For me, October is one of the best months of the year. When I was a kid, it meant Fall festivals and 🎃 with it's Trick or Treat. Of course, as I grew older, it took on other meanings, as well. My wife and two of my grandsons were born in October giving us lots of reasons to celebrate. And having a little German in me, I can't help but celebrate Oktoberfest.
It also means that a lot of the grape harvest has taken place with the rest happening the first part of this month. Most of grapes have given up their precious juice and the juice now sits in tanks, vats, or barrels fermenting. Oh, the magic of wine making! If you haven't visited a winery in October, you should make plans to do so and take in all the aromas of grape juice turning into wine. Wow!
A few years back I took part in an Oktoberfest celebration for a company in the Austin, Texas area. They wanted to reward their employees for meeting company goals and asked me to participate. I presented a short history on the origin of Oktoberfest, as well as 5 or 6 wines. They also had food and plenty of beer of course. I had a great time participating in the celebration and got to make some new friends. Fun!
Speaking about the history of Oktoberfest, did you know it actually began as a wedding celebration? The marriage of Crown Prince Ludwig of Bavaria, who became King Ludwig I, to Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildurghausen took place on October 12, 1810. The royal family invited all of the citizens of Munich to attend the after-party and the crowd grew so large that they had to move the festivities to a field outside one of the city's gates. The people of Bavaria fell in love with Princess Therese and the field has been called Theresienwiese, translated as Theresa's fields, ever since. Folks around Munich now simply refer to it as the Wies'n.
Oktoberfest has grown over the years into what has become the largest fair in the world with over 6 million people from all over the world attending each year. This year the festival runs for 17 days from September 17 through October 3. Unfortunately, by the time you read this, the Oktoberfest in Munich is probably over. However, it doesn't mean we can't extend the festivities here at home and partake in the tradition of "Wurst und Bier" (sausage and beer). Or if you prefer, "Wurst und Wein" (sausage and wine).
The beer traditionally served during Oktoberfest is a Märzenbier (March beer). Bavaria had a brewing ordinance from 1553 that permitted beer to only be brewed between September 29th and April 23rd. So, the beer brewed in March was lagared and stored in caves or cellars to preserve it until late summer or early fall and until brewing could resume. It was the beer served at the original wedding festival in 1810 and is a malted medium to full body beer with a clean dry finish. One of my favorites is Spaten Oktoberfest brewed in Munich (see below image).
However, since my blog is about wine, allow me to move on from beer to wine. One of the wines most likely served at the original wedding festival and one that you will find at Oktoberfest today is Riesling. Riesling is one of the most versatile wine grapes producing styles ranging from extremely dry to very sweet white wines. Most of the German Riesling comes from vineyards along the Rhine and Mosel rivers while most French Rieslings are grown in the Alsace region. Typically French Rieslings tend to be drier than most German Rieslings. Riesling also is considered to be one of the best grapes at expressing terroir (French term for land, but is used to express all the environmental factors that make up the wine's character).
A number of years ago, I developed a course for folks new to wine explaining the German wine quality classification system and how to interpret German wine labels. While I can't possibly cover everything here in my blog, I can give some generalizations and offer some tips on how to select German Rieslings.
German Rieslings are divided into two major categories those that are designated as table wines and those that have a quality wine designation. Table wine is wine your Uncle Otto might produce in his basement. So, let's move on and I will just cover the quality wines. As you know, the Germans like to regulate stuff. And in this case, it's good for us consumers as it gives us an indication as to the quality and in some cases the sweetness of the wine. In 1971, Germany passed a law regulating the quality levels of its wines and established what is know as the German Wine Pyramid, with table wine being at the bottom.
Quality wines are subdivided into Qualitätswein (QbA) or quality wine and Qualitätswein mit Prädikat (QmP) or quality wine with predicate/attribute. You will find one of these designations on the wine label. A step up our pyramid from table wine you find wines with the QbA designation, which are mostly less expensive than the better quality QmP wines and have a lower level of ripeness at harvest. As we climb the pyramid we encounter wines with the QmP designation.
As I stated, my intent here is to give some tips on how to select German Rieslings, so I won't further confuse you with all this information on the German Wine Pyramid. Let me simplify a bit and give you tips on what to look for on the wine label of QmP wines.
If you are looking for a dry Riesling, then select a Kabinett. These are produced from fully ripened grapes selected during the main harvest, but are general drier than a Spätlese. It's important to remember, I'm speaking in generalizations here.
If you're looking for a Riesling typically sweeter than a Kabinett, then I suggest you go with a Spätlese. Spätlese is produced from grapes harvested a minimum of 7 days past the main harvest resulting in a riper grape with a higher sugar content. They are typically designated as off-dry.
Next up from a Spätlese is an Auslese. While Auslese is almost always sweeter than a Kabinett and Spätlese, it is still not as sweet as some of the dessert Rieslings. It is produced from grapes left hanging longer than Spätlese, but not as long, as say an Eiswein.
Beerenauslese, Eiswein, and Trockenbeerenauslese finish out our wine pyramid and are all sweet dessert wines. Unlike the other two, which get their sweetness from being over ripened and affected by Botrytis cinerea (noble rot), Eiswein is produced from grapes that have been allowed to freeze on the vine and then picked frozen yielding a very concentrated juice and in most cases have not experience noble rot. Trockenbeerenauslese is usually the most expensive of the three, as it is produced from grapes that have been allowed to ripen into raisins. As you can imagine, it takes a lot of raisins to make juice.
In my opinion, some of the best Rieslings come from the hilltop vineyards along the Mosel river. One of my favorites is this month's recommendation, it is the Dr. Pauly-Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling from the town of Bernkastel-Kues on the banks on the Mosel river in Germany and one of their prize vineyards, Bernkasteler Badstube. If Spec's or your local wine shop doesn't have any, ask them to get some for you. And if you prefer a sweeter style than Kabinett, try their Spätlese or Auslese. You won't be disappointed I assure you.
Furthermore, the next time you're serving or having a creme brûlée instead of having it with a Sauternes, I recommend that you try an Eiswein. Yum, Yum!
Until next time, Cheers🍷