Saturday, April 14, 2012

Beer? What beer?

For this month's blogging roundtable, the chosen theme is "drink". I've decided to write about German wine, largely because when people think of Germany, it's beer that first leaps to mind, and folk are mostly rather surprised to hear that wine is actually a very big - and a very good - thing here too. Having visited more than a handful of wineries round these parts since I first arrived, I've discovered ample proof that the Germans do in fact produce many a truly fantastic bottle of wine. I'll only make an idiot of myself if I try to bang on about the wines themselves, so I thought I'd just say a little bit about the ways in which the Germans - in this part of the country at least - embrace them.

Though over the last two years I've explored as far as Pfalz, my German wine adventures have been largely confined to the Rheingau and Rheinhessen regions, home to the good old Riesling grape. Many a Dietz Family Outing - oh alright most of them - has involved voyaging with unbridled excitement into Wiesbaden's surrounding countryside to sample a few glasses of Riesling at one of our very many, very small, very friendly local wineries. There, not infrequently as the only people passing through, we'll get to have a good chat with the winegrowers and enjoy samples of their produce which, when the excursion has been planned by my highly knowledgeable father-in-law, is usually excellent quality and an absolute bargain to boot. If it's decided that a few bottles of wine are required for home consumption, then more often and not they'll have to be filled up there and then from a barrel out the back. Driving through the gently rolling hills of the Rheingau with a box or three of locally produced, fabulously flavourful wine on our knees has, it must be said, come to be one of my very favourite pastimes.

During the summer, many of these wineries turn parts of their premises into what are known as Strausswirtschaften (or Straussenwirtschaften, depending where you live). For four months of the year, winegrowers open their doors for the sampling of their wines in their cellars or courtyards. Simple regional dishes - both sweet and savoury - are offered alongside to soak up the booze but Strausswirtschaften are not, however, considered officially as restaurants. They differ entirely from the larger wineries who might have restaurants open all year round; they're more sort of pop-up wine taverns, if you will. And very pleasing they are too.

The Peter Jakob Kühn Strausswirtschaft back in 2010, before they turned from tiny local winegrower into Big Business.
As for consuming wine in town, well, Mainz is full of lovely places in which to do it. Weinstuben ("little wine rooms") are tiny, pub-like establishments that serve locally-produced wines alongside rustic, hearty, traditional Mainzer fare. Their doors open late afternoon and, since they're largely frequented by the same locals who have been going there for a drink and a chat for several decades, a whole Weinstube is often instantly full: during the winter months, tables are all booked up weeks in advance. Here, excellent local wines are served cheaply and generously by the overflowing glass, more often than not a Römer glass (a small one, known as a Piffchen, is pictured below). With their communal tables crammed with cheery Mainzers, some Weinstuben (two of the most famous, if you're interested, being Weinhaus Zum Spiegel and Weinhaus Hottum) are not for the shy, sober or birdlike of appetite. I, needless to say, absolutely love them.
Those of you with a keen eye for detail will notice this picture was taken in Wiesbaden, not Mainz.
There comes a time in the year, however, when even in towns and villages Germans like to take their wine outside. Countless wine festivals of all shapes and sizes take place in this region, and whether you're a wine buff keen to sample new wines or you want to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy a spot of highly rewarding people-watching - there's always some poor old chap who started "sampling" at lunchtime is considerably worse for wear 12 hours later - German wine festivals are absolutely brilliant fun. These occasions are a chance for local winegrowers to show off their best produce; anywhere between 5 and 100 different stalls will be set up in a market place, down a side street or along the banks of a river. Wines can be purchased by the bottle or glass (for the latter of which you have to pay a small deposit - Pfand - for); these festivals are a fantastic way of trying out or stocking up on locally-produced wines - for a marginally inflated price - if you don't have the time to explore the wineries themselves.
Organised chaos at last year's Wiesbaden wine festival
This post is a sort of part I of II and will be followed, at some point in the next couple of weeks, by an interview with my all-time favourite wine bloggers, Torsten and Julian from The Wine Rambler. If you can't wait till then to discover more about German wines, I'd highly recommend having a gander at both their blog and that of Schiller Wine, who has taught me a thing or two about German grapes as well.

More posts on this month's topic - drink - can be found by following the links below to the blogs of my fellow roundtablers. Next month's Stammtisch topic, as chosen by our newest member, self-styled 'hipster travel blogger' and eponymous writer of Travels of Adam, is "parks and green spaces", with which this lovely land is filled. Until then... chin chin!

p.s. If you live in the Mainz/Wiesbaden areas may I please also point you in the direction of Eating Wiesbaden, where you'll find the beginnings of a blog reviewing restaurants and bars in the area. Finally!


Justin and Marisa said...

I love the German white wines. Two of my favorite places to sample are this tiny cellar in the Bornheim neighborhood of Frankfurt called Wein Drunker and then on the Rhein in a town called Bacharach that has a restaurant called Bastian's Weingut zum Gruener Baum thats serves up a wine carousel (think lazy susan) that lets you sample about 15 wines. Thanks for the informative post.

Adam said...

Thanks for the description of my blog :P

I've actually enjoyed quite a few German wines here. I've read a little bit about some of the summer wine festivals and it's definitely something I'd like to see myself. Maybe combine it with a nice road trip...

Frau Dietz said...

@Justin and Marisa: And thank you for your informative comment! I shall make a note of those in case I venture into Bornheim - though I reckon a lazy susan of wines is worth a trip alone!

@Adam: - I got the description from your blog!! The wine festivals around here are definitely worth a visit - our first one's in three weeks. Look me up if your wine explorations bring you this way :)

German Gems said...

A great description of what I call German wine culture. One of my favorite things is finding "undiscovered" wineries in tiny little towns off the beaten path, only to find out my neighbors or someone else has been going there for years!

Tom Otomcio said...

We're yet to visit one of these small wine places. Not sure why we haven't been in the past. This year for sure!

Scott Hanson said...

I must admit, wine is one (very big) advantage southwestern Germany has over the north. Hamburg has to settle for the 2 weeks in summer that the Stuttgarter Weinfest comes to the Rathausplatz.

My father served in the military in Bad Kreuznach, so my parents love the Rhein wine country. Next time they come to visit we'll have to hire your father-in-law to point them to the right places! :-)

Rute said...

I must say I am not such a beer fan, so I was delighted when I first came to Mainz and saw what a great wine culture they have. And thank you for the website suggestion, next time I don't know where to go out for dinner for sure will check it out.

Sabrina said...

A pop-up wine tavern? Wine festivals abound? Oh, you gotta love the south of Germany :) Having a glass of wine outside is so much fun.

Frau Dietz said...

@German Gems: Thank you :) And your comment about the 'undiscovered' wines really made me laugh!

@Tom: we'd best organise a field trip then :)

@Papa Scott: He'll be only too happy to help! And since you don't get so much wine action up north, next year when I lobby for WEBMU to take place round here I'll be sure to suggest wine festival time :)

@Rute: I was extremely thankful too! Hope you like the website :)

@Sabrina: I'm itching for one now, come to think of it ;)

Anonymous said...

Excellent article!

Frugal Vegan Mom said...

We stayed in St. Goar a few years ago and were so lucky to catch their wine festival. I was really impressed by how classy German festivals are, with real wine glasses and real plates for the food. Funniest moment was at the end of the night, drunkenly dancing with all the locals to a German band doing an awful cover of "Achy Breaky Heart".

Frau Dietz said...

@Anonymous: thank you!!

@Frugal Vegan Mom: you're right, that does sound classy!! ;)

The Wine Rambler said...

Thank for this tour down memory lane - not that it was intended as such, but now in my sixth year of living in the UK it has been a while since I have been to any Weinfest. Tastings galore, but it is obviously not the same. So have a glass for me, and many thanks for the, undeserved, praise for the Wine Rambler!

marriage bureau in jaipur said...

wow! beautiful post thanks for sharing