a heavenly combination. The Rhineland version of Zwiebelkuchen is a thin base of bread like dough topped with a good depth of soft, sweet onions, sautéed with speck and a sprinkling of caraway seeds. This recipe http://mybestgermanrecipes.com/german-onion-tart/ is the most authentic I have found.

Where to find Federweisser in Frankfurt

In Frankfurt the Liebfrauenberg is hosting a 10 day Federweisser Fest starting on September 29th 2017. Federweisser is also available at the Rollanderhof wine outlets at the Kleinmarkthalle, the Thursday and Saturday farmer's market on Konstablerwacher and the weekly market on Schillerstraße (details about market days can be found here). In addition, Weinschirn, Römerberg 8 (an excellent wine bar close to the cathedral), stocks Federweisser so there is plenty of opportunity to try the new wine before the season finishes!

Rollanderhof, above the back exit of the Kleinmarkthalle, serving Federweisser!

Rollanderhof, above the back exit of the Kleinmarkthalle, serving Federweisser!